'It is about amplifying the good': How Harehills refuses to be defined by crime

WALK through Harehills on a sunny day, and one thing you're likely to notice is the music: spilling through open bedroom windows, being played in backyards and coming from local businesses as people get into the summer spirit.


But there’s something else the local community is keen to amplify, and that’s the good work being done day in, day out by ordinary people, young and old.

For many it’s a frustration that Harehills too often attracts the wrong attention.

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In the past fortnight alone, residents have been left alarmed by a string of violent incidents. Twice, shotguns were fired at houses, with one of the shootings leaving a teenage girl injured by flying glass.

Two large street fights have also taken place in the past two weeks.

Charity boss Marvina Newton says violent incidents can knock people’s pride in their own communities and create stigma.

She says: “It’s a stain. It’s like if you have got a white shirt and every time something happens in the community, you get a big blob on it.”

The Leeds charity founded by Ms Newton, Angel of Youths, works with young people in Harehills and other disadvantaged areas.

It uses mentoring and workshops to give these young people a greater voice by helping them to develop their own social action projects.

She says the young people often find inspiring ways of turning “a negative into a positive”.

For Kauser Jan, an assistant headteacher at a local school, the challenge is to confront the issues the area faces while also highlighting the positives.

Ms Jan is involved in the Leeds Lives Not Knives project, which is organising a theatre production next year on the theme of gang violence. Pupils from 11 Leeds schools as well as people from the wider community will be invited along.

But she is also keen that issues like crime and safety do not come to define the community.

“It is the minority of people that try to create mayhem and upset,” she says. “It is about amplifying the good.”

She has seen a host of examples of people from different backgrounds coming together to help those in need.

“I think definitely there is a wonderful community feel. I’m not saying we are blind to the challenges but we have to look at the way that people are integrating, people are helping each other, that is really good.”

She said her one wish for Harehills was for a new community centre designed to be open to everyone, regardless of race, age or background.

She said while schools could play this role some of the time, the offerings for the community in school holidays and on weekends was “woefully inadequate”.

For the police, helping people feel safer in their communities is not just a matter of going after the criminals but also providing reassurance and preventing crime.

Inspector Mick Preston, who heads up the East Leeds Neighbourhood Police Team, says: “I am very proud of the work my officers and staff have done to target and disrupt criminality in the area. The work they have undertaken and the work they do on a daily basis makes a significant impact locally.”

He said they needed to spread the message about that good work, which would help to build trust. This in turn would encourage more people to pass information to the police “so we can continue to attack criminality whilst providing reassurance and making people safe and feel safer”, he said.