A football star who still bears the scars of his stab wounds joined an anti-knife crime protest to demand change.
Watford striker Andre Gray joined forces with BMX professional Ryan Taylor and Henry Smith, the founder of anti-knife crime charity The Wickers, to campaign against the high number of stabbings in London.
At the protest was a 40ft-long truck with enough space for 40 people including a ramp for bikers.
Young boys and girls, including some who have been affected by knife crime, rode around in unison on their bikes, supporting the Bikes Up, Knives Down campaign which was launched in 2015.
The event in Stratford, east London, was attended by Gray, who cost £18.5 million, and was once stabbed in the face when he was mixing with the wrong type of boys as a young player in Wolverhampton.
Wearing a stab-proof vest similar to the one Stormzy wore when he headlined Glastonbury Festival, Gray said the issue of knife crime was “massive” and he believed the Government did not “seem to care what’s happening to the youth”.
He said initiatives and charities bringing young people together had “saved him” in his younger days because they offered him a space to channel his energy and that children in poverty stricken areas were crying out for help.
“I’ve been through it, I’ve lived it, I know how it starts. I would count myself lucky, it could of gone a lot worse for me but I managed to come out,” he said.
The 28-year-old added that in order to help youngsters they must be given the hope that they can achieve something.
Speaking to the PA news agency, one rider and former offender Temi Lateef, 32, said he will cycle to Lagos, the biggest city in Nigeria, in the hope of being able to share his own story and inspire young people away from crime.
“Riding bikes is like an escape, you can be angry but when you get on that bike the anger goes away and you’re just left feeling tired.”
He added: “Events like this are important because It gives young people something to do it – it gives them the opportunity to explore different surroundings as well as venture outside their normal environment but a lot of young people don’t get this opportunity and this may be because their parents are fearful and don’t want them venturing out too far. But riding helps.”
Since leaving prison aged 22, the campaigner has gone on to write poetry commissioned from the Duke of Cambridge, and has performed at prestigious locations including the Barbican and the Tate Modern in London.
He admitted it was difficult getting a job after prison but emphasised why his person struggle is a motivator in helping others realise why the gang culture is not the path to “go down.”
Knife crime reached a record level last year in England and Wales, while there was the highest number of homicides for more than a decade, official figures show.
Police recorded 40,829 offences involving knives or sharp objects in 2018, an increase of 6% in a year and the largest total since comparable data began in 2011.
The number of homicides last year stood at 732, the highest in any calendar year since 2007 when it hit 765.
The Wicker charity which was founded only 16 months ago has two “safe spaces” in Hackney, east London, for children of all ages providing them with mentorship.
Samuel, 11, a young member of the charity, said: “The space helps us with our needs, it’s helped me make new friends in my area and also with my creativity.
“You’re not alone in this type of space.”
The truck will be at Notting-Hill Carnival on Monday as The Wickers hope to use the event as an opportunity to voice their concerns about knife violence.