Gym wants to buy armoured car to protect at-risk teenagers
PUBLISHED: 17:11 30 January 2020 | UPDATED: 22:13 30 January 2020
Youngsters at risk from gangs in Newham could be transported to a new gym in an ex-military vehicle to keep them safe.
The gym on Eastern Road, Plaistow, has been set up by former gang member Raheel Butt.
He hopes it will offer a safe space for people exposed to gangs and extreme ideologies.
Called The Compound, it is now looking to buy an ex-Ministry of Defence Land Rover Defender that was used in Iraq and Afghanistan.
The armoured personnel vehicle, which is likely to cost between £10,000 and £15,000, could be re-purposed to safely transport young people facing the most serious threats to their safety to and from sessions at The Compound, Mr Butt said.
Twenty-five years ago, he crashed through the front doors of the same building having been knocked unconscious in a fight.
The owner at the time, he said, told him to "get off my property".
The 34-year-old, who has seen friends shot and murdered and was himself imprisoned for grievous bodily harm in his 20s, said the space could now be the "missing link" between other services.
"We are seeing a shortfall locally when it comes to young people's needs," he said.
"They can't travel far to train due to territorial disputes, and while they may be taught to run, they aren't told what to do if they are caught by someone with a knife.
"Within The Compound we can help those young people. Being a community-led gym will put us at a strategic advantage: some of us were the risk, and we are now the solution."
Once up and running The Compound is set to be open from 6am to 10.30pm on most days, offering weight training and mixed martial arts.
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Raheel spent around £50,000 on equipment and refurbishments after struggling to secure grant funding from public bodies in 2019.
Two London graffiti artists have transformed the space and the first trial sessions took place on Saturday, January 25.
One of the artists, a 31-year-old from Newham, told the Recorder: "I went from graffiti vandalism to graffiti art.
"We're still planning to do more here. The front is going to look amazing; schoolchildren will be passing on the road and the colours and shapes will be something for the children to look at."
Mr Butt, who was released from prison in 2012, runs a community interest company called Community Rehabilitation Solutions.
He has held training sessions as part of the government's anti-radicalisation Prevent strategy and made submissions to Parliament about ceramic knives and concealed weapons.
He said: "There are serious issues in the community but it's not all bad. There is no reason why other people can't change their lives.
"We hope as many people as possible who are like-minded will put their personal affairs aside and roll up their sleeves."
London has been rocked by a surge in violent crime in the past 12 months. On December 21 last year, 29-year-old Lashawn Williams was stabbed to death in Silvertown: the 149th person to be murdered in the bloodiest year on record in the capital since 2018.
In just five months last year police confirmed 17 separate knife attacks in Newham. Activists and community organisations have scrambled to find tangible ways to address the issue and safe lives.
Mr Butt said he hoped Eastern Road could end up being treated as a "green zone" in which gangs did not interfere in the gym's activities.
In 2018 teenagers from warring postcode zones crossed divides to discuss their experiences at an event he hosted in Forest Gate.
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