Historically white British and relatively affluent, Havering has seen rapid urbanisation in the last decade. Dubbed ‘London’s last affordable borough’, thousands of families have moved or been moved here, forced out of inner London by high costs of living and attracted to the stock of larger houses. According to the 2019 Serious Group Violence and Knife Crime Strategy, Havering wasn’t prepared for the scale or speed of this change and the high-need of these new families, and outcomes for young people in Havering have deteriorated as a result.
Numbers of Children in Need and referrals to children’s services have risen rapidly – the rate of referrals to children’s services has increased by 115% since 2014, eight times the outer London average. Public Health England Child Health Profiles show key indicators of child health are poor and worsening including breastfeeding initiation, child obesity, STI detection and teenage pregnancy. According to Trust for London, Havering now has London’s worst education outcomes: the lowest GCSE attainment for disadvantaged pupils, and after Barking & Dagenham, the highest number of young people not achieving Level 3 qualifications by 19. Young people in Havering are receiving fewer qualifications than their peers, and more likely to become NEET (Not in Education, Employment or Training). Those that find work tend to progress into lower paying jobs. 23% of employed residents are paid below the living wage, and the rate of change is one of the lowest in London.
Over the past couple of years, these issues have been compounded by a significant increase in serious youth violence (SYV), including the high-profile cases of Jodie Chesney in March 2019 (whose killers were convicted of murder last month) and Jordan Douherty last June. There has been a 170% increase in SYV incidences since 2013, reaching 267 cases in 2017. This is the highest rate of increase in London. Romford Town Centre has the fourth highest rate of SYV offences in the capital. According to most recent available data, Havering is the third-largest importer of gang ‘nominals’ moved from other boroughs; these gangs are now seeking to claim territory here (2019 SGV Strategy). According to the Community Safety team, as many as 15 gangs are vying for control.
The Vulnerable Localities Profile highlights three key neighbourhoods as most vulnerable to community tension: Romford Town, Harold Hill, Hornchurch. We’re seeing the consequences in real time as an outraged community takes matters into their own hands; spurred by the Chesney murder, Harold Hill residents have established ‘Take a Knife, Save a Life’; their patrols are out weekly across the borough in stab-proof vests, confiscating weapons. However well-intentioned, this risks alienating young people and escalating tensions further.
The Chesney murder happened 300ft from the borough’s flagship youth centre – an underused resource, one of many in Havering following a 70% cut in youth funding since 2011. Opportunities for young people here are scarce, and what is available is oversubscribed and not accessed by those young people most in need. The Council, local schools, residents and young people have asked LifeLine to create opportunities in Havering and so SW!TCH Lives is now being offered to schools throughout the borough.