Am I right in thinking the Stop and Search debate in the UK as a whole has ignored the history of policing and young people in Northern Ireland?

November 6 – further to the original post see this link to an  Institute for Conflict Research report, Beyond the Margins – Building Trust in Policing With Young People

Thanks to Debs Erwin for the link.


stop and search

Blurring the Boundaries conference : Immediate Reflections 2

Further to yesterday’s contribution from Jon Ord we’re pleased to post Fiona Factor’s initial and supportive reaction to our conference, scribbled as she wound her way home last Friday. If other participants want to chip in that would be brilliant.


Today I attended the IDYW 7th National Conference, ‘Blurring Boundaries’, in Birmingham. I’ve been around the field in different guises for 30 odd years but this was my first IDYW event. I felt unsure about whether being outside of front-line practice, I would feel an imposter; I’m delighted to say it gave me a chance to reconnect with my ‘professional’ family. I renewed old acquaintances and friendships and made exciting new connections.

This morning’s debate on the place of ‘voluntary association’ whilst engaging, became less significant for me as the day went on. Whether the voluntary principle could or should be upheld in the current climate diminished in relevance as I heard stories from colleagues about their attempts to retain their professional identity and integrity in a commissioning world that does not ‘get it’, youth work that is. I felt embarrassed in my small group to share my forthcoming delight at organising a residential this half term which would bring together young people and the police to talk about how the police can protect and support young people more effectively within the context of child sexual exploitation and associated vulnerabilities. It will, without doubt embrace the youth work principles I practised, taught and researched over the last thirty odd years.

I am fortunate to come to this from the relative current comfort of an academic research post (don’t be fooled, a short term contract with numerous outcomes to achieve and impact to measure), but one that embraces participatory action research, and is committed to giving young people a voice in all that we do. Colleagues suggest this work I am doing is innovative and groundbreaking; I sigh and recall the times I engaged in this ‘innovative’ work as a detached youth worker bringing the police together with young people in the 1980’s to discuss ‘stop and search’. Sue Atkins did this work in Sheffield in the 1960’s.

There is a convenient institutional amnesia about the legacy of the youth work of the past; it suits the political agenda. I for one do not want to revisit what we haven’t done or should have done, but we know we have not been very good at finding a shared language to describe our ‘impact’. As John Holmes reminded us, we might have always been referred to as the ‘cinderella’ service, but don’t forget she did go the ball and the story had a happy ending! We need to engage in the debates across the piste and whether we use critical social pedagogy as a ‘threshold concept’ (nod to Annette and Sinead) or find an alternative language we need to talk the language of our commissioners so they do ‘get it’ and also make clear to young people what we’re about, the opportunities as well as limits of our current professional context.


I take my hat off to those on the front-line of practice who are able to maintain their professional integrity and still provide services to young people that they value despite the relentless onslaught of the neoliberal agenda, particularly in England; there were many of them present today. Now more than ever, young people need youth workers as advocates and educators; the context within which the dialogue takes place is almost immaterial, what matters is the opportunity for young people to know there is an alternative.

Thank you everyone for your contributions, commitment and passion; the increased fragmentation of the profession means that the need to preserve the space for critical debate becomes evermore important if not to generate answers, but support those who are on the front-line. We all need to consider the ways we can contribute to the preservation of IDYW from whichever position we occupy; thank you to those who have done such an amazing job so far.

Fiona Factor

Revisiting the Riots : Owen Jones speaks to young people and youth workers

Our campaign covered the August 2011 events from the outset in Riots are the Voice of the Unheard, which spoke too of Toxteth 1981, in Views from the Street, within which Tania, a youth worker on the ground, noted, “the riots seem to have sprung from nowhere, but paradoxically they have been a long time coming. Policing is a massively emotive issue for young people where I work in Hackney” and in Reflections on the Moss Side Riots 1981, where Gus John stated, “I would not be surprised if in the coming period as European economies begin falling in on themselves you have another upsurge of pan-European fascism.

In this context it is interesting to read the first and second of four reports, London Riots: One Year On, written by Owen Jones. He came to prominence as the author of the influential Chavs : The Demonisation of the Working Class and nowadays seems to be the leading and well liked, fresh-faced voice of a reviving Left outside and just inside the Labour Party.

In the first report he finds that racial strife, mistrust and frustration built up over generations show no signs of dissipating.

Drawing on his experience as a youth campaigner, Symeon Brown says young black men are “overpoliced as suspects, and underpoliced as victims”. But the impact could be subtle, he says. “You’re aware you’re being ‘othered’. You’re aware that you’re almost an enemy within the state, you’re a kind of danger.

With the situation facing young people in Tottenham worse than it was a year ago, questions have to be asked about whether we have seen the last of the disorder. The relationship between the local community and the police seems unsustainable.

