Liverpool has been rocked by a number of stabbings of young people recently. The city council responded by working with partners to launch a programme of support in schools to deter young people from carrying knives. This case study is an example of how councils are tackling youth violence.
In October 2017 a young man, Sam Cook, was out celebrating his 21st birthday in Liverpool city centre. He never made it home. He was stabbed to death in a bar. Since then another two teenagers have died in tragic circumstances as rates of knife crime have risen.
The deaths shocked the city, prompting the mayor to launch a campaign which saw knife arches placed across the city centre’s clubland district and more than 100 venues given knife wands to enable security staff to search customers.
But a conference organised at the end of last year involving 50 key professionals from the council, police, housing and education decided more needed to be done, particularly in schools with reports children as young as nine had been caught carrying knives.
Disarm, Liverpool’s strategic multi-agency partnership to tackle gun and knife crime and gang violence, worked with schools to launch a new programme of support in September 2018.
Secondary schools have been offered a range of different support. These include a knife crime assembly led by senior youth worker Alan Walsh, who runs Anﬁeld Boxing Club, which highlights the causes of knife crime and the impact on families. A knife arch has been provided by police to demonstrate some of the steps being taken to reduce incidents.
An emergency nurse, Rob Jackson, has also been giving graphic presentations showing images of victims and the long-term effects of injuries.
On top of the assemblies, which are offered to all year groups, schools have also been provided with information about a range of programmes targeted at speciﬁc ages. These include Humanutopia, a one-day workshop that aims to boost self-esteem, conﬁdence and raise aspiration, and Gangs, a ﬁve-session programme that works with the most at-risk youngsters.
Merseyside Police Superintendent Louise Harrison said: “We believe it is really important that the consequences of carrying and using a knife are made clear to everyone – specially young people – and that by going into schools and reaching young people at the earliest stages will have the greatest impact.
“We want to reach out and challenge the perception that carrying a knife is somehow socially acceptable and through education and engagement we hope we can help tackle fears or peer pressure that may drive young people to carry knives.”
Since the assemblies started, over half of all secondary schools in the city have taken part with two or three being held every week.
Rob Lawton, Assistant Head Teacher at St Margaret’s Academy, said his pupils had found the assembly ‘excellent’. “Without exception the students all thought the presentation was very good. When asked why, they answered that they thought it was relevant and made it all a bit more real and closer to home than they had realised.”
The programme has also received the backing of head teachers. David Hayes, of the Liverpool Association of Secondary Heads, said schools were pleased with the campaign. “All schools take safeguarding very seriously and in particular educating our young people in staying safe. Anyone could be a victim.”
When rolling out this sort of campaign, Jill Summers, Liverpool’s Head of Safer and Stronger Communities, said there are several important steps to take.
The ﬁrst is to make it universal. “If you target certain schools they get worried that it may then look like they have a particular problem. So we were adamant all schools should take part – and the head teachers agreed. Everyone needs to know how to keep themselves safe as children, no matter what school they go totravel all over the city.”
Ms Summers said they have also adjusted the content with the year seven and eights not being given as graphic presentations as some of the older children. “You have to be careful about the messaging. You don’t want to make people terriﬁed of going out. We have been careful to put the risks in context too.”
How is the approach being sustained?
The aim is to have delivered assemblies in all the secondary schools in the city by the end of this academic year. But beyond that there is a desire to coordinate the schools work across the region. To help achieve this, a pan-Merseyside strategic knife crime group has recently been established.
“There are ﬁve councils across Merseyside and one police force. We want to spread good practice and do more coordinated work so we can learn from each other.
“We have already agreed to run one of our assemblies in a school in Knowsley so in the future we could see much more work like this. We are looking to coordinate work across a number of work streams,” Ms Summers added.
Head of Safer and Stronger Communities, Liverpool City Council