Blog: Street gang intervention – back to basics

Published: 20 Jan 2021

Author: Darren Way
Blog: Street gang intervention – back to basics

Growing up on a socio-economically deprived council estate in London’s east end as a teenager back in the 1980s, I was so hell bent on getting out myself that I would never have imagined I would stay there as an adult to help the next generation of young people. But in 2001 I set up a charity called Streets of Growth, which works to help the next generation of young people escape a life of poverty, violence, criminality and gangs.

"I wanted to create a frontline ‘leading edge’ charity that specialises in transforming the lives of stuck young communities by creating a model that incorporates social enterprise with street-gang intervention." - Darren Way, Fellow

My path into this field chose me, rather than me choosing it, because after finishing school with no qualifications, I initially went into the construction industry for ten years. It was during this time that I had a chance encounter which led me to take on a new role at a locally based charity, working in youth intervention. However, following five extremely tough, challenging years out on the estates, supporting some of the hardest to reach teenagers and young adults, I found myself becoming disillusioned by organisational approaches. In particular, I was struck by a lack of residents’ ‘buy in’ to play their part, which needlessly created a dependency on institutional solutions.

I was about to quit and embark on a career in the creative industry, when I met two anthropologists who were visiting the UK from America to look at best practice. They opened me up to an international field of practice, which led to me applying for a Churchill Fellowship. In 2000, I travelled across the east coast of America to research some of the world’s very best practitioners, who were transforming the lives of young people in some of the most challenging housing projects.

When I returned to the UK, my vision and purpose became crystal clear. I wanted to create a frontline ‘leading edge’ charity that specialises in transforming the lives of stuck young communities by creating a model that incorporates social enterprise with street-gang intervention. An approach where clients can develop into leaders within the organisation, and where staff continually strive and are coached to become some of the best in their field, on a local and global level. 

Fast forward to today, and September 2021 will see Streets of Growth celebrate its remarkable twentieth anniversary, with year-on-year awards that speak for themselves. To date, we have helped to reduce harm and transform lives for over 4,000 young people and their families. As if this work was not challenging and cash-strapped enough before Covid-19 hit, now more than ever our work and approach is needed - together with much-needed resourcing.

I often get asked, “What is the secret to your success rate with young people?” The answer is not rocket science, but it has become an uncommon sense. Below are 12 of the foundational principles for our work.

  1. We see our work as ‘a way of life’, as opposed to simply seeing it has a job or career income.
  2. We make ourselves visible, available and accessible to our communities beyond the 9-5 organisational based timeframes. We support and coach young people in ‘real time’, in the contexts in which they live.
  3. We have a profound understanding of the issues facing the neighbourhoods in which we engage, which comes from the depth of relationships we build with our communities and partnering organisations.
  4. We design and deliver our projects with street intervention work, to create a seamless flow of consistent support that is more robust.
  5. We have undeniable, evidence-based, success-measuring-models, which also track sustained change or relapses of our young clients, and measure staff effort and effectiveness.
  6. We have a relentless hunger and appetite for self-improvement as practitioners and are able to have tough conversations about what works, what does not, and how to create new approaches. This has been prevalent in how we have had to innovate and adapt our specialist face-to-face work during the Covid-19 pandemic.
  7. We never give up. We believe that all young people can change, no matter what their circumstances or how long it takes them to adopt the change and transform their lives.
  8. We go out day or night to where young people take part in illegal and harmful activities, often experiencing abuse ourselves. However, our resilience often means we have a 6 or 7 out of 10 success rate with those that other professionals may struggle or even refuse to reach.
  9. We accept that, no matter what we put in place for safety, working in this way comes withlevels of risk to ourselves as residents and practitioners. We also know that the reward of moving communities out of harm far outweighs the risk.
  10. We have created an approach where communities are not negatively dependent on us. We have built a self-help model that supports young people and their communities to tackle the ‘don’t grass’ codes of the street, provides access into the regeneration opportunities, and allows them to feel safe to involve the police.
  11. We strive to help policy-makers and funders to understand what ‘best practice and best value’ looks like. This ensures that those working on the frontline have fair access to decision-making and funding opportunities that will help advance local delivery.
  12. We never lose our sense of humour, no matter how tough things get.

Today, since the founding of Streets of Growth, I have been made an ambassador of the charity. This means that I now consult and carry out research around the world to train the next generation of budding entrepreneurial interventionists in this unique field.

Streets of Growth has continually offered adapted intervention services since the very first lockdown back in March 2019. We are about to move into a newly developed building to advance youth enterprise and intervention with young communities.

Visit the Streets of Growth website

View Darren's profile 

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