This week, I had the opportunity to sit down with Patrick Green, CEO of the Ben Kinsella Trust, to interview him about the Trust’s recent opening of their ‘choices and consequences’ exhibition in Barking & Dagenham, Essex.
‘Why Barking & Dagenham?’ was the natural question to ask the head of a knife-crime charity that started life in Islington, following the horrific murder of Ben Kinsella in 2008. Was it because Barking has seen an 178% increase in knife attacks involving under-25s in the past five years? ‘No’, said Patrick, ‘that isn’t the reason. If it were the reason, we would be opening exhibition spaces in all 32 London boroughs.’
He said the decision ultimately came down to the strength of the London Borough of Barking & Dagenham as a partner. The local authority recognises that prevention is better than a cure and that knife crime involves ‘choices’: the choice to carry a knife. ‘Knife crime is a learnt behaviour’ and Barking & Dagenham’s council ‘recognise that’; they work with schools and parents to recognise the early knife-carrying warning signs.
The Trust’s work complements this. They are, according to Patrick, ‘experts by experience’, and have developed their method to tackle the problem of knife crime over more than a decade, constantly refining their techniques based on the feedback from young people. The new exhibition in Barking, double the size of the Trust’s exhibition space in Islington, is an opportunity for children and students to ‘walk in the footsteps of those who have been affected by knife crime’, every space in the exhibition relates to the dangers of knife crime and the importance of making positive choices to stay safe.
I asked Patrick why the Trust had chosen to use exhibitions and workshops, rather than talks in schools, to debunk the myth that carrying a knife protects you. He said that the point of the exhibition is to give young people a unique, immersive experience outside the classroom which complement the school’s PSHE curriculum. He went on to say that the exhibition not only helps young people to stay safe, but it also teaches them about their responsibility to stop friends or classmates carrying knives. Patrick stated that the exhibition motivates young people to take a stand against knife crime, and during the workshops it is common to hear young people saying, ‘I cannot let something like this happen on my watch: I must stand up to this’. It is all about strengthening peer values, highlighting the responsibility to tell someone, challenging ‘snitching’, and offering a counter-narrative to the normalisation of violence online.
Before our interview ended, Patrick highlighted two elements of the Barking exhibition of particular significance. Firstly, the Ben Kinsella Trust has worked with local families to tell the harrowing stories of not just Ben, but also of Jodie Chesney, Champion Ganda, and Duran Kajiama, showing people that these issues are not merely a national problem but also affect local people and local communities. Secondly, he highlighted the feedback from schools who regularly book to attend the workshops consistently sends the same message: ‘the positive change in behaviour of the children who have been through the exhibition is striking’.
It was evident from my interview that the opening of the Barking & Dagenham exhibition is the Trust’s next step on the road to stemming the tide of knife crime. Every step on that road is oh so important; the sad reality of the legacy of knife crime is not ‘the picture of a big knife’, but ‘the grieving mother or sister left behind’.
Ben Coady, Volunteer Editor