Page last updated at 17:03 GMT, Tuesday, 27 January 2009

Street games alternative to gangs

By Catherine Marston
BBC News

cage football
Football in a giant cage is one of the activities on offer

Youth workers are taking activities onto the streets in a pilot scheme in Leeds aimed at providing an alternative to gang culture.

Little London in Leeds is one of the most deprived estates in the country.

Gang culture thrives here, with groups of teenagers hanging around on the streets after dark.

It is a similar story just a mile or so away, at the Woodhouse estate.

Young people, bored and disinterested loiter around shops and pubs almost every evening.

In the shadow of derelict tower blocks on the Little London estate a giant cage has been erected, to try to tackle the problem.

It is not a typical sight and it certainly does stand out, especially as it is flood lit and nearby a DJ is pumping out loud hip hop music.

This is street cage football, part of a project run by Positive Futures, a Home Office scheme aimed at using sport and leisure to reach disadvantaged or socially marginalised young people.

The idea is to bring activities to the streets, to try to engage with young gang members who might otherwise shy away from the idea of organised activities and events.

During the course of the evening, a group of around 10 boys come to check it out and are even persuaded to have a game of football in the cage.

music centre
Music proves an attraction

Dressed in dark clothes and hooded tops, they almost look identical. They seem to find familiarity in wearing the same clothes and feeling part of the gang.

Positive futures co-ordinator Dan Busfield explains these lads would never normally engage with youth workers, so this is a chance to talk to them and perhaps help them change their ways.

"Some of them are involved in anti-social behaviour and criminal activity," he said.

"Sometimes they don't want to even come out of their close-knit communities to access activities.

"It can be hard. In young people's eyes there is a bit of insecurity about coming out of their area." The boys' attention is soon diverted to the DJ and they quickly surround him to talk about music.

The youth teams know that the only way to begin to break down the barriers with these young people is to get them interested in the project and attending the sessions each week.

Hanging around on the streets, Andre, Kirsty and Tyler say there is nothing to do around here.

They spend their evenings sitting in the park or outside the tower blocks.

youths on street
Gangs from different estate are reluctant to mix
Andre says groups of lads do wander around together at night and that can be intimidating for residents.

"It can be a bit uncomfortable," he acknowledges.

The girls also say they do not always feel safe on the streets.

"You don't know who's around," said Kirsty. "There's too many kids on the streets."

The youth workers send out a free bus to the Woodhouse estate to try to entice some young people there to the street football session. But it returns empty.

The Woodhouse boys do not want to mix with the Little London gangs and Dan Busfield says the rivalry can make connecting with them even more difficult.

"They are all pretty comfortable in their communities," he explains.

He also acknowledges that makes it far harder for the youth teams to target the most vulnerable. So they will divide their time between the two estates.

This pilot project - one of 123 schemes being operated by Positive Futures - is being funded with 25,000 of government money.

It will run for 12 weeks, and three nights a week the teams will be on the streets of the estates to talk to young gang members.

The aim is to help them make positive life decisions and perhaps to change their lives for the better.

If it is a success the idea could be taken to many other difficult estates across the country.

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