I am Katy, a 22-year-old from the London Borough of Waltham Forest in London, who leads my local council’s peer-to-peer engagement programme, Streetbase.
I started working with the London Borough of Waltham Forest as a Young Advisor when I was just aged 12. Through the WF Young Advisors, I was able to strengthen my skills in public speaking, build connections with residents and make my voice heard when it came to making decisions about young people.
For the last 10 years, I have been a strong advocate for including young people at the heart of everything the council does. Now, being a mother to a 2-year-old, I am even more passionate about making similar opportunities open to young parents and independent mothers.
This is where Streetbase comes in.
Streetbase is a programme funded by the Mayor of London’s Young Londoners Fund, which was set up to help reduce violent crime in the city. It has been running successfully in Southwark over recent years, and we, Waltham Forest Young Advisors, thought it would work well in our borough.
Thirty six Young Advisors and Youth Independent Advisory Group (YIAG) members, all aged 16–25, receive training in conflict management, risk assessment, observational awareness, self defense and how to make an incident referral.
We work alongside our partners — including the local youth engagement police officers and the borough’s Anti-Social Behaviour team — to find the places where young people are hanging out. Being young people born and educated in the borough, we tend to know most of the places where young people tend to meet.
Once these ‘hotspots’ are identified it is my job as the Coordinator to devise a rota and send our Streetbase patrollers out to those areas where they then engage with the young people. Our patrols go out 3–5 times a week, and for 3 hours per patrol. We have four Streetbase members on each patrol, each with a lead who is at least 18, is DBS checked and has safeguarding training.
During our engagement we find out five key things from young people: their age, postcode, interests, suggestions for the borough, and whether they would be considered “hard to reach”. For example they may have special educational needs, attend a pupil referral unit, are not in education, employment or training, are in care or a care leaver, or a young carer.
I say, “hard to reach”, as this is often said about the young people who fit in these categories. However, during my experience as a Young Advisor and Streetbase Coordinator, I found that young people in these groups are very willing to be involved and part of whatever comes their way. They just need to be considered, as they are often overlooked, and approached in the right way, by young people who often have similar life experiences.
Not all young people have access to the council or know how to go about creating change in their community. Streetbase has given often underrepresented voices the chance to shape the future and a sense of ownership over their borough. This is especially by giving each young person a chance to suggest something that’s missing from their neighbourhood, for example a youth space, cooking classes or career fairs.
With these five main pieces of information we are able to track the needs of young people and understand which cohorts we are engaging and who we are missing out.
After we have received the above information and it is recorded on our ‘Streetbase Referral Forms’, we then upload it on our contact database, so we are able to signpost them to activities of relevance as and when an opportunity arises.
We select these activities from our ‘Streetbase database’, which stores information on all activities, clubs, events, apprenticeships, vocational courses, workshops in the borough — you name it, we’ve got it. It is a live document, so it is constantly updated and being worked on.
The 36 Streetbase patrollers all have their own background stories and journeys, which any young person on the street may be able to relate to. Therefore, all Streetbase patrollers are encouraged to build connections and maintain relationships, with the young people they encounter. This way, most of the young people we engage with, can feel supported and listened to by someone who’s been in their shoes.
On one of my first ever Streetbase patrols, we were at an event in Leytonstone, when I came across a young girl holding a little baby in her hands. As I went over to her, all formal introductions dropped, and we instantly connected as soon as I said, “I’m a mum too”. Through our casual chat, we were able to relate to each other on our experiences of being a young mum and the hardships we have gone through.
But this wasn’t just about looking back — it was also about our plans and aspirations for the future; not just as mums, but for ourselves as aspiring individuals. Although she was just 17 years old, with a 9-month-old baby at the time and I am in my early 20s with a 2-year-old, we understood each other on a level our parents and close friends couldn’t. Since meeting each other in June of this year, we have stayed in contact, had playdates with our daughters and I often pop up to her with the latest services offered by our Early Help department, for which she is always grateful.
This is not the first, and most certainly not the last, you will hear of stories such as mine, where strangers on the street are able to connect and confide in each other.
Imagine young boys speaking to a Streetbase patroller who has been a part of a gang or been through the criminal justice system. Think of the impact their experiences can have on their lives, in just a matter of minutes.
This is exactly how Streetbase can help tackle youth violence.
We link in with the young people on the streets and can direct them to a positive path that may secure their future. I believe if we continue to work in ways like this — having relatable people for our young residents to look up to — people who will not give up on them and give them a kick up the backside when needed — then sure enough, we will begin to see a turn around of young people’s attitudes and behaviours.
Right now, we need to see reducing violence in our borough as something that we all need to take responsibility of. Not just label it “youth violence” and exclude ourselves from the issue, as that will also be removing us from the solution.
That’s why we are so enthusiastically part of the Violence Reduction Partnership, because it clearly sets out how we can all move the dial by working together.
I believe Streetbase has something special, something that cannot easily be replicated. Part of this is that we are entirely youth-led. Part of this is our openness to partnership — we are always looking to link up with different organisations and people who want to work alongside young people and reduce youth violence.
Although Streetbase is only five months in, we have received an incredible amount of publicity and support, which will only continue to grow. We’ve been invited to speak at City Hall, attend Youth Justice Board conferences and many community events, but we don’t want it to end there.
Do invite us to events you are organising, conferences you are holding and meetings you are having so we can raise the profile of Streetbase and work in partnership to reduce youth violence: contact us at: email@example.com.
Streetbase is a peer-peer engagement program trademarked to the Young Advisors. Interested in running it in your local area? Contact firstname.lastname@example.org to find out how to setup a Young Advisor team!