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‘We need to tackle collective trauma of knife crime’: Power The Fight’s CEO on preventing violence in South London

Power The Fight has been working with communities in South London since 2019, helping families and young people navigate life, health, and the aftermath of violence when it strikes. Offering counselling and therapeutic guidance, the organisation based in Peckham is at the forefront of battling rising knife crime across the capital. South London Press sat down with Power The Fight’s chief executive, Ben Lindsay, to learn more.

Ben has lived in South-east London his whole life, growing up in the Blackheath and Greenwich area. He attended the Thomas Tallis school in Blackheath in the 1990s, a mile away from where Stephen Lawrence was murdered in Eltham in 1993.

“I was 15 at the time, said Ben. “We were in school and I think that’s probably the first time my friends and I experienced a level of trauma that impacts a community through violence.

Ben’s proximity to South London’s communities continued after he left school, working in primary schools, in the Youth Offending Service, mental health charities, and as a pastor for 12 years in South-east London. 

“I’m now in the heart of the community of South-east London, he says. “And I’m seeing the trauma, pain, violence of what knife crime can bring, and the holistic impacts on that as well.

“We talk about young people, but we also have parents and carers and family members, it’s a collective trauma, which we don’t often talk about.”

Ben Lindsay, centre, with schoolchildren during a Power The Fight session (Picture: Power The Fight)

Ben says the collective trauma came to a head for him when in 2016, two young people lost their lives in the space of five months. Seventeen-year-old Myron Yarde was stabbed to death in New Cross. Ben had known him since he was the age of one. 

Myron’s best friend, Leoandro Osemeki, aged 16, gave a eulogy at Myron’s funeral, five months later he was also stabbed to death at a house party in Peckham. 

“I will never get used to children giving eulogies about other children,” Ben said. “So now you’ve got this incredible collective trauma in South-east London, two boys who grew up in the same estate, two very close friends have now both lost their lives in the space of five months. And I suppose that was the moment when I thought to myself, ‘this is very close to home and maybe I can do something here’.”

Three years later Power The Fight was born and Ben says its remit was, first and foremost, can it train and equip the community to be part of the solution? 

Since then the charity has trained more than 14,000 practitioners, including police officers, doctors, teachers, youth workers, faith groups, anyone who is front-facing with young people around the issue of violence.

The organisation also supports families when they lose a loved one to knife crime. It has given more than £50,000 to about 70 families in the last four years.

The Power The Fight team (Picture: Power The Fight)

“We give a cheque, and we say ‘listen, this is for you. It’s just for you to do whatever you need to do with that with that money’, said Ben. “It isn’t always about burying children, sometimes in people’s trauma you know, bills are not being paid and that type of stuff.

“But we also signpost these families to therapeutic agency support, legal support, and MPs.”

The key method of engaging with young people is the work Power The Fight does in schools. They run a programme called Therapeutic Intervention for Peace.

“It’s what we would call a culturally sensitive therapeutic programme, says Ben. “We did a report in 2020, which highlighted the need for particularly black and brown families to engage with therapeutic services.”

Ben is keen to point out though, that it’s not just about race.  

“I don’t think this is a black or brown issue, I think it disproportionately impacts black and brown children in a London context. But if you go outside of London, to a place like Cleveland, the graphic is different. It’s 98 per cent white, and they’ve got a very high rate of knife crime.”

The school sessions take a therapy-led approach and have increased student wellbeing as well as reduced school exclusion rates.

The drivers of knife crime are complex but poverty is one that simply cannot be ignored, Ben says.

“One of the things we’ve got to look at is history, we have to look at when there is recession, then austerity, naturally, you then have an increase in poverty. And I think, when you have an increase in poverty, there is also a correlation to the increase in violence and criminality,” he said.

From left, Crystal Palace FC midfielder and Power The Fight ambassador, Eberechi Eze, with Ben Lindsay (Picture: Power The Fight)

On top of this, a big change in how to approach youth violence lies in social media. It is how people are influenced, traumatised and violence is shared.

“When we talk about online safety, most people go for the obvious things like ‘what’s my kid doing in a Snapchat context? Or what are my kids doing on Instagram or Twitter?’

“But the biggest issue we have is with WhatsApp which holds so much information, how fast information can be shared – organised fights and meetups and that type of stuff happens on WhatsApp. 

“It’s how things can escalate too. You say something in a WhatsApp group it’s misunderstood or seen as a diss or cuss or something like that. I’ve seen that end up in violence. It’s a really scary space to be in.

“But there’s certain things that you can get on your phone now, which can stop apps from happening, you can turn off Wi Fi, there’s lots of these little bits and pieces, which parents need to be clued up about.”

Ben says Power The Fight holds online safety sessions for parents which can be found on their website.

And for anyone worried about how their children or young people in their lives might be responding to knife crime, Ben shared some valuable insights.

“It’s hard because teenagers don’t talk to their parents often. So the best habitat to witness your children’s behaviour is with their peer groups. If you can, open your space up and always try and make your space welcoming for your children’s friends. Because they will then feel at home and the things you overhear, you’re like ‘ah it’s fascinating’.

“For me, it’s creating those spaces where there’s no pressure to talk and some of those conversations will start naturally.”

You can find out more about Power the Fight’s work here and on their social media pages.

Pictured top: Ben Lindsay, Power The Fight’s chief executive (Picture: Power The Fight)

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