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Connecting the police and young people through music - Pembe's story

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Pembe in the recording studio

Pembe was one of the first young people to join the Five O Band, a ground-breaking project run by The Crib in London which saw police officers and ‘at-risk’ young people form a band together.

At first she was reluctant even to enter the same room as the police. She’s made amazing progress since then, and now aged 19 she works full-time as a sound technician thanks to the skills she learned from The Crib.

‘Most of my friends are either dead or in prison’

“I grew up in quite a deprived area of Hackney with a lot of crime, gang affiliations, drug use and exploitation of young people. I mixed with the wrong crowd when I was about 11 or 12, and spent some time in custody due to some mistakes of my own.

“Once I came out, The Crib supported me to get into employment and change my life. I more or less pushed myself towards it. I just thought ‘I need to do something productive with myself.’

“I chose to turn my life round at a stage where it could have gone both ways for me. Most of my friends are either dead or in prison serving quite lengthy sentences for offences varying from robbery to drugs to murder.

The Five O Band was a big part of my life in changing the way I looked at things and my outlook on police.

Building a relationship with police

“Where I grew up, there are some police officers that think because you’re dressed a certain way or you’re a certain colour, they need to stop you or antagonise you. That doesn’t mean every police officer is like that though.

“At the beginning I thought ‘I’m not doing this, I don’t like them’. But then you start to realise they’re just normal people that have a job, and they go home and they still have a normal life.

“Connecting the officers and the young people through music actually allowed them to separate the fact that they were from different backgrounds, because they were doing things that they all enjoyed, so it brought them together.

“When they rehearsed with us, the police didn’t try to change the way young people did things, they actually helped them quite a bit.

It really changed how the police perceived us and how we perceived them.

Learning tech skills

“I was 14 or 15 when I came out of custody, and I’ve carried on working with The Crib ever since. They taught me a lot of the trade, gave me a reference for the job I’m in now, and I’m still involved with a lot of their live shows.

“With the Five O Band I turned into a facilitator, because I ended up working as a sound technician in the building where the rehearsal sessions were running.

“It’s very rare to find a female sound technician in the industry, and I think The Crib are quite proud to say ‘we’ve got one of the youngest female sound technicians around’, so it feels good. I’d like to continue as a sound technician and see where it takes me.

I’ve had job offers from more or less every company I’ve ever worked with, and that’s given me a lot of confidence.

'Relating Not Hating’

As part of the national ‘Fixers’ project, Pembe featured in this short film (3 mins) about how she’s helping to improve relations between the police and young people.

A positive change

“Learning skills and getting a job has changed the way I walk, talk, think and present myself. I think it’s about acknowledging that I can fit into society, and not be on the streets and doing nothing with myself every day, or being around drugs or violence or crime. I’ve come a very long way from that.

“It’s made me more confident as a person, it’s definitely made me more approachable – I was not approachable a few years ago!

“Within the community, it’s changed the way people look at me, and it’s changed the way people look at themselves. When I meet my friends, I explain to them that selling drugs all day long isn’t even minimum wage compared with making Big Macs or stacking shelves in Tesco. They’ve never looked at life like that.

“Most people within the community have never even gone 200 metres away from their local area because they’re so terrified of what can happen.

I think I’ve shown people that if you put your mind to it, you can get to a certain standard where you’re appreciated in society.

Helping others

“The Crib’s just amazing – it’s changed not hundreds but thousands of people’s lives and I don’t think it gets the recognition it should. It tackles sexual exploitation, gang violence… it’s formed campaigns like ‘Enough is Enough’ against knife crime and youth violence.

“I’ve mentored other young people coming through The Crib, helping them get out of offending and change their thought process about being around police. Every day I mentor somebody.

“As much as I’m a young person myself, I’m never perceived as a young person because I’m so articulate and mature now, and I’d love for most people to be able to achieve that.

“In the long run I’d love to have a building, 20,000 square feet, that I could turn into studio units where there’s dance, music and loads of different things so it’s a massive space for young people to come to.”

Youth Music would like to thank Pembe for sharing her story. A special thank you also goes to players of the National Lottery for the funding we receive each year through Arts Council England.