Steel Warriors is a charity that aims to reduce the number of young people carrying knives in the UK. They melt down knives taken off London’s streets and recycle the steel into outdoor calisthenics gyms. They want to offer young people a free space that not only gets them talking about knife crime, but also provide them with more physical and mental confidence to walk the streets unarmed.
Knife crime is on the rise. Since the start of 2018, the UK has seen a 22 percent spike in criminal offences involving knives; violence affecting not only immediate victims but scarring entire communities, too.
While there is no one quick fix, no single answer, there are non-profit groups out there working to tackle the crisis at its core – and you’ll find few as innovative as Steel Warriors, who are melting down confiscated knives and turning them into outdoor callisthenics parks in London and beyond.
“A lot of young people from less wealthy backgrounds don’t have access to gyms,” says Ben Wintour, who co-founded Steel Warriors in 2017, “and so by placing these parks in areas affected by high levels of knife crime, we can distract younger people and bring them together, building enough physical confidence that they can walk the streets unarmed.”
Ben, a former PR manager, says the light bulb popped after hearing that police confiscate over a tonne of surrendered knives every month. “I wondered if there was a way of taking all that steel, melting it down and turning it into something that directly counteracts the motives for carrying a knife,” he says. “The knife as an object has become socially accepted for groups, so we need to deglamourise a knife, to turn it into a pink Tamagotchi. It’s about symbolism as well as protection, to show how tough you are. If you get people thinking this way, then we may see more knives off the street. Knives are now carried for protection, muscle flexing and bravado.”
And Bishopsgate’s involvement? I’m not too sure who contacted who but Ben’s Uncle happened to be Anthony Ward Thomas, chairman and major shareholder in a nationwide logistics company Bishopsgate. Anthony was keen to help Ben by providing logistics support from the company he has grown since the eighties. Anthony said “It was such an easy decision for me to offer support to such a socially positive venture”
Ward Thomas Removals, a removals and storage company based in Central London, collect stillages of knives from Central London which have been handed in during knife amnesties. Then utilising the specialist skills of Bishopsgate Specialist Installations transfer them securely to foundries near Preston and in the Midlands.
And the project is growing. The Co-op has recently announced a multi-million-pound investment to help Steel Warriors build 20 open air free-to-use gyms across the UK. Two new gyms will be built this year, which will also feature gym instructors, providing training sessions for different abilities, to share skills and improve physical and mental wellbeing within communities.
Steel Warriors was co-founded by Ben Wintour and Pia Fontes. Ben said: “We are really glad to be working with Anthony Ward Thomas and Bishopsgate to get more gyms built and to grow our vision into one that offers pro-active support to communities nationwide.”