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The Pythian Club are Using Theatre to Engage Young People in the Fight Against Knife Crime

15 April 19 words: Gemma Fenyn
photos: Tom Morley

In a bid to fight back against an increase in knife crime, The Pythian Club set out with the aim of engaging a generation of young Nottingham residents in creative projects. The result? Double Edge, an interactive theatrical project, written and directed by Syed Ali. We caught up with Syed and Ben Rosser to find out what impact they want the project to have…

I first met with Ben Rosser back in January to talk about his work at The Pythian Club, an organisation that seeks to engage young people through sport, training and performing arts. We took a walk around New Basford, as he often does, where he told me more about their ongoing projects and plans. Occasionally we stopped to chat to local residents and popped our heads in at the various businesses along the way. On first impressions, it seemed like any other morning for Ben.

The mood, however, was somewhat marked by events that had unfolded earlier that week. On the previous Tuesday, a fourteen year old had been stabbed and killed in plain sight on the streets of London. A former pupil at Redhill Academy, his name was Jayden Moodie. The details of the attack were enough to shock even the most hard-bitten individual, but for the Pythian team, who had already been trying to raise awareness of knife crime through their performance Double Edge, it was yet another realisation of their worst fears.

At the conceptual stage, Double Edge, which was written and directed by Syed Ali, brought together both victims and offenders, drawing on the experiences of those directly impacted by knife crime. The result is an authentic script which not only looks at how serious violence can shatter lives, but how lesser-known factors such as joint enterprise can incriminate an individual. Put simply, you do not have to be the person carrying the blade to be implicated in a crime. “Many of the young people we work with do not know this to be the case”, says former police officer Ben, “the performance shows that even being around someone carrying a knife could lead to some serious consequences.”

The piece also closely explores how social media can be a catalyst for knife crime. Increasing press coverage over the years has exhibited how online platforms can be used to incite gang-related violence, but the production sets this aside, instead illustrating how the simplest altercation might lead to dire consequences. Indeed, this is all too often the case. According to Detective Superintendent Simon Firth, Nottingham’s Knife Crime Strategy Manager, the police are increasingly investigating serious crime that has been the result of initially minor alterations and mundane matters; in an age of instant comments or images, feuds are rapidly ignited.

So how exactly did the Double Edge project come about? Syed, who has been involved in the third sector for around twenty years, was working with the Global Centre for Mental Health when he first got chatting to Ben. Before long, he was facilitating drama workshops at the Pythian Club. It was here that he got a real sense of the scale of the problem on a local level, “The young people I worked with were coming in and talking about stabbings, you could see the trauma in their faces as they told their stories,” he tells me, “they wanted to do something about it.” Undeterred by an initial lack of funding, the two of them decided to push on with the project.

Drawing on both his personal experiences and those of the groups he encountered, Syed recognised the importance of engaging with members of the community to build an authentic picture of what was going on. Then, with a bank of genuine stories, they set about working through some scenarios. “It wasn’t always easy,” Syed recalls, “we had to take a short break at one point because I could sense that the subjects coming up were a bit too close to home, particularly for one member of the group.”

We had to take a short break at one point because I could sense that the subjects coming up were a bit too close to home, particularly for one member of the group

Interestingly, the pair also decided to incorporate an interactive element to the accompanying workshop which allowed students to answer questions posed anonymously on their devices, helping pupils engage without fear of recrimination. Importantly, even at this early stage they could see that they were making an impression, “I know at least one young person isn’t carrying a knife as a result of what we have done already.” Syed tells me, “Double Edge is already having an impact, it is forcing people to think twice before they make their choices.”

And now, it seems that the team’s hard work is starting to pay off, in last year’s Knife Crime strategy, Nottinghamshire Police and Crime Commissioner Paddy Tipping acknowledged the vital role that third sector organisations such as the Pythian Club could play in the days ahead and, to his credit, it has recently been announced that the police will be investing some funding into the project. “We’re really grateful for the funding that’s coming through now,” Syed remarks, “it’s great to think that we’ll finally be getting the support to get the play into schools where it can really make a difference.”

On streets and in community centres throughout Nottingham there is a stirring rebellion; one which Pythian believe should and can be led by the young people themselves if they are given the right information and tools. Ben Rosser and his team are all about creating positive vibes and their passion and energy is boundless, but this simply isn’t enough on its own; we, as a city, need to wake up to the reality now and accept that discussions need to be had in classrooms, this play needs to be performed in classrooms.

Perhaps many of those who have contributed to the project along the way never imagined that they would ever be involved in something like Double Edge, never thought they’d be a victim, never saw themselves carrying a blade, never imagined their own child would be stabbed; despite this, they have come together to create a performance that is their own unique rallying cry.

The Pythian Club website

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