Dean was one of a group of Merseyside young people who dedicated their time to trying to understand the fears of their peers and the roots of serious violence.
On the eve of the publication of their report “Youth Violence and Us: The Culture of Youth Violence in Merseyside” he outlines their findings and shares what it is like to become a Peer Action Collective (PAC) researcher.
“Being involved in the PAC project has been hugely rewarding for me personally, and I know I speak for the entire team in saying that it has provided us with opportunities to develop on a personal and professional level. Our passion for young people being given a seat at the table and a chance to offer their views on issues affecting them such as youth violence, as well as improving and enhancing the communities we live in, is what led us into this work. However, what this innovative project has equipped us with is the professional knowledge and skills to be taken seriously and actually engage collaboratively with various organisations who are capable of creating positive change.”
Shoulder To Lean On
What I loved from day one was there was always someone there you could ask, and that it was a safe environment where you could make mistakes. The team from Liverpool John Moores University also encouraged us to talk about our own life experiences of violence and gather views from our network of friends. Working as part of YPAS has been massively beneficial as we have truly been embraced by all staff members which has enabled us to learn a great deal about best practice in various aspects of the service.
Learning interviewing skills, how to organise ourselves, and framing open questions was quite time-consuming and required dedication. However, I think it was vital that we considered carefully during the early stages of the project what the focus of our research actually was and how we would conduct it. Ultimately, we are committed to our findings leading to further action and not merely being presented as statistics. Therefore, we recognised the importance of putting the work in early on to maximise the potential impact we could create for young people and communities across Merseyside.
Then there is overcoming the stress of facing people and actually asking the questions. We conducted interviews online, at focus groups and with COVID restrictions lifted, we were able to speak to young people face-to-face in schools and youth groups. I think as a team we were prepared for the fact that we were going to hear a diverse range of views, some of which we may not understand or even like. But as much as it is great we have been granted this opportunity as young people ourselves, we are very keen to express that this project is not all about us. It is about accurately representing what children and young people in Merseyside feel about youth violence and surrounding issues and amplifying their voices as much as possible.
What came across to us was that young people are seeing and experiencing serious violence from an early age and it has left some desensitised to it and others anxious about it. People reported hate crimes due to race, sexuality and gender, and knife crime was again the big concern.
ACES High On The Reasons Why
I myself have learned that what are called ACES – Adverse Childhood Experiences – can play a massive part in serious violence and that exposure to abuse as a small child could create another generation who become involved in it, perhaps coerced into a gang and county lines activity. What I hope we have made clear with our report is that for too long youth violence and serious violence generally has perhaps not been treated as the complex and multi-faceted issue it actually is. Once we start viewing youth violence in conjunction with other societal issues and concentrating on the root causes, I truly believe we can achieve better outcomes. I think it is really important that we produced solutions to serious violence, which included better training on things like casual racism as well as simple measures like additional street lighting to ensure young people feel safer on our streets.
We ran the study during the time of high-profile murders and instances of serious violence occurring, most notably the murders of Olivia and Ava. As a team, these events hit us hard and left us feeling dispirited and at times sharing the hopelessness of young people we were finding in our research. However, at a time when Liverpool was perceived nationally as a dangerous place to be, our respondents also showed themselves to be proud of their region and determined to help improve it. We definitely shared this attitude, and whilst it was difficult to take into account the long-term impact of the project at these times, we knew that we owed it to the young people we were interviewing to continue striving towards a better future.
I am immensely proud of what we have achieved together, and incredibly thankful to everybody who has listened to us along the way and helped us in spreading our message. Most importantly, I would like to add that the work does not stop here, and we would like to encourage and empower other young people to recognise the power they hold in speaking up and creating the change they want to see happen locally.”