On Saturday 14th January, Charlton Athletic play host to Millwall in a Sky Bet League One fixture that pits the two South London rivals against each other in a game that provides Charlton with a quick chance to even the score after the 3-1 defeat the team experienced at the New Den on the 21st December.

With Millwall sitting in 10th place, just 3 points ahead of Charlton in 11th; the game promises to be a closely contested local derby but Saturday’s match also marks the occasion of the Charlton Athletic Community Trust’s annual ‘Street Violence Ruins Lives’ Day.

In the summer of 2008 it seemed that almost every day a young person lost their life by being the victim of a violent street stabbing and the headlines in the national press reflected this blight on society. The knife problem was then to come close to ‘home’ with the terribly sad news that a talented young actor and Charlton Athletic supporter called Rob Knox, who had just finished filming the latest Harry Potter film, ‘Harry Potter and the Half Blood Prince’, had been stabbed to death outside a bar in Sidcup.

On hearing the sad news of Rob’s tragic death Jason Morgan the CEO of Charlton Athletic Community Trust (CACT) and myself, then Commercial Director of Charlton Athletic FC (CAFC), agreed that the Club and the Trust had to try and do something to address the growing problem of youth violence in the area of South London and Kent. Charlton Athletic had a ‘track record’ in this regard as the renowned ‘Kick Racism out of Football’ campaign had started at Charlton some 10 years earlier. In addition, CACT was also the first to pilot a project warning children of the dangers of playing near railway lines, a hugely successful initiative that went on to be implemented in football nationwide.

A meeting was held in the Boardroom at CAFC to get support for the idea to launch a separate strand of work by CACT to combat knife crime. Representatives from the Greenwich, Bexley and Kent Police Forces, Greenwich Council and Bexley Council were invited to attend – no one declined.

The idea was to put together an educational programme that CACT officers would deliver at every school in Greenwich and Bexley, which was designed to teach young people about the perils of carrying a knife and of gang membership. The thinking being that a ‘tracksuit’ will be able to relate to at risk and vulnerable children far better than a ‘suit’ or a police uniform could ever do. The idea received unanimous support and the title of CACT’s latest campaign was agreed – ‘Street Violence Ruins Lives’ (SVRL).

It was felt strongly that if the programme was to make a real difference it would need the co-operation of Colin and Sally Knox, Rob’s parents. Both Colin and Sally could not have been more supportive and their commitment to the work of CACT has been instrumental in the success of the ‘Street Violence Ruins Lives’ campaign.

The ‘SVRL’ programme was formally launched at CAFC’S ‘live’ Sky TV match with Reading at The Valley and The Football League and the Football Association gave CAFC permission for the Club’s players to wear the specially produced logo on their shirts during the televised Championship fixture.

Since launching ‘SVRL’, CACT’s work in this important area has gone from strength to strength and, in fact, less than a year after its launch, in March 2009 Charlton Athletic took the accolade of ‘Community Club of the Year’ from The Football League, thanks in the main to this important project.

CACT’s ‘Street Violence Ruins Lives’ campaign was one of the first delivered by a football related trust and it has now been adopted as a model of best practice by other clubs. The campaign works at three levels:

  • Through awareness programmes in schools;
  • On estates based programmes where young people are identified as being involved in crime or are at risk of being so; and
  • Through targeted specialist work with repeat offenders who are at risk of custodial sentences

The Trust is a strategic partner within The U-Turn project, which works with the most ‘at risk’ young people in Bexley, and continues to engage, support and challenge the young people selected to attend.

In Bexley the programme also includes a distinct project of support with the victims of anti-social behaviour and also a targeted programme with young people at risk of radicalisation into extreme behaviour.

I’m extremely proud of the part I played in establishing, with Jason Morgan MBE and Colin and Sally Knox, CACT’s ‘SVRL’ campaign which was the forerunner to the Trust’s now lauded Crime Reduction Programme. This vitally important initiative now works across Royal Greenwich and the London Borough of Bexley both with the perpetrators and also the victims of crime – most specifically youth crime.

Alongside playing such a hugely important role in establishing the SVRL initiative and their continuing support of the programme; Colin and Sally Knox also established the Rob Knox Foundation, the aims and objectives of which being to advance the education of the public (but particularly among young people) on the subject of citizenship and street awareness and in particular knife crime and to help young people develop their skills and capacities in the area of the Arts, particularly theatre film and television.

I’m now an Ambassador of the Charlton Athletic Community Trust and the annual SVRL match, which Millwall – who support the ‘For Jimmy’ Charity which was established after the tragic death, also in summer 2008, of 16 year old Lewisham-born Jimmy Mizzen – have been the opposition for in many previous seasons; is always a poignant occasion that is very well respected by both sets of supporters and I’m very much looking forward to attending Saturday’s game with Jason, Colin, Sally and Nick Darvill, who is responsible for developing ‘SVRL’ and CACT’s Crime Reduction project into the respected programme it is now.