The pressure of needing to be part of a group is vital to all teenagers nowadays, and this has contributed to how gangs have grown and spread across the nation. Ashton-under-Lyne, a small, quiet town in Greater Manchester, is among those to have experienced a disturbing growth of gang culture. Most of the gang-conflict in this area is based on a difference in colour; ethnically white English youth up against second and third- generation Asian immigrants, mainly from Pakistan. The violence between the two groups has worsened over the years and last August the MEN reported a stabbing linked to gang violence.

Greater Manchester Police has defended its approach about the rising gang situation in Ashton, with a spokesman saying: “Appropriate interventions and referrals have been made. This is about us using available powers to target and disrupt those choosing to cause trouble and commit offences – those behaving should be able to enjoy socialising and will hopefully feel benefit of our interventions.”

However, the GMP has been placed under “special measures” since 2020 due to a report exposing over 80,000 crimes being missed by the force, a broken culture and people being denied justice. The GMP’s Tameside division, which covers Ashton-Under-Lyne, are notorious for ignoring issues in the area.

But what is the community itself doing to help stop gang culture? How are they giving young people something else to do with their time?

Youth club worker Rehna has been running initiatives for several years with her husband and they have attracted a large number of young people to their group over the years. As it grows, she hopes the street crime will lessen gradually.

“My husband opened a kickboxing club for the young lads to get rid of excess energy,” Rehna explains, adding: “Here at Holy Trinity [Primary School] we offer food stalls and art classes to keep everyone happy, we organise day trips to Peak District which helps the boys get involved in something and doesn’t have them sitting at home.

“We try keep them busy so there not running about on the streets causing trouble because we know how easily young boys are influenced, especially by older boys.”

But to get to the heart of these gangs, it is important to understand what life is like from a gang member’s point of view. Ahmed’s name has been changed for safety reasons as he wanted to remain anonymous, and he insisted on not being filmed or having his voice recorded. But his story an inspiring one.

“I grew up in Ashton and was always told from a young age to be proud to be a Pakistani Muslim,” Ahmed recalls. “I grew up around people from the same background. I’d always have Pakistani friends, there wasn’t any white people in our group, and it was like this kind of brotherhood and like everyone had each other’s backs, no one would mess with my boys because we all stood up for each other.”

Things took a worse turn for Ahmed when he started to get involved into drugs. “It started off with vapes and cigarettes, which turned into weed and meth.”

His life evolved into hanging around dealers and late nights partying in cars, which he described as feeling like “owning the streets, that buzz it was indescribable and it felt powerful”.

Ahmed’s fate seemed to worsen when he got into an argument in a takeaway which turned violent. His attacker, a young white male, pulled out a knuckle duster on him and he sustained injuries to his jaw and head.

“My family was being threatened and my house was getting bricks through the windows, I had enough, so I left everything.”

Ahmed, former gang member.

“The next day rumours went around about how he beat up the Pakistani kid and I was fuming and so I told my guys to hurt him. It was never-ending from there.”

But what happened to this young 23-year-old adult to make him want to change his lifestyle, and so quickly? How did he manage to leave a life that was controlled by other violent gang members?

“My family was being threatened and my house was getting bricks through the windows, I had enough, so I left everything.”

Ahmed remembers listening to his mum cry and feeling overwhelmed. It was then he realised that it wasn’t the lifestyle he wanted to continue. “That’s not something you want to hear and reality kind of hits you like look it’s not just me I’m doing this to it’s my mother, my sister and my brother who started to follow my footsteps. I was the oldest, so I needed to step up”.

But what does Ahmed think of initiatives like Rehna’s and what the police are doing to help the issue?

“I know police don’t do anything, it’s like they don’t care. But youth clubs are a good idea to help, especially the younger boys. They are easily influenced and some do it because they’re scared, they feel like they don’t have a choice. I have hope that the gangs will come to an end; it’s an unnecessary conflict.”

As time progresses, so does the situation in Ashton-Under-Lyne. It seems that a new situation occurs almost every day in the area. The blue lights of the police vehicles have become an unsurprising, familiar sight to locals.  While the youth clubs, such as the Kickboxing one opened by Rehna’s husband “helps young lads get rid of excess energy”, it seems that a lot more is needed to tackle the violence and crime that’s still ongoing in the area.

It feels to locals that the GMP are running out of ideas and resources, perhaps due to the scrutiny they have been under. Will this seemingly never-ending feud within the local community be the downfall of this small town?

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