Birm­ing­ham chil­dren ‘as young as eight’ swept up in drugs and vi­o­lence Pair ded­i­cated to sav­ing young lives through sport

Birmingham Post - - NEWS - Joshua Lay­ton Staff Re­porter

YOUNG peo­ple have told how they are liv­ing in con­stant fear of be­ing shot or stabbed in their own neigh­bour­hood.

Gangs wag­ing ‘post­code’ turf wars, to­gether with a craze for post­ing footage of fights, threats and bravado on so­cial me­dia, have been blamed for ris­ing lev­els of vi­o­lence.

Youth lead­ers have also re­vealed that the age of young peo­ple be­ing swept up in street crime has dropped to as young as eight.

Chil­dren so young they are still in pri­mary school are be­ing used as drug-run­ners.

Com­mu­nity worker Mo­hammed Zafran, speak­ing on the eighth an­niver­sary of his brother-in-law’s vi­o­lent death, said more needs to be done to pro­vide ac­tiv­i­ties for young peo­ple in and around Birm­ing­ham.

Two 19-year-olds who play foot­ball at the youth worker’s Unite & Uplift academy, based in Bordes­ley Green, also spoke frankly about the cli­mate of fear in the neigh­bour­hood.

One said: “It’s crazy. Every time you step out­side your house, you worry you could get shot or stabbed on your own doorstep. It’s some­thing you worry about all the time.

“Some­one could come and shoot you, some­one could come and stab you for no rea­son – they don’t have to know you.”

The com­mu­nity li­ai­son of­fi­cer, known as ‘Zaf ’, has steered thou­sands of young peo­ple to more pos­i­tive pur­suits through his life-chang­ing academy, which was borne out of grief at his brother-in-law’s death and is based at South and City Col­lege’s Bordes­ley Green cam­pus. The cur­rent rate of vi­o­lence in the West Mid­lands – ranked as the sec­ond high­est in the coun­try last year – is among the worst he has ever seen, with young peo­ple be­ing swept up in the may­hem.

Zaf, whose brother-in-law Safraz Khan was fa­tally stabbed in the head with a screw­driver on June 27, 2008, of­fers a stark illustration of the toll that such vi­o­lence is tak­ing on other fam­i­lies.

“I have a part­ner­ship with an­other group who run a cricket team in As­ton,” he says. “They told me re­cently that one of the play­ers got a phone call to say his brother had been stabbed. Within an hour an­other chap got a phone call to say his brother had been shot.

“In the next six days, it was some­one be­ing shot or stabbed. It’s af­fect­ing dif­fer­ent com­mu­ni­ties, dif­fer­ent ar­eas – and some of it is the post­code wars aris­ing again.”

Last Fe­bru­ary, fig­ures showed West Mid­lands Po­lice had re­ceived 119 re­ports of chil­dren car­ry­ing – and us­ing – knives, knuckle dusters and ra­zors, dur­ing the pre­vi­ous 18 months.

“There is a prob­lem at a lo­cal school with chil­dren aged eight or nine sell­ing drugs,” Zaf says. “The deal­ers are us­ing chil­dren be­cause they can’t be touched by the po­lice.

“It’s a com­mon thing, the kids are vul­ner­a­ble and the deal­ers give them a fiver and use them as run­ners. It’s not so much shock­ing, be­cause noth­ing shocks me any­more, but it does hurt to have this hap­pen­ing in your own com­mu­nity.”

More than 22,000 peo­ple have taken part in ac­tiv­i­ties at the acade- my since it launched five years ago, in­clud­ing one foot­baller ar­rested more than 180 times, and who had anger man­age­ment is­sues.

But even when tem­pers fray, there is no such thing as a lost cause.

Zaf spent the eighth an­niver­sary of his brother-in-law’s death at his grave be­fore go­ing to an evening foot­ball ses­sion at his youth project, where around 30 young peo­ple largely from So­ma­lian and Ja­maican back­grounds played foot­ball.

The guid­ing light be­lieves young peo­ple en­gaged in ‘bad­ness’ sim­ply lack out­lets for their en­ergy, and that more youth cen­tres and projects are needed.

“I think there’s frus­tra­tion,” Zaf con­tin­ues. “There’s a short­age of youth cen­tres and youth clubs, there is a lack of ac­tiv­i­ties.

“There are some peo­ple some bril­liant work, but the peo­ple in power need to do more in terms of youth en­gage­ment, and ask­ing the young­sters what the prob­lems are.” do­ing ABID Khan, of the Birm­ing­ham Youth Sports Academy, is work­ing along­side Zaf in reach­ing out to young peo­ple through sport, in­clud­ing men­tor­ing and foot­ball ses­sions. “No-one’s be­yond help, there’s al­ways a way,” Mr Khan says. “It’s about en­gag­ing with young peo­ple and find­ing out the prob­lems. This is just the start­ing point, be­cause the prob­lems go a lot deeper. “We just need to save as many as we can, and if we can re­cruit them to work on our side of the fence, it makes our lives a lot eas­ier.” Mr Khan, him­self a boxer and foot­baller, is us­ing grass­roots sport in Small Heath and Salt­ley as a way to steer young peo­ple to brighter fu­tures.

He echoes Zaf ’s as­sess­ment of the cor­ro­sive pres­sures on young peo­ple, with so­cial me­dia be­ing one of the chief cul­prits.

“Young peo­ple want to get likes on so­cial me­dia and it’s a mas­sive prob­lem,” Mr Khan ex­plains.

“It’s post­code wars, and then they want to get the footage to share on so­cial me­dia plat­forms to show what a good job they’ve done.

“It’s about peer pres­sure and want­ing to be part of the crowd and part of the crew.

“Un­for­tu­nately, this is the way it is. To be one of the boys you have to have done some­thing, and you have to have ev­i­dence of it. It’s a mash-up of ev­ery­thing re­ally, it’s the cul­ture, the so­ci­ety, the gad­gets, the so­cial me­dia in­flu­ence, there’s so much go­ing on.”

Zaf ’s academy, for­merly known as All 4 Youth and Com­mu­nity, has used foot­ball as a touch­stone which can lead to young peo­ple tak­ing up aca­demic and vo­ca­tional pur­suits.

“Here, the young peo­ple come for the foot­ball, and they learn dis­ci­pline,” says Mr Khan. “They are good play­ers and they be­come role mod­els for the gen­er­a­tions com­ing through.

“If we can utilise so­cial me­dia in the cor­rect man­ner and push videos, we can have an im­pact.

“Even if we save one life or change one kid it’s an achieve­ment.”

> In­ner city gangs have a grip over parts of Birm­ing­ham

> Abid Khan, left, and Mo­hammed ‘Zaf ’ Zafran

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