Loughborough University: Safe spaces in sport vital for the prevention of youth knife crime – new study

Safe spaces provided by sporting clubs and community initiatives are vital for the prevention of youth knife crime, a Loughborough University study has found.

Researchers highlighted that such spaces provide young people at risk of knife crime a stable environment in which they can develop themselves and interact safely with mentors and others without fear of judgement or personal harm.

Additionally, findings showed that it provides individuals with the stability and protection they would otherwise not have in their lives.

The report also details the importance of understanding the reasoning behind why youths may be of risk and vulnerable to knife crime. This goes beyond the physical place where they live – the postcode – but also details the social, economic, emotional, and psychological ‘place’ they are in.

The two-phase research programme, conducted by Dr Holly Collison-Randall, Professor Aaron Smith, and PhD student Anna Farello, targeted selected sports programmes in the UK via surveys and in-depth virtual interviews with coaches and managers of six such projects across London boroughs.

Knife crime continues to rise across the UK with statistics showing 46,300 offences recorded in the year to March 2020. In addition, knife crime murders in under-eighteens sadly reached a record 30 victims in London alone in 2021.

Dr Holly Collison-Randall, Senior Lecturer at the Institute for Sport Business, at Loughborough University London, explained:

“The research highlighted the incredible personal commitment and passion of local coaches and individuals who wanted to positively respond to the violent cultures surrounding them in their communities.

“Sport, in its various forms, provided a mechanism for creating relative safety within the streets, parks, and estates that were simultaneously the sites for knife crime.

“Sport programmes are a positive disruptive force in the lives of young people. The programmes capable of providing disruptive development had four elements: knowledge of the place that contains driving factors towards knife crime and violence; sustaining and investing in the safe space that sports programmes provide; advocating and strategically implementing sport itself as a radical, positive disruption; and leveraging from hyper-local specificity of a programme. Collectively, the four elements encourage the best chance of impact.

“The Positive Disruptive Development through Sport model is therefore not a prescriptive formula to tackle knife crime through sport, but a flexible model that allows for hyperlocal specificity, in local spaces for local populations.”

Dr Collison-Randall’s experience and research into the use of sport as a post-conflict development intervention saw her selected by the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) as a senior consultant.

She produced the first technical and practical guide on ‘Preventing Violent Extremism through Sport’ and was also selected to guide the London Mayor’s Office for Policing and Crime (MOPAC) on using sports programmes to tackle violence and knife crime.

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