Listen up

Sick and tired of being ignored, young people in Tottenham urge leaders to listen and act

By Ellie Rae Ward

Artwork at Bruce Grove Youth Space Credit Tottenham Community Press


Young people in Tottenham feel neglected and ignored by those who have a responsibility to help and support them. This was the overwhelming message Tottenham Community Press (TCP) received when speaking to a group of young adults about rising levels of violent crime in the area.

In early April, Tanesha Melbourne-Blake was shot and killed on Chalgrove Road, Tottenham. She became the 48th person to be murdered in the capital this year. At the time of going to print, this figure has risen to above 50, sparking concerns about increasing levels of violence in the capital.

In response, Met Police Commissioner Cressida Dick has announced a new, 120-strong taskforce to tackle organised crime.

It is widely acknowledged that there is not one single cause of the increasing levels of violence.

Speaking to the BBC’s Today programme, Ché Donald, the vice-chair of the Police Federation, said that the ‘current crisis was a direct result of cuts to officer numbers and funding, but also that the police could not solve this issue alone’.

“We also have to think about reductions in funding to councils, and councils themselves were responsible for putting youth workers on the streets, making safe areas for young people to go to. Various charities were involved in engagement with young people and all of that’s gone,” Donald said.

Harriet, 20, used to work in Tottenham and spends a lot of time at the Bruce Grove Youth Zone. She told TCP: “Everyone’s been singing the same song for years – ‘we’re working with the youth’.

“If you really were working with the youth then knife crime wouldn’t have gone up to the stage it’s at now… I would actually go out there to interact. You can’t say you’re going to work with someone if you haven’t gone out there to interact. It doesn’t make sense. It’s like saying ‘I’m a chef’, but you’ve never been in the kitchen.”

TCP also spoke to a young person who has lived in Tottenham from around the age of nine. She reflects on what it’s like growing up in Tottenham: “I just love it. I love being in Tottenham, it’s home for me… If you see one face and then see them a few times, they’ll always say ‘hello’ to you. Everyone knows each other.”

She says that the recent increase in violence has made her more wary however and thinks that having positive role models is a key factor in preventing more young people from joining criminal groups or committing crimes.

“When there’s younger boys especially, and they’ve got older boys who they look up to and they’re from the same area, they want to be like them or they want to please them. If those older boys are doing wrong, the younger boys will copy,” she explained.

You can’t say you’re going to work with someone if you haven’t gone out there to interact

Another young adult tells TCP she has lived in Tottenham her whole life and says she can see herself staying and working in the area in the future.

She told TCP: “A lot of people think it’s a bad area, that it has a bad influence on people… People have a misunderstanding of Tottenham – that it’s full of people that do drugs and all of this… Of course some of it’s true. There is drugs going on, but it’s not like all of Tottenham is bad, there’s good bits of it too.”

She says that trust plays a crucial role in how young people relate to figures of authority: “I don’t think young people trust the police… I know that a lot of people don’t trust the police at all. Even if something goes wrong at home, or at school, someone threatens someone, the police aren’t the first person they go to. Even teachers – a lot of people my age don’t trust these people.”

The issue of trust became apparent when a number of young people said they did not want to talk to TCP. In fact, their silence spoke volumes. Many of these young adults have spoken out before – they’ve campaigned to stop cuts to local youth services or they’ve been open about more personal matters. But they do not feel it makes a difference. They say the media has been known to twist their words and that those in charge do not act upon what they say, so what is the point in talking?

Whilst there was strong agreement amongst the individuals we spoke to that there is no single solution to stop violence among young people, there was a strong feeling that a lot more can be done to work towards this.

A member of a local girl’s football team told TCP: “Schools could do more – there’s not enough talks and awareness. Family talks as well. Everybody needs to talk about it.”

Harriet said: “If there was more opportunities given… if they were more accessible, it would contribute to less knife crime… It would lessen the chances of a young person carrying a knife because they are being encouraged to do something else.

“It’s about investing time. Just because you’ve got a building, you need people to be in the building supporting the young people.”

She also explained why places like the youth centre are invaluable to communities and their young people.

“You’ve got what you need here – there are activities, people you can talk to…your friends are in here… A lot of young people are into music so we’ve got a music studio upstairs.”

In agreement, another young person told TCP that the reason the centre was so popular was down to the staff: “They’re such caring people. You can talk to them about anything and they don’t judge you.”

Tanesha used to come to Bruce Grove Youth Space regularly and an array of photos of her, along with flowers, has been put up in the centre’s courtyard.

“She was the life of the youth club,” TCP was told.

“People have stopped coming here since the thing happened with Tanesha… It’s either because people’s family aren’t allowing them, saying it’s not a safe area, or people, her friends, are too upset about what’s happened.”

The message from one young person to the incoming Haringey Council is to listen to and pay attention to young people in the area: “They should prioritise teenagers more, because teenagers are going to grow up and end up ruling the country.”