I only caught the first hour of the session, as I had to get to London, but there were some really interesting points emerging. We talked with a crowd of young people and community activists about the role of parents, and the fact that ever younger children are now carrying knives. It's all going to be in the Select Committee's report, but one of the things that struck me suddenly was the realisation that belonging to "a gang" per se is not a bad thing. It can be good to be in a gang. Often young people look to peer groups to find the emotional support and understanding they don't get at home or at school. Or sometimes it's even less complicated than that; it's just about hanging out with a bunch of mates. Gangs might be about security (safety in numbers) but they're also about having a laugh and pursuing common interests. (OK, yes, sometimes they're about crime and territorial wars and drug-dealing and intimidation too, but let's park that for now).
I'm sure my teenage nephews and nieces are just the same, albeit with rather different taste in music. But I bet that when some people see the 18 year old nephew and the 17 year old niece with their mates, they respond completely differently to when they see their 15 year old and 17 year old cousins. Why? Because two of them are white, and two are mixed race. How many people see a group of friends in the first instance, and a 'gang' in the second?
But I digress... What I'm wondering is this: youth work tends to involve bringing lots of young people together under one roof. The Government will be announcing extra spending on this later this week. And yes, youth centres are good. But would it be better if more spaces were created for young people to break off into their gangs, and be with the mates they really want to be with? Is there something slightly artificial about forcing fifty or sixty or more young people to socialise together and is there an optimum size for a gathering? (Actually that's what we used to call it when we went round Mark's house: a gathering). Should we be encouraging gangs instead of demonising them?