Young people defy stereotypes to play an active part in their communities during lockdown

Young people defy stereotypes to play an active part in their communities during lockdown

by Lucie Russell, CEO of StreetDoctors

Despite being out of the headlines, knife crime and youth violence have not gone away. They are even expected to rise given the economic and social problems caused by COVID-19. However, despite often being blamed for problems within communities, our own research shows that young people at risk of youth violence have great passion for stepping forward and making a difference in times of need.

In fact, almost half of those young people we surveyed, along with research partners Redthread and MAC-UK during this Summer as part of our report, Living through a Lockdown: reflections and recommendations from young people at risk of youth violence, had taken part in community initiatives to help their neighbours and the health services – a far cry from the headlines which have been blaming young people for being selfish and irresponsible.

“Everyone has become closer in my neighbourhood helping each other out if they need essential items and clapping every Thursday night for the carers.”

Survey respondent

Media narratives are often quick to criminalise those at risk of being involved in youth violence, portraying negative stereotypes that do nothing for community relations or boosting young people’s aspirations. The results of our research contradict this, showing young people as kind, compassionate and willing to help other vulnerable people around them.

“Make sure vulnerable people have all the support they need during this time. People who have mental health issues [should] get the support they need easily.”

Survey respondent

The report shows we need to harness this energy and young people’s passion for active citizenship. We need to do this not because we think young people ‘should’ do this, but because they really want to. We need to listen to young people, include their opinions in our decision making and push open the doors for them to take part in positive activities in our communities.

“[I would like to see] more opportunities for young people to work or volunteer it would put less stress on jobs and try to keep the community together and make sure they feel safe in their environment.”

Survey respondent

That’s why at StreetDoctors we believe it is vital, now more than ever, to invest in young people and enable them to be part of the solution to the issues we face, including youth violence. By training young people in the skills needed to keep themselves and others safe from violence, StreetDoctors is creating active citizens, and empowering young people across the country to become lifesavers in their own communities.

One of the ways we actualise this is through StepWise, our youth engagement programme. This summer, with social-distancing in place, 22 young people took part in and graduated from our StepWise programme where they learnt emergency life-saving first-aid, developed a deeper knowledge of medical skills and pathways into healthcare, and will co-deliver StreetDoctors sessions to their peers alongside our volunteers.

“[I am grateful that StepWise is] empowering young people, especially during this climate, because sometimes it can feel like you’re powerless against all of these things going on around you, and that’s why its important to give young people the skills to be able to save someone’s life.”

Emmanuella, StepWise graduate, 2020

Young people aren’t takers, they are givers. They want to play an active part in their communities – to help recover from the pandemic we must facilitate their commitment to putting this into practice.

Read the Living through a lockdown report here