“I do think there needs to be a communication about why they’re doing stop and search,” says Seema Chandwani, a 34-year-old youth worker and former deputy head of Haringey’s youth services. “Because I don’t think in their right mind anybody wants to allow people to walk around with knives or to walk around with guns or for their little brother or son to be stabbed because the police weren’t doing their job, so it’s about finding that balance.” Hinds is in no doubt that, if this balance is going to be achieved, there has to be a change in police training, which fails to “differentiate between the real gangster and the people who just go about doing their regular business”.

In the second he discovers that young people’s feelings of disenfranchisement and disillusion haven’t gone away.

Those who dismissed last year’s rioters as the “feral underclass” will find Jahmal troubling. Recently released after serving part of an 18-month sentence for violent disorder in last year’s Hackney riots, it is difficult to describe this baby-faced, softly-spoken 22-year-old as being simply motivated by “mindless criminality, pure and simple”, as David Cameron described the riots.

With so many young people facing a precarious future, youth workers warn of potentially grave consequences. Dean Ryan, 46, works with what he says “are euphemistically called ‘hard to reach, hard to engage’ young people”. He is adamant that austerity is having a dramatic impact on the young people he works with. “Before the riots we were campaigning against massive cuts to youth services. There are over a million unemployed young people in this country. Coupled with stop-and-search, continued police harassment and so on, we were saying this is a recipe for disaster.”

Fear of the future is mixed with a deeply-felt distrust of authority. Like many young black men, they have stories of stop-and-search going back years. “The police are very arrogant and ignorant about what’s going on in the community,” argues David. “They choose not to understand where the youths are coming from and why crime is rising. It’s down to a hard fact: nobody has anything to do, youth clubs are getting cut and stuff, so there’s nowhere really to go.” When asked if they knew anyone who rioted, the three friends laugh and shoot knowing glances at each other. “You were involved – don’t lie!” one mutters.

The feel of both these pieces resonates with our Campaign’s analysis. The circumstances underpinning the unrest cannot be changed by an emphasis on the individualised solutions offered through so many of today’s programmes for young people.

Sitting in a pub near Hackney’s Clapton Park estate, a group of middle-aged women expressed to me their despair about the future. Amanda Thomas, 40, has three children aged under five. When I asked about their future, her response was chilling: “I’m dreading it. People say, ‘Get a job, get an education’. But even if you get an education, there’s nothing.”

Lynne Stevens, a grandmother in her 50s, was just as pessimistic.

“We’ll just get more discontent, more homelessness, more family breakdown, more social exclusion, more narcotics,” she says. “How can it be any other way? The work isn’t there.” For many of those who lived through last year’s riots in Hackney, the hope is for peace on the streets. But the despair and fear that existed before the riots hasn’t gone away.

If youth work is to play a humble part in shifting the circumstances underpinning this despair and fear it needs be self-critical about its incorporation into a world, which speaks only of personal resilience and well-being; which if social is mentioned, refers only to enterprise and the entrepreneur.  Youth work needs to rediscover a commitment to collective, politicised activity from below, organised on young people’s terms and armed with young people’s own agendas in all their diversity.



Back at the end of February we posted notice of rehearsals for a flash mob event intended to highlight the increasing police harassment of young people. This important issue was highlighted through one of the stories, Holding on to your dignity, in our book, This is Youth Work.

Well in the end the Flashmob struck!

Urban dancers dressed as police officers flash mobbed Trafalgar Square and Grosvenor Square on Saturday 31 March 2012 to raise awareness of police discrimination whilst using controversial stop and search powers.

And here is the cool video of their activity. Well worth using as a catalyst for debate.

In the course of discussion created by the intervention one particular question emerged. To what extent are Black Minority Ethnic young people over-policed and under-protected? What are your thoughts?

Thanks to Munir for keeping us in touch with this work.



In our book. This is Youth Work, one of the stories focuses on the use and impact of the ‘stop and search’ tactic by the police upon young people. As we know this issue was at the heart of the unrest, which triggered last year’s riots – see The Police had it Coming.

We’ve just received notice from Munir Mohammed, a youth worker with SE1 United, who is looking to use dance as a medium for raising further the dilemmas.

Basically I need people to get involved in a Flashmob I am organising  “Stop and Search Yourself” : A dance/performance about the issue of stop and search. 

(Highlighting the issues with stop and search, mainly how it unfairly targets some groups over others)
****(Rehearsals will take place Saturdays and Sundays 1.05 pm @ in the Royal Festival hall  in Waterloo )**
Get back to me if your are interested/Know people who are interested, in getting involved in either: and as a gesture of your support, get involved in this event by: Joining in rehearsals/Learning more  about  the  Flashmob @ The Royal Festival Hall ..or forward on to others who may be interested in rehearsing the actual Flashmob routine///simply ‘performing’ the stop and search’ bit on the day//Or joining up in solidarity with issue.

