Our SOS Project, helping young people out of gangs, is celebrating its 10th anniversary. Since its start, it has helped over 3,000 young Londoners caught up in gangs.
The ex-offender led project helps young people caught up in gang crime and serious youth violence. It was founded in October 2006 by ex-offender Junior Smart on his release from prison.
SOS started as a south London pilot project working with young offenders in the Southwark. Today, it works in 12 London boroughs to help young people leave gangs and create new positive new futures. Its ex-offender led approach uses the insights of those who have been in the criminal justice system to connect with the most marginalised young people trapped in gang lifestyles.
SOS and its staff have won multiple awards. However, it faces a significant cut in its funding in March 2017 at a time when its support is needed most. In the first eight months of the year (Jan-Aug), 20 young Londoners lost their lives to weapons crime (source: Citizen’s Report).
“10 years ago I was given a wonderful opportunity to build a project from scratch,” said Junior. “We fought hard to remain ex-offender led and delivered as there is no-one better qualified to understand the complex realities of the lives facing young people trapped in the deadly and destructive cycle of gang crime.”
“We have built up a team with unparalleled expertise and knowledge. A funding cut would be a tragedy for them, the young people they support and those they could in the future. This is life-saving work which only takes place because of the support we receive.”
The SOS team of 27 frontline staff and volunteers offer practical and emotional support to help young people overcome barriers and make a permanent exit from gang life. As ex-offenders themselves, they have a first-hand insight into the lives of their clients and the difficulties involved in leaving a gang.
Alongside its geographical spread, SOS has developed specialist services. The team works in the Royal London Hospital, Whitechapel, helping young people admitted to the hospital as victims of serious youth violence – often gang related. A Lambeth-based service offers help to vulnerable young women involved in gangs.
SOS+ carries out preventative work in schools and other settings with young people at risk of gang involvement. 20% of young people admitted to carrying a weapon as a result of feedback from 735 SOS+ evaluations and a further 44% said they knew someone who did.
Click here to read a blog from Junior reflecting on 10 years of SOS, it achievements and the challenges it faces for the future.