Guns into Goods

It’s not often that a charity closes because its work is done. But earlier this year a Manchester-based group found itself beached by its own success. And given that its focus has been on reducing gun crime, that’s of more than local interest.

CARISMA – the Community Alliance for Renewal Inner South Manchester Area – had been founded primarily to tackle gun violence in Moss Side, that once had one of the highest rates of gun violence in Britain. Driven by the ever-inspiring Erinma Bell, CARISMA worked closely with both the police and community organizations in putting in place a number of focussed initiatives. One of these was “Guns to Goods”. In partnership with the design department of a local university and an industrial foundry, guns confiscated by the police were melted down to be recast as fashion items. The aim was to put in place a virtuous circle in which could-be gang members with a flair for design are directed away from the dark side.

CARISMA’s Peace Kit was launched in Manchester Cathedral in March 2013. It’s well worth listening to Erinma setting out the project’s vision in this video.

When I moved back to Cape Town, I brought with me one of the gunmetal ingots that were cast by Guns to Goods from police-confiscated weapons. There’s a power in this quiet, smooth slab of metal that was once several sawn-off shotguns.

Cape Town has a particularly high level of gun crime, part of the gang culture that is a legacy of apartheid-era segregation. Gangs depend on recruiting children who are expected to prove their loyalty through acts of violence. There is a broad consensus that policing alone will be insufficient; turning the tide can only come from a broad-based approach in which communities, police and government agencies can work together. Cape Town also has strong traditions of creativity and a vibrant visitor economy that encourages the creative industries. Last year, the city was the World Design Capital.

There’s every possibility in a Guns to Goods project for Cape Town. It would be a mark of success if here, as in Moss Side, a community-based charity were to close ten years from now because its job is done.

**

Sarah Austin, “Guns to Goods: Can old firearms forge a new future in Manchester?”. BBC, 23 March 2012: http://www.bbc.com/news/uk-england-manchester-17446832

Erinma Bell, Manchester Cathedral, 1 March 2015:   https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Mu-QHdT9ns0&feature=youtu.be

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