To begin at the beginning - A funders response to serious youth violence. Where are we now and where do we go next?

In the first four months of 2019 nineteen young people have been killed in London. Young people, in a significant number of cases, killed by other young people. A violence all the more horrifying because we as a community and a city have been unable to protect those that we should be raising up. The youngest, Jaden Moodie, was 14. A child.   

London Funders have been working with our members on the issue of serious youth violence since early 2018 when we began to convene meetings specifically on this topic. We were struck by the strong desire of our members to engage with and understand better the underlying causes. This conversation has grown and resulted in the launch of the report, ‘To Begin at the Beginning’, exploring where our membership is now on this issue and where we go next.

We know that serious youth violence is not new but it is important, complex and tragic. This knowledge underscored the creation of a set of nine principles, developed by a small group of funders. The aim was to try and root and unify funding behaviours that would enable the already excellent work taking place within communities and beyond and help to catalyse new approaches.

The principles advocate for a systemic approach with the voices of young people and communities at its heart. They also signal a desire to significantly shift the power balance, think strategically and work as reflective partners. ‘To Begin at the Beginning’ provides examples of work from across our membership exploring how they have started to put these principles in to practice. For some of our members a particular principle has informed the way they have operated for years, for others the exploration of a principle marks the beginning of a new way of working.

There is an ongoing conversation about what working together could mean and the difference that this could make. We are trying to walk the walk but it is hard to go in to a process with a blank sheet of paper, checking preconceptions and biases and not retreating behind organisational structures and protocols.”

The complexity of serious youth violence was a focus of many conversations with members and a series of challenges arose from these discussions. Many felt frustrated by the way serious youth violence is being treated like a new phenomenon. They believe the answer has always been there: invest in young people and the services that support them. This belief fuels a reluctance to ‘jump on the bandwagon’ with some choosing to step away from work that is explicitly linked to serious youth violence and any connection with the seeming political or public pressure that the issue exerts.  

“Our ethos is firmly rooted in early intervention informed by the belief that the more care, support and opportunity a child receives as early as possible, the higher the likelihood that they will achieve positive outcomes.”

Many members also voiced concern about losing sight of the systemic issues, grounded in poverty and inequality, which result in a number of negative outcomes for children and young people. By focussing on just one of these, in the shape of serious youth violence, there is a fear that work will become siloed and ignore the overarching aim of transforming the lives of children and young people. Many members were keen for children and young people to be empowered and for work to focus on children and young peoples’ strength and capabilities rather than focussing on tackling a negative outcome.  

We should be talking about how can we transform the lives of children and young people, not about how we stop them killing each other.”

London Funders are sympathetic and alert to these challenges and intent on supporting a long term, systemic response rooted in the power of children and young people and their right to be safe and enabled to realise their potential. ‘To Begin at the Beginning’ outlines our belief that by focussing on the galvanising and urgent issue of serious youth violence we can gain immediate traction, grounded in action which will provide the foundation for a joined up, partnership approach moving forward.

“We believe there are times when individual efforts simply are not enough to address complex social problems, collaboration can yield results beyond what any one funder could accomplish alone.”

Many of our members have said that London Funders role bringing people together and maintaining a bigger vision is important. We want to continue doing that and create a space to help make transparent the challenges and support the change take place. We see this report as the starting place and we want to build on the learning that has emerged. ‘To Begin at the Beginning’ sets out our goal of creating a Funders Alliance. This will be formed of a group of funders who will work together over at least the next three years to collaboratively test the conditions needed to embed the principles to help enable the long-term change that we understand needs to take place.

We are at the beginning of a much longer journey in the knowledge that this is a long-term challenge needing long-term thinking and solutions. We hope that ‘To Begin at the Beginning’ is a first step in placing the work of our members within a broader context encouraging connections and providing inspiration to move forward together.