Luton Council, Bedfordshire Police and the Office of the Police and Crime Commissioner have all pledged to put more resources into community safety work in Luton to fight knife crime.
A major summit at Luton Sixth Form College this week brought together community organisers, key agencies, voluntary and faith groups, and education leaders to see what more they could do to tackle the issue.
A major new knife crime campaign – ‘Just Drop It’ - is set to launch for the county next week, while efforts are underway to bring the landmark Knife Angel sculpture to Luton next summer.
Tuesday night’s (7 November) summit saw nearly 100 people come together from across the town.
Those in attendance are already active and working to try and tackle the problems associated with knife crime and criminal exploitation of young people: police, council, local schools and colleges, support programmes for young people and healthcare providers.
A range of commitments to provide more opportunities for community based organisations and projects to work to support young people and schools was proposed.
Speaking for the council, Councillor Maria Lovell, Portfolio Holder for Community Safety, explained the Youth Partnership Service’s plan to build a 100K fund for Luton based organisations.
They are using ideas developed from the feedback and insight from over 350 young people as a basis for the fund’s proposals. The fund will be launched in February 2024
Bedfordshire Police meanwhile announced it is set to appoint an additional senior leader for community policing to focus on prevention and early intervention.
Chief Constable Trevor Rodenhurst also told the knife crime summit he would increase the size of the force’s education and diversion team, which delivers sessions for schools, colleges and other education facilities across the county.
These commitments came alongside a full range of examples of successful local initiatives and ideas for further action shared at the summit, which was jointly organised for Luton’s Community Partnership by Luton Council and Bedfordshire Police.
The summit identified a range of key activities partners can do collectively and positively to improve things for young people in the town to keep them safe.
Ideas proposed included: more opportunities for pastoral and mentoring support; working with boys around countering violence, negative treatment and attitudes towards women and girls, and creating more opportunities for young people to get the training and skills they need with local employers and developments.
These ideas are rapidly being worked up into a plan for all partners to focus their efforts.
As well as identifying key ideas to take forward, the summit also agreed to meet regularly and maintain the focus across the wider partnership on tackling knife crime.
Chief Constable Rodenhurst said: “We must not lose sight of the immense seriousness of the issue senior leaders gathered to discuss.
"Little over a month ago 16-year-old Ashraf Habimana lost his life in a fatal stabbing, while just this week another teenage boy was convicted of murder over the death of 19-year-old Derrick Kinyua in Luton earlier this year.
"Summits, discussions and working collectively are important – but I know our communities want to see tangible action from those with the power to do so.
"We know we cannot arrest our way out of this problem. Expanding what we can do around preventing young people from getting involved in behaviour that might cause them to live in fear and carry a knife is massively important – and the only way we will solve this in the longer term.”
Cllr Maria Lovell, Luton Council’s Portfolio Holder for Community Safety, said: “I spent time with Ashraf’s mother and family, and as a mother I know we simply can’t allow the heartbreak she is going through in losing her son to continue or be repeated.
"Luton needs to think more like a village where everyone cares about the future of our young people.
"We all have a role to call out and prevent those who are the cause of the criminality and exploitation that make them live in fear and we do all we can to create the opportunity they need to thrive and play their part with us in building a positive future for our town”.
Bedfordshire Police and Crime Commissioner (PCC) Festus Akinbusoye, who is also the national PCC lead for prevention, said: “I have been clear since the first day I took office that prevention and early intervention was the only way we can tackle knife crime and child criminal exploitation.
“This is not just a police problem and I am so glad to see this collective commitment to work together and tackle this awful scourge on our communities.
“There is a vast amount of work underway in Bedfordshire through partners like the VERU to keep young people safe and help them towards a brighter future.”
Commenting on the event, Chair of the Luton Youth Council, Sandeesha Alahapperuma, said “Young people are scared. This issue cannot be fixed in one night. It is good that there are so many people in this room to try and work on this issue.”