The display itself is a special designed  Flashmob ,with a street dance routine of the ”routine check” as it were (so we’ll look somewhat ‘cool’) doing it as well :)…..and its really simple !! The music we’re doing this to is a mix of: Krs1 ” Sound of the police”,  Michael Jackson “beat it”  as well as the Mitchell brothers ”Routine check” …so this will be a lot fun 🙂 . Nevertheless the message will remain visually clear!!

Please circulate – contact Munira at muni_543@hotmail.com

The police had it coming : Reading the Riots

In the very midst of the August riots a youth worker posted us a response from the streets, in which she noted,

I met a group of young people I know on my way home tonight. They said the police had it coming, that the riots were overdue, that people have been angry for a long time and now the police have killed someone it’s no surprise there are riots. They said young people from rival postcodes were united last night against the police. They said they are angry that they are not listened to, there are no jobs and the police treat them badly. One of them said, ‘they call us violent but the prime minister has a button to set off a whole load of nuclear weapons that would kill everyone, that’s violence’.

This perspective was ridiculed by Cameron and Company, who preferred to talk of ‘mindless thugs’ and the centrality of gang culture.

Three months later the Guardian and the London School of Economics are publishing the findings of their study, Reading the Riots, in a range of articles.

English riots were ‘a sort of revenge’ against the police

Rioters interviewed for the study say they sought retribution for what they saw as police abuse of power in their communities. These are but a couple of paragraphs from this piece.

Antipathy towards police within black communities appeared to transcend generations. One young black man in Liverpool spoke of how participating in the riots was an expression of his identity: “Grown-ups … the elders of the community … were making it known that they didn’t like the police so … that made me personally feel more like yeah, I was representing them.”Nowhere were frustrations with police tactics more apparent that when rioters spoke about stop and search. Of the Reading the Riots interviewees, 73% said they had been stopped and searched in the past 12 months – they were more than eight times more likely than the general population in London to have been stopped and searched in the previous year.

One 32-year-old black man from south London said police “stop you for nothing” and “violate” his personal space. “Because you might live on that estate or you might hang round that estate … OK, I fit the description. What’s the description? Young black male … I just come out of my yard and I’m chilling for you to come and stop me and search me up. And violate me. Because that’s what it is, a violation, talking to me like I’m nothing.”

Indifferent elites, poverty and police brutality – all reasons to riot in the UK

In this article Gary Younge argues that “this summer’s social unrest in Britain was destructive and incoherent, but it was still a form of protest”, concluding,

In a year that started with the uprisings in Tunisia and is ending with police raids on occupations protesting inequality across the globe, only a naïf would understand these disturbances as a random, isolated moment of mass social deviancy particular to Britain. It would be like claiming that the two black athletes who raised their fists on the podium during the Mexico Olympics in 1968 engaged in individual acts of protest in no way related to the students in Paris, the massacre in My Lai or the passing of the US civil rights act.

The 2011 riots would probably win gold as the year’s most destructive, least coherent protest of disaffected youth against indifferent elites, economic hardship and police brutality. Rioters were more likely to give the finger than clench the fist. But what this report makes clear is that they belong to the same category of protest.

Looking ahead those involved in the riots see them as a beginning rather than an end. From the point of view of those involved in youth work this is a salutary message. Efforts to draw a line between deserving and undeserving youth – most embarrassingly symbolised by the NCVYS ‘Not in my Name’ opportunist cuddling up to the Coalition’s demonising agenda – lack any sense of contradiction, betray a short-sightedness that hides behind the self-congratulatory rhetoric of Positive for Youth.

English rioters warn of more to come

Four out of five participants in summer unrest think there will be a repeat, with most believing poverty to be a factor.

And here is the link to the Newsnight piece on the implications of the research with the rioters underlining their hostility to policing, whilst the Coalition minister and ex-commissioner of the MET remain in deep denial.


And as Gus John observes in reflecting on the 1981 Moss Side disturbances and the significance of poverty, to what extent is education and that includes youth work,  anything to do,

with giving people the tools to take control of their own lives, equipping people to act collectively to bring about change, and it is certainly nothing to do with understanding the evolution of British social history, such that we can as a society learn from our advances and defeats. That kind of discourse is seen as a throwback to the days of ‘red-led’ protests of the past for lefties. The assumption is that it is not necessary to think in terms of class or the individual up against the state, and that we should be counting our blessings. Meanwhile, stratification within society becomes more entrenched. Those who are poor are not just disenfranchised by lacking wages through which they can live dignified lives; they are also denied the tools by which they can organise in defence of their lives.

Thirty years on, plus ca change? Discuss and argue.