As communities change, SOS Founder Junior Smart explains how SOS is evolving to meet new challenges.
October this year will be the 10th anniversary of the SOS Project. From a small south London pilot it has grown to become one of London’s best known projects working with young people involved in the criminal justice system.
Many of the young people I supported in 2006 have now totally changed their lives and become inspirational, positive role models to others at risk of going down negative routes. Some came to work for SOS. The positive ripple effect of disadvantaged lives transformed became SOS’s touchstone.
As the lives of our clients changed so did the environments they lived in. Many of London’s sink estates are in the final stages of being demolished. However, the complex problems faced by them and their families cannot be solved by bricks and mortar.
Having had ten years of scratching well beneath the surface of our clients’ lives we have uncovered a whole host of other issues. Highly vulnerable children and young people continue to be exploited and victimised. The lines between perpetrator and victim are very blurred. The problems of inner London boroughs are spreading out to rural towns through the exploitation of young people to act as drug runners to these areas. Young girls we support are being coerced into sexual exploitation and violence. Children continue to carry weapons for protection only to paradoxically have them sometimes used against them.
The issues we deal with revolve around vulnerability, violence, exploitation and social exclusion. SOS provides the safety net that changes to our social fabric have taken away.
And from all corners of greater London we receive sad emails from mothers, girlfriends and sisters of young men caught up in gang crime and youth violence - struggling to break free but lacking the support to do so. They fall through the gaps of all the agencies who are supposed to help them. SOS is often not funded to work in the areas they live but we do our best to help them beyond our true resources.
It is with frustration and sadness that I am writing this at a time when SOS is fighting for sustainable funding once more. The team work with a passion and commitment that is phenomenal and I’m humbled by the fact that they have not let job uncertainty dampen this.
As some of our most disadvantaged communities continue to endure the sharp end of public spending cuts, we run the risk of many young people growing up in a society in which they feel they have no investment. The vulnerable among them are being groomed by older ones to commit crime and violence. Left untouched, they could go on to groom others. This negative legacy can be stopped by the persistent, consistent, credible support on offer through SOS.
However, we cannot run on thin air. So on behalf of the 500 young people we are presently helping and the dedicated team who provide this lifeline we would like to say a huge thank you for your continued support at a time when it is needed now more than ever.
Junior Smart, Business Development Manager and Founder of St Giles Trust’s SOS Project.