There is no doubt in Lutel James’s mind that a rising number of young people growing up in Leeds are becoming affiliated with gangs.
In areas where money and jobs are in short supply, it is easy to see why youngsters might be vulnerable to exploitation.
The streets don’t love you, families do. The streets will use you as much as they need, then they will spit you out.Lutel James
“Initially the streets will give you opportunities that nobody else will, even if that’s to the detriment of young people,” he said. “That’s what they can see is accessible. It’s okay telling people to come away from gang affiliation but what support are we giving them?”
It is the very reason why Chapeltown Youth Development Centre (CYDC) is stepping up its own work to offer real alternatives to those at risk of being drawn into criminality.
The youth organisation has recently launched a three-year programme called GANG UK – Guiding A New Generation.
It will use sport, mentoring and training opportunities to help children and young people become productive members of their community.
Lutel said: “It’s about building capacity so they have the skills to go into employment. Rather than talking about this is what we don’t want young people to do, we’re putting on programmes to help them make that change.
“It’s not just about doing these activities though. If you do a football session and it’s 90 minutes, maybe 15 minutes could be talking about what some of their key challenges are, how do they overcome those challenges, how do they feel about gangs in their communities.”
Set to run alongside it is a new football academy, which will offer a comprehensive training programme and studies for those aged 16 and over.
CYDC will also be putting around 60 young people through a leadership programme offering opportunities to gain qualifications.
Lutel said: “The gangs project for me is about being willing to work with the hard to reach, easy to ignore people.
“Sometimes the support will be a kind, critical friend; it could be advice and guidance; it could be some mediation between parents and them. We’ve got to look at each individual and each situation.
“We’ll have young people that don’t have involvement in criminality, people who are on the periphery and also people that are gang affiliated who just want a way out. It’s allowing them the support to get off the streets. The streets don’t love you, families do. The streets will use you as much as they need, then they will spit you out.”
Those families and people from all walks of life have an important part to play, Lutel said.
It could be acting as a mentor, sharing their skills or volunteering with the project.
“I’d like to challenge parents, grandparents and young people to become part of this,” he said. “It’s about supporting young people to make more well-informed choices and it’s about core values we’ve lost.”
He wants to draw on all community resources, including ex-offenders who can talk about the realities of gang affiliation.
Lutel said: “It’s a counteracting message to the people who are trying to recruit them.
“Young people need to hear it from people who’ve been down those avenues as well as some of the parents who’ve lost their children through gangs.
“It’s not just the person you’re shooting or stabbing. It’s the knock-on effect.”