The last year is on track to see the highest number of teenage killings in London since 2008, despite an overall drop in crime during the pandemic. This has led us to reassess the role that we can play as a community organisation and ultimately renew our efforts to tackle youth violence.

This issue came into sharp focus for us at Community Links when 14-year-old Fares Matou was stabbed and lost his life just 20 yards or so from 105 Barking Road, our base in Canning Town, East London. Though deeply saddening and shocking, this is not an isolated incident.

Knife crime has increased by 85% in England and Wales since 2014 and reports suggest that ‘pent up aggression’ during lockdowns is likely to lead to a further spike in the coming months.

At Community Links, we believe that tackling youth violence can and should be tackled through a holistic, place-based approach that involves the whole community. Place-based working is defined as “a person-centred, bottom-up approach used to meet the unique needs of people in one given location by working together to use the best available resources and collaborate to gain local knowledge and insight”. Crucially, it brings together local organisations and builds strong community relationships to tackle issues.

The benefits of a place-based approach can be best outlined by understanding the pitfalls that it seeks to avoids. Place-based working is unlike ‘top-down’ approaches where an organisation or agency will win a tender or bid work in a new geographical area or community for a fixed, and often short, period of time. These top-down approaches can work successfully, but there is a real risk of tokenistic community engagement, which overlooks the value of local knowledge, wastes valuable resources, and fails to build strong and deep-rooted relationships and partnerships within the community. These pitfalls might lead to a misdiagnosis of the complex issues that are specific to that area and the people who live in it and ultimately, fail to remedy them.

Recently, place-based approaches have been gaining momentum, particularly in the public health sector and expanding, more recently, into community care. This trend is demonstrated by the rise of social prescribing and personalised care within the NHS.

The often-cited example of a place-based working approach to tackling violent crime was the Glasgow Model adopted in 2005 which treated knife violence as a public health issue. Borrowing from successful models in Boston, US, the Violence Reduction Units (VRU) in Glasgow launched various initiatives to develop holistic community solutions to violent gang culture such as youth clubs and schemes to address lack of work and training opportunities and other issues. In 2011, the Glasgow Community Initiative to Reduce Violence (CIRV) saw a 50% reduction in violent offences. The success of these initiatives can be attributed to the VRU’s place-based understanding of the root causes of knife crime in Glasgow. A key feature of this was a multi-agency and collaborative approach, spanning justice, health and social care, law enforcement, education, and even the military.

As an anchor hub Community Links is uniquely placed to connect the public, private and social spheres in Newham, enabling a community response to systemic problems. These responses are holistic and designed to address the complex socio-economic factors that contribute to problems like youth violence. We take a two-pronged approach to place-based working. The first employs specific interventions which target the issue at hand such as anti-knife initiatives and our Community Conversations research and report into community-led responses to youth violence.

The second consists of indirect initiatives focusing on creating a supportive environment for young people. For example, we convene leading thinkers to help make the case for investment in social infrastructure and show how it can be done and we run projects like More than Mentors which build the mental resilience and wellbeing of young people. Finally, the recent commissioning of Links Recording Studio promises exciting opportunities for young people in Newham, developing practical skills and creating music as a positive activity.

Community Links is proudly part of social business Catch22.

Daisy Kay is a Year Here Fellow with Community Links.