Boxing Saves Lives is at the forefront of Luton's efforts to protect young people
A Luton charity dedicated to building children's confidence and self-esteem is on the frontline of efforts to stop gang exploitation in Luton.
Boxing Saves Lives (see previous story here) works with youth offending teams and schools to teach youngsters the skills to stay strong without resorting to a life of crime.
It was while working for a social housing association that founder JP Smith saw first-hand how vulnerable young people often fell prey to gang life.
Combining his knowledge of vulnerable teenagers with his love of boxing, JP founded Boxing Saves Lives which was registered as a charity last year.
The project has received firm backing from Kimberley Lamb, Bedfordshire Police's head of violence and exploitation reduction unit (VERU).
JP said: "There are three kinds of work that we do. We work with the youth offending team, with schools, and with social workers and psychologists who tell us about young people who might be vulnerable.
"I think a lot of the gang crime in Luton that we are seeing is to do with anger. Gangs are equal opportunity destroyers - they will exploit whatever's going on at home with any child.
"There might be neglect and addiction in the household, sometimes kids who have encountered racism.
"Even middle class kids whose mums and dads are out working; they will be told it's because they don't care.
"You start to see a pattern where there has been difficulty at home.
"Then they are offered things. A lot of it is free cannabis, designer clothes is also a big thing, maybe new shoes.
"After that, they will be told, 'Oh, you need to carry this for me'. They'll be told there's no such thing as a free lunch, after being bombarded with stuff.
"There's also debt bondage. Gangs can supply kids with drugs, arrange for them to be robbed and then force them to deal on the streets until the debt is repaid.
"I've talked to a lot of kids. It often sounds like somebody who's in an abusive domestic relationship, where they are isolated from their families and people around them.
"They don't realise they're being exploited, they think they are with people who appreciate them."
While the factors that lead children into gangs are often complex and hard to surmise; the violence that ensues from it can have simple motives. In recent years, Luton has seen knife attacks in broad daylight, including a fight with machetes in The Mall in January 2018.
"A lot of it is masculinity gone wrong," said JP. "'Do not let that slip, he looked at you wrong,' and that sort of thing. They feel they can't lose face.
"They don't understand that not every fight needs to be fought."
For more information about Boxing Saves Lives, visit here.