Lived Experience & Community Safety – why it matters

by Dawn Exley, SCSN Business Support and Development Officer

I’ve recently had the privilege of hearing about the life journeys of some exceptional people.  All bravely telling their stories to rooms of people all over the country with one thing in common.  They want to use their lived experience to help others and make the world a safer, more compassionate and informed place.

On hearing about their lives, one thing really struck me and that was – from a very young age they didn’t feel safe.  From the off, they experienced parental incarcerations, murders, addictions and domestic violence.  They grew up in chaotic circumstances involving suffering poverty, involvement in the care system and school exclusions.  Before long they all identified with a need to ‘numb the pain and hopelessness’, ‘quiet their head’ and ‘get help to deal with their life’ that alcohol and drugs seemed to offer.  They found family in gangs and other substance users.  They committed crimes, acts of violence, became ‘a pest to society’, broke hearts of loved ones and went through the often revolving door of the criminal justice system before they could no longer go on – it was change or die.  And so they chose.  Standing in front of me, taking personal responsibility for their actions but also explaining what led them to this life as well as the difference a second chance has meant to them.  From listening to all I had, I couldn’t help but wonder – were they really given a first chance?

And this is why what we do, day in and out, in Community Safety is so important.  If we want every child to have a genuine first chance at life – they need to feel safe.  If we want people’s lives to be free of fear, crime and injury, we need to make sure as few people as possible experience it in the first place.  And for those who do, the victims and perpetrators, we need to strive to find ways to engage, support and understand.    It makes me proud that in Scotland, where we can, we are taking opportunities to try and approach things differently in order to do this. 

I  heard about a brilliant example of this recently at the tenth anniversary celebration of No Knives Better Lives.  It was inspiring to hear about the whole systems approach used by the Violence Reduction Unit in practice to make a phenomenal impact on the level of knife crime in Scotland.  Innovative ideas such as intervention at A&E through the Navigator programme, follow-up in the victims houses the following day with a four agency team of Police, Social Work, Education, Housing to truly offer alternatives to gang life.  Pre-arranged access to jobs and therapeutic programmes such as ‘Street and Arrow’.  ‘Campus cops’ in schools.  Working in partnership with young people to create prevention messages that do not involve scare tactics, oversimplified, hypocritical or cheesy messages.  A real commitment to finding out ‘what works’ and investing in it. 

It was indeed, at this event that I heard one of the most harrowing lived experience accounts I’ve ever heard.  Before meeting the Navigator team, the person had ‘never told another human being how he felt’.  The next steps for the No Knives Better Lives programme is to is address the role alcohol and drugs play in knife crime, given 50% of reported (so likely to be more) incidents involve substance misuse.  I’m sure, as they have done so before, they will continue to involve those with lived experience in the programme design and implementation and here’s wishing them another ten years of success.  As the Community Safety sector continues to tackle a myriad of equally complex and, at times, heart-breaking issues, often with limited resources, I hope we can continue to find ways to involve those with lived experience in designing the solutions, because – it feels to me, who better to tell us what truly makes the difference?

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