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Blog (With Video) - Preventing Youth Violence with Creativity - Art Against Knives


Art Against Knives - Preventing Youth Violence Through Creativity Blog Post

For our latest Exchanging Notes session, we invited Rickardo Stewart, the Serious Youth Violence Specialist & Head of Quality & Innovation from Art Against Knives (AAK). They're an organisation based in North London, who works with young people in the community through early intervention, fostering safe, creative environments and community outreach, with the aim to support high-risk individuals preventing them from becoming victims or perpetrators of violent crime. He was also joined by Youth Worker and Alumni, David Likinyo. Rickardo’s seminar focused on how their work at AAK allows them to do just that.

At AAK we stand by the creative process; creativity as a tool to engage with YP, innovation, social imagination, theory practice and co-production. Evidence shows us that everyday creativity is positive for wellbeing and overall health. Our team are trained in psychologically-informed practice, youth and play work, plus specialist support e.g. Young Persons Violence Advisors and Serious Youth Violence specialists.

The session covered:

  • An in-depth look at AAK’s ethos and work.
  • Using creativity as a tool to work with young people.
  • The recent impact of Youth Violence.
  • Looking at Psychologically informed Spaces.

To start the seminar, we were given an overview of the services that AAK offer young people and how these were developed through their commitment to co-designing with young people. For over 12 years, they have cultivated a range of interventions and services, which include:

  • Their initial N2 Flagship space based in Boxpark in North Finchley. They have recently moved into their new flagship space based in East Finchley.
  • In Our Hands programme support girls, women, NB, & Trans women aged 10 – 25., using nails as a medium to reach the young women and girls.
  • Creative spaces programme works within 10–25-year-olds. This programme has the Podcast (One Mic, Real Talk), Mixed Martial Art space as well as the music studio (The LAB).
  • They have their most recent project named AAK Next Gen, which will look at how they will engage with the next generation of young people, via bespoke 1:1 sessions, focus groups and feedback monitoring.

Rickardo then moved on to speak on how creativity is used as a tool to achieve various goals with the young people they work with, whether it be building relationships, nurturing talent, fostering expressive freedom or even inspiring calls to social action.

Coining a quote by Simon Nicholson on the ‘Loose Parts Theory’, “In any environment, both the degree of inventiveness and creativity, and the possibility of discovery are directly proportional to the number and kind of variations in it”, he explained how designing the spaces were key in creating productive environments that their young people want to be in.

At AAK, children and young people are first welcomed as artists and creatives; thus through a creative space they are able to self direct their engagement and experiences through ‘play’; growing learning, challenging etc.

The session then touched on the impact of youth violence and looked at some of the stats they have obtained through their work, highlighting just how crucial trauma-informed work like theirs is in both identifying and supporting young people. Their partnership with the NHS for their Young Black Men’s Peer Leadership programme was used as a perfect example of the nuances of this type of work.

We find that a majority of YP we work with are impacted by youth violence in some way. This can be either directly or indirectly. We understand that the act of youth violence happens in a number of ways e.g location, content. The risk of committing or being affected by youth violence can be associated with Adverse Childhood Experiences, access and availability of youth support and/or mental health services and socioeconomic deprivation.

Finally, before moving on to a highly informative Q&A, the session explored the concept of psychologically informed spaces, which supports both young people and staff within these spaces and allows for the restorative and therapeutic work to have its greatest impact. Rickardo covered the use of both Clinical Psychology and Preventative Community Psychology, whilst also explaining what these look like within their real-life work. David also used this space to explain his history with AAK and how they were instrumental in shaping both his personal and professional development across almost a decade of working with AAK, and provided further credit to the longstanding work required for young people to thrive.

Music has a profound impact on today’s youth culture. It’s a means of self-expression, identity formation, and social connection.

This was a great session, which provided so much context in how we work with young people facing the ever-growing barrier of young violence and deprivation. Both Rickardo and David were able to cover so much across the topic in a concise and well considered presentation, whilst conveying their passion for the work they do. Their session was met with great appreciation and praise from all the attendees, who also asked a range of questions – we’ve included a summary below.

What AAK does work. I can say proudly that I am a success story of what they do. I hope we can continue to impact more lives across London and the country eventually.– David.

The big part of our work is putting young people like David forward, not patronisingly or not in a tokenistic way but actually promoting youth excellence. This co-production model is all about working with those that have the insights, that have the creativity and innovation and us providing those spaces for young people to be able to do that. To call David a young person that I work with and now my colleague – it demonstrates that this stuff does work. It takes time, this is 8 years in the making – this is the power of trusted relationships, the contextual theory-based from play work and the psychologically informed approach as well as understanding what is going on in society. - Rickardo


Participant: “Listening to you is like listening to myself explaining what we do – we do campaigning to keep people safe. Big up to all the work that you do – massive love and respect to everybody”

Participant: “Extremely impressed and I just loved the way you presented that. I don’t think you even said ‘I’ in the whole thing – it’s all ‘We we we’. Extraordinarily informative - best thing I’ve ever seen on Zoom without exception. Riveted.”

Participant: “Super inspirational. What do you guys think the place that critical thinking and alternative futures has in the work you’re doing?”

David: “First thing that comes to my mind is trusted relationships regarding critical thinking. I mean the music and creative outlets is a way to invite young people to see it’s their space, and what it looks like. Things like being represented in the staff, whether that be ethnically or background culturally wise. Being in the community and having insight into what’s going on in the ends, in the area, knowing what’s going on and what these young people are dealing with. So you can really relate to them and understand and move accordingly.”

Rickardo: “We’re always learning so don’t have a magic formular, but I guess one thing we’ve done to some degree quite well is that we’ve created spaces to think. Learning spaces – each quarter we have a learning space which tackles or looks at a specific theme. Most recently we’ve been looking at our anti-oppressive lens. We’ve been looking at systems change – where are we in the system, where are the young people in the system, what’s the historic context. It’s being really curious and posing those really interesting questions. We’ve very fortunate to have clinical psychologists doing their placements with us – they’re bringing a really alternative lens. We’ve got young people on the ground and insights and learning and data. So it’s creating the spaces to think, looking at it from a 360 approach and then the context and the themes – cost of living, covid etc.”

Participant: “Have you seen any evidence of a link between undiagnosed neurodivergence because of that distance from the proper medical support that you mentioned?”

Rickardo: “When you look at the context of where these young people are coming from, the depth of the impact is great. When you’re able to, for example, put a young person into employment – the dignity that comes through that, the self-esteem, self-agency, being able to function fully day to day is massive. When working with individuals with certain needs, it’s about amplifying the important of those impacts within those individuals is really key. It’s also about consistency – our services are open 46 weeks out of the year, 4-5 times a week. When young people do struggle to reach their GP – we have the tools – I have a phone, I have the apps. We see a lot of young people fall between the nets.”

Participant: "Really inspiring chat, someone else said earlier it's the more exciting things they've seen on Zoom I think we can agree wiht that."