Arts > Nailing youth crime through creativity

Posted on January 30, 2018

Abiona Boja visits Art Against Knives to hear about the valuable work they do with young people
Violence amongst young people seems to be an impossible task to deal with. Around 199 gangs (that we know of) operate in London, accounting for 20% of all violent crimes in the capital.

While youth crime in the UK is typically associated with young men, more young women are getting involved. This includes carrying knives for friends or boyfriends, based on the assumption they are less likely to be stopped by the police.

According to 2015/16 Youth Justice Statistics for England and Wales, females accounted for 14,900 arrests of young people (17% of the total).

However, a silver lining exists in the form of Art Against Knives (AAK), a local organisation tackling youth crime through creativity and fundraising events.

AAK kicked off in 2011 in response to the unprovoked stabbing of student Oliver Hemsley. An art exhibition was organised to raise money for his medical needs, and some of the biggest names in art, including Banksy, auctioned off work to support the cause.

The founder, Katy Dawe, started the movement believing that if more young people could express their feelings through creativity, less violent crime would occur.

Since then, AAK has developed a programme called In Our Hands to specifically target violence against women and girls. The programme consists of two community nail bars in Barnet, Dollis Dolls and Vales Nails.

AAK is not separate from the community, it is the community

“We embed specialist expertise into nail bars that are part of community life, allowing us to intervene early and significantly reduce the risks young women and girls face,” says Katy.

“We provide young women with the opportunity to learn nail skills, get their nails painted for free, socialise in a safe place, develop vital personal skills and access specialist support.”

The In Our Hands programme is open to everyone in the local area for free. In the last five years, it has helped over 500 vulnerable young women gain invaluable skills, and some have even qualified as nail technicians.

After my own visit to Vales Nails, I understand why so many young women choose to get involved.

The atmosphere was comforting, fun, friendly and felt more like a family than a social support group. All generations are represented, from the ripe young age of 84, right down to new-born babies.

AAK is not separate from the community, it is the community.

All young people deserve a life free from violence, full of creativity and surrounded by care

Isabel Chapman, specialist lead for violence against women at In Our Hands, believes part of the organisation’s success comes from the fact that “we get what it means to live in certain environments, certain neighbourhoods and certain situations, because AAK are from those communities.” These are places where violence is rife, and young people are most vulnerable.

AAK are all about sustainability and consistency, while still remaining current and on trend. “It’s all youth-led. We don’t do all the work for them, they tell us their ambitions and we support them however we can.” Isabel said. “If we can get young people to believe in themselves, hooked up with the right resources, confident enough to achieve whatever they desire, then we will support them.”

AAK aspires to expand even further. Since 2011 they’ve grown from a small grass roots movement, to a registered charity supporting over 1,000 young people.

I hope to see this organisation continue to flourish as their work is invaluable. And I hope they’ll always remain firm in their conviction that “all young people deserve a life free from violence, full of creativity and surrounded by care” — a powerful and inspiring ethos for all of us.

To find out more or get involve AAK email:

Exposure made the following promo, celebrating the great work of Art Against Knives.

Our thanks to John Lyon’s Charity for making this project possible.


Abiona Boja
Abiona Boja is currently an A Level student studying English Lit, Sociology and History. She has taken part in a variety of project work for Exposure, and is particularly interested in politics and broadcast journalism. Abiona would like to go to Cambridge to study International Relations, and pursue a career as a news presenter.

Exposure is an award-winning youth communications charity giving young people in north London a voice. Please support us to continue our work. Thank you.



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