A Band of Brothers
‘We’re most at risk from young men with nothing to lose’
“We do have an underclass in Brighton,” says Nathan Roberts, co-founder of local mentoring charity A Band of Brothers, over a cup of tea at the Elm Grove Café. We don’t have the same gang culture you might find elsewhere, Roberts suggests, but things like youth unemployment, low social- mobility and unachievable house prices mean there are plenty of young people who feel they have no prospects. This leads to a sense of alienation, and creates a risk for the rest of society. “Whether you’re looking at jihadis in Iraq and Syria, or the situation in our communities in the UK, we’re most at risk from young men with nothing to lose.”
‘ABOB’ works with these kind of men; young of- fenders. It wants them to find answers to questions like “who am I, what should I do with my life, and is there any meaning or purpose?” It wants them to “become more emotionally articulate,” to talk about their problems, and to have positive role models. It wants them to feel “a connection to a group of people in a community that is about service, bigger than self.” And, of course, it wants them to stop committing crimes, because that’s what the charity is funded for.
ABOB hosts weekly sessions with volunteer men- tors, who admit their own weaknesses and struggles to the young men. “It doesn’t work unless there’s a mutual exchange… What we’re trying to provide is an antidote to that environment where, when I was at school, the teachers would say ‘I am a teacher, I am perfect’, and you know that they haven’t got it all worked out, yet there’s no honesty about that.” One of the most important, and mysterious, parts of their work is ‘The Quest’. Roberts says, “based on our most recent figures, offending frequency he’d rather not explain what’s involved – it’s a sur- prise. I gather it’s a weekend in the woods, involving perhaps 12 young men and 25 mentors, who put the youngsters through unspecified ‘rites of pas- sage’, based on the myth of Parsifal. Founded in Brighton around 2008, ABOB “was a great experiment, right from the start,” but one which proved successful enough that they’ve since expanded into Crawley, Eastbourne and London. Despite their success rate, funding has not always come easily, Roberts suggests. It can be difficult to persuade people that young offenders are vulner- able, and need help:
“Imagine a 12 year old who’s been in care for the last two years because he grew up around two parents who were heroin addicts who were abusing him, and his sister was sexually abused by somebody known within the family, and since then, guess what, he can’t sit down for six hours a day at school, so he’s been expelled. At that point, people would look at that young boy, and feel really sorry for him. Take that same young man at 18; he’s just been done for bur- gling a house, and nobody would give a shit about where he was when he was 12. I think that’s a blindness within our society that we need to address.”
Joanna Baumann abandofbrothers. org.uk