Over recent weeks and months, the London Borough of Camden has seen a spate of serious violent crimes involving young people, including the fatal stabbings of a seventeen and twenty-year-old within hours of each other.
Shocked at the tragic loss of life and the feeling that the streets are no longer safe for young people, Nextdoor Primrose Hill member Xandra Bingley is determined to help turn the tide.
Xandra has lived in the neighbourhood for fifty years and has seen the area change drastically in that time. “I moved here in 1969 as a broke single mother, paying just £15 a month for a beautiful flat right on Primrose Hill itself” reminisces Xandra, explaining that “it was the smoke from the steam trains that made the area undesirable, but the move to electric in the 1960s led to the beginning of the shift to the wealthy, privileged and glamorous area we see today.”
“I have lived here happily, joyously and safely ever since – but this is the year it’s changed”, she says. Xandra believes it’s crucial for the local community in Primrose Hill to come together to help support young people at risk of falling into lives of crime. “This year, we have seen very starkly this heart-rending, cruel gap between the wealthy and the reality of life for too many young people – which we, ‘the wealthy’, know nothing about.”
If people only knew what was happening, they would care, and they would help.
– Xandra Bingley
That’s why Xandra has turned to Nextdoor to ask her neighbours to support the work of the St Mary’s Centre, the youth project run from her local church. Xandra befriended Jason Allen, who runs the project, some years ago and describes him as “hand on heart, one of the most extraordinary people I’ve ever met.”
The St Mary’s Centre works to support young people, aged six to twenty-five, who have experienced high levels of trauma or abuse, or have been heavily involved with violence from a young age. Jason describes the importance the project places on “going through a whole journey” with a young person, even if that means visiting them in prison, to avoid them slipping into – or back into – a life of crime.
The club runs a series of projects including sport and fitness, health and welfare support and employment advice, which also serve as a filter to allow Jason and his team to identify the young people most at risk from being involved with violence. They also run two or three residentials each year, this includes a retreat where they take gang members to unpick the issues that drive their violent behaviour, often centring on unresolved physical or sexual abuse as kids.
“Young people aren’t weighing up the consequences of their actions quickly enough” says Jason, “we help them change that.” The St Mary’s Centre make it clear that support is available all the time: their phone is on, even on Christmas Day, and they constantly support young people to keep their lives on track, even giving some a phone call to wake them up for college. Indeed, most of the project’s youth workers themselves went through the club, with many having been caught up in crime, but got their lives back on track.
The St Mary’s Centre has been hugely successful in the past ending turf wars between gangs, getting young people to hand in firearms and helping countless young people turn their lives around. But with three young people who were members the club murdered in recent weeks, Jason feels a sense of urgency: “Lots of young people have become desensitised to violence – they think it’s kill or be killed. We have to be better at noticing the problems early and nipping them in the bud.”
With additional funding, the St Mary’s Centre could employ additional staff to identify and work with young people across the area, who are at risk of leading lives of crime – as well as assist with the costs of retreats and other activities that lead young people away from violence.
Xandra and Jason are hoping to raise £30,000 for the St Mary’s Centre, and hope that the local community step up to help turn around the lives of vulnerable young people and make their area safer. On 24th February, Xandra logged into the Nextdoor app and created a post that went to the 750 neighbours using Nextdoor Primrose Hill asking for their support. “Nextdoor helps bring back a sense of community to the neighbourhood – and when people ask for help, the whole community benefits: whether that’s finding a lost cat, a recommendation for someone to repair a chair – or a local fundraising project like this. I believe it helps bring people together in the ‘real world’ too. On Nextdoor, you know these are your real neighbours who care about the community and its future, and are able to offer immediate help.”
If you would like to donate to the St Mary’s Centre and support Xandra and Jason’s campaign to turn around the lives of vulnerable young people, please do so here. It could make all the difference in the world for them – and the local community in Camden.