Founder of London street gym wants an armoured car to bring kids to train safely

24 June 2021, 12:03 | Updated: 24 June 2021, 13:22

Rachael Venables

By Rachael Venables

Knife crime has turned London into a "war zone", according to an East London youth worker who believes the streets are so unsafe he wants to buy an armoured, ex-military vehicle to transport at-risk teens.

Raheel Butt runs "The Compound-Newham's Street Gym" in Newham, which he describes proudly as "the borough's only street gym", on a lot he picked specifically because of its location in the middle of three local schools.

"I went to the school at the end of the road," he said.

"These are the streets I used to commit crimes on. I know all about the issues that face this community."

Raheel Butt set up the compound to help get kids out of the gang violence in Newham
Raheel Butt set up the compound to help get kids out of the gang violence in Newham. Picture: LBC

The 36-year-old, who admits to having been involved in gangs in the past, was imprisoned in his twenties for GBH, and now uses the gym to support and train local young people, keeping them out of gangs and away from knife crime.

It's clear he's designed this gym to be a safe space for the kids who file in after school.

Raheel said he wants to get an armoured vehicle of the type that saw use in Afghanistan to help transport kids safely (file image)
Raheel said he wants to get an armoured vehicle of the type that saw use in Afghanistan to help transport kids safely (file image). Picture: PA

The black metal gates are bolted shut to the outside world, and there's looping barbed wire all along the tall brick walls.

The state of violence in London means he's come up with a radical solution to get teenagers into his gym.

"I want to get hold of an armoured personnel vehicle that was used in either Iraq or Afghanistan," he explained.

Raheel showed LBC the weapons he's confiscated off 13-year-olds
Raheel showed LBC the weapons he's confiscated off 13-year-olds. Picture: LBC

"We want to get hold of one of them, to allow young people to come into this gym through a transport service where we can go and pick them up, wherever they are, whatever location they're in, to get them out of their hostile zone and put them into this gym to train in a safe manner."

At the moment, young people's lives are blighted by no-go zones, he believes.

"A lot of young people feel that there is a huge huge issue with where they can travel due to territorial disputes.

"We know young people are getting stabbed on buses.

"We know that when a young person wants to come to a place like this, if they're from another postcode which happens to have a rivalry to it, then that territorial dispute ends in bloodshed."

Raheel tells me he's costed up the vehicle to be anything between £15,000 and £20,000.

"I don’t have that kind of money," he said. He had to sell his house to pay for the gym, and he's seen no sign of local or national funding to support projects like his.

In the mean time though, children are going to extreme lengths to "protect themselves".

Earlier this week Raheel confiscated a knuckleduster. He showed LBC two decorative switch knives, locked up and buried in one of his cupboards.

"I confiscated these from two thirteen year olds," he said.

"They're very very sharp. These are the things that kill people."

He said the children bought these knives because there was a threat made against them.

"A young person now perceives a threat in a security way. They think they're protecting themselves by arming themselves with knives."

It comes as the Met police warned last week that the capital is "on track" to face the worst year of teenage killings in more than a decade.

Raheel spoke to LBC from his gym in Newham
Raheel spoke to LBC from his gym in Newham. Picture: LBC

The force said that knife and gun crime could lead to the highest number of homicides among young people since 2008, when 28 youths were killed.

Back in April, in this borough of Newham alone, two teenagers were stabbed to death in separate attacks in the space of just 72 hours.

For the young people filing into the Compound after school, it's clear the gym is a unique, incredible space.

One boy said that without it, he'd still be involved in gangs, selling drugs and knife crime.

"Not anymore, not now," he said.

Another boy said he knows four or five people who have been stabbed, and another three who have been murdered.

For one of those attacks, he was in "close proximity."

"What we're trying to do here at the Compound is to minimise knife crime, minimise gang wars, things like that," he said.

Without the gym, he said he'd still be overweight and addicted to his Playstation. Now he wants to be a personal trainer by 16.

Another teen said that "having a place like the Compound where you can come, have a nice time, just chill with your mates, talk to an elder if you have any problems... It’s just a really safe place.

"It's really nice and that's quite rare indeed."

For these teenagers, the Compound has been transformational in building confidence and a sense of support, and it's telling the founder wants to buy something designed to protect soldiers in a war zone - to keep young people safe on London's streets.

For more information on the Compound, they can be reached @compoundnsg on Instagram