Knowing the ins and outs of each of Croydon’s five gangs can’t be easy but that is the job of one single council department. 

The gangs team, part of Croydon Council’s youth offending service, is currently working with 78 entrenched gang members. 

And manager of the team Cliff Hilderley wants people to know that most violence in Croydon is not gang related and that the borough has fewer gang members than its neighbouring boroughs. 

He is from Croydon and started out as a volunteer mentoring young people in the youth offending service. He has managed the team for more than three years and was previously in similar roles at other councils.

Working with gang members

He said: “At any point only 30% of serious youth violence is gang related. Young people are walking around in fear because they think there are a lot of gangs.”

And he wants any serious youth violence in the borough to be viewed in the context that Croydon has the highest youth population in London.

But he adds there has been a ‘massive dip’ in this and knife crime.

The team is currently working with 78 gang members in the borough – He adds that this is a relatively low number compared to neighbouring boroughs like Lambeth.

Last year the team diverted 33 people away from gangs.

Cliff said that for the team in Croydon it can be easier to get young adults to leave gangs as they have the option of being moved to a different area or trained in a certain career. 

What are Croydon’s five gangs and where are they based?

Field Boyz – New Addington 

CR7 formerly Heathset – Thornton Heath

25s – Norwood Junction

#O – West Croydon

S Block – Selhurst

But just because there are five gangs in the borough does not mean there are loads of gang members in the streets. 

Clive tells us that in each there are up 20 members. 

Currently the team is working with is 14-years-old. They work with young people up to 25. 

He said gang members face problems if they cannot go into another area for fear of being attacked. 

An example of this would be Field Boyz members not being able to go into central Croydon for healthcare or accessing the job centre. 

Why do people join gangs?

Cliff said that in all his years working with gangs he has never worked with women or girls. 

Many of the people who become involved in gangs have experienced poverty or domestic violence in their early lives.

“The majority of people coming through the youth justice system and in gangs have experienced trauma, domestic violence or drug use of parents,” he added. 

Another reason is a feeling of protection. 

But Cliff was quick to point out that joining a gang in the first place is the reason that a young person would need protection. 

He said: “What we need to explain to young people is that your lifestyle will dictate whether you need protection.

“These are vulnerable, at risk young people in our community.

“If you are a gang member you are more likely to get stabbed and beaten up than other people.”

Popularity and drill music

Cliff says that one of the less obvious reasons for joining a gang is to gain popularity and to become well known in your area. 

One aspect of this is Drill music videos which can get a million views on YouTube. 

Clive said: “Drill videos you might get one million views on YouTube and everyone knows who you are. You’re walking tall it’s a really easy way to gain popularity.”

But he does not agree with the argument that it should be banned or removed from social media.

“It is a difficult one because what you don’t want to do is quell young people’s creativity. For some of them it is a way out,” said the expert. 

“There is a significant link to violence in these they talk about violence they have done but equally there are videos that have no links to violence.”

And the videos can even help the gangs team know who is in which gangs and identify any new members.

A full time analyst on the team watches all new drill videos and monitors known gang members social media, like Snapchat and Instagram. 

“A vast majority of our intel comes from these videos. You see where the next is coming and get teams down there,” adds Clive. 

“If we see people we don’t know we find out who they are and go round and say ‘this is you’ or ‘this is your son he needs help’.

“Our analyst has assisted police in at least two murder convictions with Youtube videos.”

How are gang members helped?

Clive says after an incident where known gang members are involved members of the team will be out on the streets within 24 hours.

But before big incidents to encourage people to leave gangs, members are given intensive mentoring and connected with other services which can help.

And making sure there are things in place like housing, training and help getting a job is key to keeping the young people from returning to gangs.

Clive says making sure the same members of staff are working with the same people is vital to building trust and ensuring continuity.

The gangs team also hosts regular 45-minute sessions on gang awareness, which are open to professionals working in schools, colleges, and groups working with young people.

Staff also go into schools to teach young people the dangers of joining a gang. Such workshops were delivered to 1,600 pupils last year and more than 1,000 this year.

Here is what the council’s cabinet member for safer Croydon and communities has to say:

“We have made tackling serious youth violence a top priority in Croydon, which is why we are adopting a public health approach to help stop it,” said Councillor Hamida Ali.

“Agencies need to work with communities and families, with schools playing a vital role. It is therefore great to see our gangs team leading the way with its schools and community engagement approach.”