It all started when…
A life can change in an instant and someone’s behaviour can dictate another person’s life. I woke up one morning and decided I wanted to make a difference. Certain situations made me realise more had to be done. Why sit back and just watch it happen? Are we then as bad as those that do bad things if we do nothing at all?
My name is David Simmons, I am 24 from Dagenham and I am the Director of Flick Trick Sports and Founder and Director of Changing Lives in Harlow CIC.
In 2017, a 6-year-old threatened me with a knife when I was working in a school in North London. I dealt with the situation the best I could talking calmly using all the experience I had. The child was swinging and waving the kitchen knife saying ‘he wanted to kill me’ there was no personal vendetta against me I knew this child needed help.
My biggest worry was that he could have ended up hurting himself, finally after a frantic few minutes he hurled the knife up in the air landing inches away from me. The situation was finished but my own personal woes never went. I was worried of voicing my concerns as the school wanted it to be kept quiet, I was concerned about my job that if I spoke out, I would be disciplined I knew this situation wasn’t going to get sorted and I was told to not ‘overreact’.
I knew it was just going to get swept under the carpet. Things were said but I continued my role as long as I could and a few months later I had left the school to join another in Harlow.
I love my job, teaching young children different sports and keeping them active. During my time in Harlow I also coach a migrant team called Northbrooks FC funded by Harlow Council. During my time coaching Northbrooks a group of young children were bullying another child and trying to take his bike. I intervened and stopped them but with this came a torrent of abuse, these children were 8 years of age. I asked them why they do this, and their answer was ‘there’s nothing else for us to do’
“This instantly made me want to do something”
maybe the thought of the earlier incident with the 6-year-old made me even more determined. The next day I began speaking to my colleague Ben Doyle (He is the Director of SK Sports) and I said to him with both our companies we can make a real difference in this area, let’s do something!
Whilst researching it was made clear the anti-social behaviour was on the increase up 30% from last year in Harlow and more and more young people getting involved in drug related crimes, with direct links to Cambridge, London and Stanstead via M11, Harlow is on forefront of drug gangs.
After a few months of preparing and lots of emails being sent to and from we managed to receive funding from Harlow Council and in September 2018 we created the Changing Lives Project. Our aim is to help young vulnerable children who are being exploited by county lines, children that need motivation and inspiration. We have divided a plan to pick up the most vulnerable by mini bus so that no gang members can exploit the vulnerable.
Initially this project was on a pilot, we had to prove and show that this project made a difference. In no doubt I felt that this was going to make a difference, but we had to prove it… on the way we have gained support from Essex Police, NHS Harlow, MP Robert Halfon and local council leaders. We also have referrals from social services, schools and parents and in the first 6 weeks we had over 100 children attend in the first term.
This was only the beginning and from this 50% of children that attend have now joined an outside sports club. One child case has been closed with social services due to his work at the project of learning key values and the consequences of carrying knives and drugs.
We have also appeared on BBC News, BBC Look East, Heart FM, Essex Live, ITV Anglia, Talk Radio with Jeremy Kyle. I was also very honoured to be called on to appear on the BBC 2 show Victoria Derbyshire: Knife Crime Epidemic. We are also in talks to appear in a new documentary.
We are now in the 5th month and we have now got over 30 young people attending every Tuesday and Thursday, we are hoping to spread the project nationwide and in talks with a number of London boroughs. Due to the increase in knife crime this project is even more important.
Ben and I have also just started working within a secondary school, hoping to use the same model and technique we use at the project. We are also hoping to have our own venue in the centre of Harlow!
If you believe you can make a difference, be proud and go for it!