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The Ben Kinsella Trust’s exhibition in Barking & Dagenham was inspired by Ben Kinsella.

Ben was a normal school boy who, at the age of just 16, was murdered in an unprovoked knife attack. He was on his way home from a night with friends when he and his friends were chased by a group of three older boys. They caught up with Ben and stabbed him eleven times in five seconds. Tragically, in the early hours of the following morning, Ben lost his life.

The exhibition gives young people a snapshot into Ben’s life, the devastating impact his death had upon his family and friends, the disruption the incident caused in the community, and the likely outcome for offenders. Similarities can be drawn to the Anne Frank Museum; an experience run in the house where Anne went into hiding after the Nazi occupation of the Netherlands. The point of the Anne Frank experience is to be immersed in a small part of Anne’s life: one experiences the dreadful conditions Anne was personally subjected to, in addition to the general hate directed towards the Jewish population by fascist rule. You leave the Museum understanding that all hatred cannot be tolerated.

The Ben Kinsella Trust attempts to do something similar. Through a series of different rooms, the Barking & Dagenham exhibition stimulates empathy with Ben’s life and the devastation caused by knife crime. From the surveys about the exhibition, the process works: prior to the exhibition, 26% of young people think that carrying a knife will protect them or are not sure, whereas after the exhibition, that figure reduces to 8%. Patrick Green, CEO of the Ben Kinsella Trust, explains further:
‘There is an unquestionable yet tragic link between young people’s feelings of safety and knife carrying. Our data shows 9% of children and young people never feel safe when walking the streets and it is amongst this group that knife carrying is most prevalent. Our exhibition changes young people’s attitudes to knife crime, challenging misconceptions and debunking the myth that carrying a knife will protect you. We help young people to understand that carrying a knife offers no protection and is never acceptable.’

Room 1 is the exhibition’s ‘Introduction to Choices and Consequences’ room; it contains an interactive cartoon that plays out the story of a young person who is bullied, who then chooses to go to a party where he knows the bully will be in attendance too. As they are fearful, they decide to take a knife, which they believe will protect them. The workshop then takes attendees through three different scenarios, all of which do not have the desired outcome.

What the room and cartoon emphasise is that a series of choices led to these undesirable outcomes. There is always a choice: a choice to carry the knife, a choice to tell someone, a choice to attend the party, a choice to drink at the party, a choice about who your friends are, and so on. Good choices are what keep you safe

In Room 2, Ben Kinsella’s life is introduced. The room contains a collage of photos from Ben’s life: from family holidays, to his DJing, to birthday parties. ‘Ben’s room’ demonstrates that Ben was just like any other young person before he died: he supported Arsenal, he had a dog he loved, ‘Teddy’, and he had aspirations to become a graphic designer.

The ‘Cinema Room’, Room 3, is the first point at which the Exhibition introduces Ben’s death. The film shown is a difficult and emotive watch, but it is not intended to upset. The footage gives attendees a glimpse into the aftermath of losing someone to knife-crime. There are normally lots of questions (such as how did Ben survive for around 5 hours after the event?), and the workshop aims to answer those questions.

The 4th Room, unique to Barking & Dagenham, introduces the stories of three more young people lost to knife-crime. Jodie Chesney, Champion Ganda, and Duran Kajiama all had no personal connection to Ben, but they are tragically connected by the fact that they were all lost to knife-crime. This room, rather like Room 3, shows attendees short films about Jodie’s, Champion’s, and Duran’s lives and the impact their deaths had on their respective families. The films demonstrate that knife-crime affects everyone: no matter your gender or ethnicity, you could be the subject of, or relation of someone involved in, knife-crime.

Room 5, the ‘Choices and Consequences Room’, has a dual purpose: to teach attendees about staying alive (either as the victim of an attack, or as a bystander helping someone involved), and about the law governing knife crime. The ‘staying alive’ component shows attendees how the circulatory system works, what happens to the body when you are stabbed, and what life is like if you survive an attack. The ‘law’ element introduces young people to the criminal age of responsibility, the minimum sentence and tariff for murder, the concept of accessorial liability and joint enterprise, and finally about life in prison.

Finally, Room 6—expanding on the ‘law’ section in Room 5—introduces immersive theatre in the form of the set of a mock prison cell. The room has a live actor who plays the role of a prisoner. The actor will talk about why they have been imprisoned, the difficulties of a prison sentence, and will take questions on all aspects of prison life. This is a highly immersive end to the exhibition which puts attendees in the shoes of a young offender: it gives young people the opportunity to briefly and safely experience what it is like to be a prisoner.

On finishing, the exhibition and workshop conclude with a debrief and reflection. The Trust appreciates that the exhibition will throw up many emotions and questions, and consequently attendees will be guided through their feelings.

The Ben Kinsella Trust exhibition based in Barking & Dagenham is free to schools and youth organisations based in the borough.

Ben Coady, Volunteer Editor

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