'The treasure of our community is our young people' - Wellingborough unites to find a way through its knife crime issues
Last night's meeting was held in the wake of the Dylan Holliday murder and other knife-related incidents around the Queensway estate
A community in mourning came together to try to work out how to take positive steps to help tackle issues with knife, drug and gang crime.
Local people had been invited to last night's (Thursday, August 19) meeting along with civic leaders and police officers to talk about the solutions to the issues that culminated in the death of Dylan Holliday earlier this month and another stabbing just days later.
The meeting was chaired by Ravaun Jones and Michelle Rafferty who called for people to find positive ways to help their community.
Opening the meeting, Ravaun said: "As a community we need to unite together and make our community a better place for all the younger generation."
Michelle said: "We wouldn't be here tonight if it weren't for some really serious issues. We have lost some lives, some to the grave and some to prison and that's a bitter pill to swallow. It's very hard to take that on board. You as a community are grieving and feeling some pain."
In attendance were Detective Chief Constable Gan Thayanithy and Sgt Chris Stevens as well as North Northants Council leader Jason Smithers, senior officers Rob Bridge and Guy Holloway, and ward councillors King Lawal and Matt Binley. Several town councillors also came along. There were audible boos when it was announced Wellingborough MP Peter Bone could not attend, and leaving Cllr Steven North to deputise.
The Northants Telegraph understands Mr Bone was on holiday Norfolk. He has pledged to go on Saturday's march organised by locals.
Former counter-terror cop DCI Thayanithy told a hushed meeting the astonishing statistic that 45 per cent of youngsters in the area do not regularly attend school.
He later told this newspaper that the force had taken 1,100 knives off the streets last year and 90 during the last month.
DCI Thayanithy said that as part of Operation Revive, he had had to hire an analyst to interrogate government data in order to find relevant facts about Wellingborough, simply because none were readily available.
He said that shortly after he arrived in Wellingborough, he discovered that a shotgun had been fired and that nobody thought to report it.
When asked to make some pledges about what he intended to do about knife crime in Wellingborough he said: "A shotgun was discharged and not one person called the police.
"I was sat with my head in my hands thinking why had nobody called the police?
"In this town 45 per cent of children don't regularly attend school. In this town there are many, many people living far below what's acceptable as a minimum wage.
"So forget about some token changes. I really wanted to try and make a difference. I wanted to make it possible for young children to grow up and be more successful.
"I'll be honest. I'll tell you what can and can't be done. I want us to be honest with each other. Speak honestly and tell me what the problems are.
"What I want to get to is practical solutions and make a difference to the people who live and work here. Not a plan or a strategy - that doesn't mean anything. I want us to be on the same page."
People were asked to talk about how they felt about what had happened in their community.
Victoria Centre Manager, streetwatch co-ordinator, and Wellingborough Town Councillor Marion Turner-Hawes gave a passionate speech. She said: "I want to get to a place where we don't accept this as normal.
"I am sick to death of violence and drug crime-related issues.
"I am sick of fear.
"This should not be normal in Wellingborough. We need to come together across all the communities to tackle this."
Sergeant Chris Stevens talked about the night he heard of Dylan's death. He said: "When I heard this come in over the radio I felt sick.
"I felt despondent because, as a team, we've been working so hard to make a difference and when things like this happen we feel like we've let you down.
"As the weeks have gone on, there's still that grief, there's still that sorrow, but it's amazing that you have come together as a community."
Kam Parmar, who runs The Compound calisthenics facility on the Hemmingwell Estate, said that he had helped hundreds of young people over the past decade and that his facility had prove vital during lockdown.
"It's grown over the years and we've had loads of different kids from across the town and even outside of Wellingborough coming along."
Earlier this year he achieved his dream of getting an outdoor 'rig' installed.
"It's free and it means that we get people coming along who just can't afford the gym," he said.
Leader of North Northants Council Jason Smithers said as a father he felt 'sick to the stomach' when he heard the news of Dylan's death.
"You can't put it into words," he said.
"It's not just the families that are suffering, the communities that are suffering, the first responders, we've also got to understand the bigger picture of what's going on in the community.
"We need to look at what we can do.. it's not just one of those things and we'll forget this in a couple of months because we're dealing with another stabbing over in some other part of the county. It needs action and it needs action today."
Queensway parish priest Reverend Ben Lewis said: "When people heard what had happened on that day there was an overwhelming sense of compassion. Our hearts were breaking for not just one family but for many families and the little boy that was laid to rest."
People were asked what they wanted community leaders, including MP Peter Bone, to hear.
One commenter said that the boys involved in recent incidents had been excluded from school and that we need to look at ways to keep children in school. Another said that 50 per cent of people in prison had been excluded from school at some time.
One woman invited council leaders to 'spend a day in the life of NN8' and another said that they needed to be sure they would not be prosecuted if they found a knife and handed it in. Other suggestions included better CCTV, improved youth facilities and mentoring and apprenticeships.
Cllr Steven North was asked, on behalf of Mr Bone, what pledges he could make and he said that Mr Bone would join the march on Saturday and asked people to come up with wording for a petition that he could share with the Home Secretary.
Ravaun Jones made a heartfelt speech about his fears for the community. He said that the estate needed to protect its children who were the 'leaders of tomorrow.' He shared worries about drugs gangs who saw vulnerable children as easy targets to carry out their work adding: "The treasure of our community is our young people. If we don’t keep the commitments we make tonight these criminals will steal our children."
The meeting was closed with a moving poem called Knife Sentence from Quinton Green, who is from Northampton but now lives in Wellingborough. He was stabbed seven times at the age of 19. He now works with young people to try to help them turn their lives around and offer them a better future.