It's like a modern day pest; the only difference is that it is self-inflected. People, often very young, die like flies in the capital due to knife crimes these days, and there doesn't appear to be an end in sight. Teenagers with much to live for insist on solving their problems with blades, causing hundreds of knife injuries and fatalities each year. Another aspect of the issue is the fear among public witnesses to come forward, as the culprits more often than not are in dangerous gangs. Therefore it's a proud moment when people dare take a stand and oppose the violence, as is the case with Lizzie Holdforth and her Macbeth club night UNITY, set up in conjunction with anti-knife crime charity Through Unity. Dazed spoke to Holdforth ahead of the event on Thursday January 13...
Dazed Digirtal: What is Through Unity and what is its goal?
Lizzie Holdforth: It was set up by the families of Robert Levy and Damiola Taylor, 'Through Unity' is a charity that offers support to anyone affected by gun and knife crime. They aim to stop lives being wasted, get weapons off the streets and create communities where young people can be safe and flourish.
DD: How did you get involved?
Lizzie Holdforth: I met Robert Levy's mother at a family party. We got talking and she told me how her son had been stabbed to death outside Hackney Town Hall whilst trying to protect his friend who was being threatened by a group of boys. His story really moved me. I have lived in Hackney for six years and youth violence is a growing problem in the area. Last summer in London Fields park, a young guy was shot whilst sunbathing with his girlfriend! He was just an innocent guy, in the wrong place at the wrong time. That same day there were families and children in the park, it could have been anyone. I have felt for a long time that this situation is growing out of control and now I have an opportunity to try and make a difference by organising this event for Through Unity.
DD: Are there more knives on the streets today then, say, a few years ago?
Lizzie Holdforth: Absolutely. A kitchen knife is accessible to anyone and more and more young people carry a weapon just to feel safe on the streets. Statistically knife crime is getting worse; 857 children and teenagers up to the age of 20 were hurt in knife attacks in the early part of 2010 in London. Over the same period 64 young people were injured in shootings.
DD: What, do you think, are the main reasons for youngster carrying weapons even though they know the risks, both in terms of injury/death and penalty wise?
Lizzie Holdforth: Young gangs often feel they own the areas where they live. For any young person not in a gang, if they want to leave their estate or postal area to, let's say, visit a friend in a neighbouring borough, they can be attacked for entering another gang's postcode, simply for coming from a rival area. Young boys in particular fear for their safety. So I believe young people carry weapons for two main reasons. They are part of a gang (the gang in itself offers them protection) and they all carry weapons or they are not part of a gang but they carry a weapon in case they need to defend themselves. As for penalties... a gang is untouchable...
DD: What are your own experiences?
Lizzie Holdforth: I live on the Pembury Estate and the pembury boys are the estate gang and there have been regular shootings and stabbings here. The Police have come to my flat before to ask me whether I've seen or heard anything. Even if I had, if I tell the police, I'll never feel safe here again. So it's very difficult for the Police to catch gang members when they have such a strong hold over the areas they live. As for the other teenagers carrying weapons, they'd rather have the opportunity to defend themselves than be totally vunerable regardless of the penalties.
DD: Tell us about UNITY, is there are reason behind the choice of venue?
Lizzie Holdforth: UNITY is a night to help raise money and awareness for this important charity. I think that everyone who lives in London is affected by knife and gun crime somehow. From simply feeling unsafe, to witnessing a stabbing, hearing about a stabbing or shooting, to knowing someone who died as a result of an attack. You'd have to be very cut off from reality to not know how bad this situation is.
I decided to use The Macbeth as the venue for 'UNITY' since Agnes Sina was shot a few doors down from the venue last year. She was only 16 years old. The owners of The Macbeth were strongly affected by this incident and were really enthusiastic about this event and supporting this charity.
DD: Who's playing?
Lizzie Holdforth: Performing live will be Rosie Holland. She sings strong yet soothing vocals over simplistic, playful and, at times, ethereal keyboard playing. The daughter of Jools, although shy about this fact, she definitely shares the musical gene. Also on the bill are The Shoestrung who play an infectious blend of early 60’s influenced RnB and footstomping British rock and roll and finally Lizzie and the Yes Men who play a morish mix of the surf rock complete with catchy swing and harmonies a la The Beach Boys in a headlong collision with the angular pomp of ESG. There are also Dj sets from Fiction, Ex lovers and Young Husband.
DD: You will be on stage as well...
Lizzie Holdforth: Yes! I front Lizzie and the Yes Men and really wanted to perform at this event. If you are passionate about something what better way to show it than perform your heart out.
DD: Except for coming down to the event, what else can we do to get involved with Through Unity?
Lizzie Holdforth: So many things... from putting on your own event, to volunteering for Through Unity. They always need funding! If you have access to a printers and could print the advice leaflets, or put a collection box in your workplace. Just as important is a shared vision, spreading the word and caring about your community and young people, who should NOT be feared but HELPED!!
UNITY, Thursday January 13 2011, Macbeth, 70 Hoxton Street, London