Steel Warriors take knives confiscated by police, melts them down and creates something positive – a community gym where young people can build their confidence so they don’t feel the need to arm themselves.
The charity, which takes a fresh approach to fighting knife crime in the UK, has created a callisthenics gym constructed from two tonnes of recycled knives taken off the streets at Langdon Park in Poplar, East London.
The gym is open to all, and it’s primarily used for calisthenics – bodyweight exercises which build strength and core stability.
Steel Warriors is the brainchild of Pia Fontes and Ben Wintour. The two, who met while working in PR, were inspired to create a different approach after seeing anti-knife campaigns, although well-meaning were lacking impact.
Knife crimes in the UK are on the increase. According to the Office for National Statistics (ONS), there were 40,147 offences in the 12 months ending in March 2018, a 16% increase on the previous year and the highest number since 2011, the earliest point for which comparable data is available.
Knife crime also tends to be more prevalent in big cities, particularly London. In London, knife crime has risen to its highest ever level with nearly 15,000 offences committed during the past year, according to the ONS.
For the Steel Warriors founders it was imperative that their new approach in fighting knife crime empower young people. They looked at reasons why teenagers were carrying knives and found that “protection” and “to flex their muscle” to be the most common.
Following their research, the Steel Warriors duo came up with the idea of creating a gym that would be free to use, provide a place where teenagers could build both their bodies and confidence, and be a place where a community could be built, the topic of knife crime could be discussed and steps taken towards prevention for all involved.
The location of the Steel Warriors gym, which opened last year, is neutral territory since it is not part of any one gang territory. It is also within easy reach of Stratford, Poplar and Bow – three areas of London which are worse-affected when it comes to knife crime.
In just over a year, the Steel Warriors gym is already making an impact in the area. The gym has been visited by professional calisthenics athletes, local children, families and business people, all of whom acknowledge it as a safe and approachable place to be.
The Poplar-based gym is the first of what the Steel Warriors team hope to be many, with plans to open more gyms in the future, and to expand to other cities such as Birmingham, Liverpool, Leeds and Manchester.
Steel Warriors do not plan to stop until there are no knives left to recycle. Ben Wintour said: “When there’s no more steel to build with we’ll have done our work.”
Rosa Medea is Life & Soul Magazine’s Chief @rosamedea