Knife crime is fast becoming the biggest blight facing police in the UK. Currently, seven stabbings a day are reported, sometimes fatal, and often involving teenagers.
In 2016, there were 32,448 knife crimes recorded in England and Wales – a 14% increase on the previous year, according to figures from the Office for National Statistics.
“Knife crime is becoming an epidemic in this country,” insisted Clive Knowles. “What we have to do is take the knives out of people’s hands to make our communities safer.”
And that’s precisely what Clive, Chairman of the British Ironwork Centre in Oswestry, Shropshire, has been doing.
He, along with son Ben, the company’s Managing Director – both members of the Rotary Club of Oswestry Cambrian – founded and funded the ‘Save A Life, Surrender Your Knife’ campaign.
What began in 2014 was a weapons amnesty project, with the British Ironwork Centre supplying 200 knife banks to police forces across England which were then placed in strategic locations.
“Police face a major problem trying to curb this growing statistic of knife crime,” explained Ben.
“Our quest was to unite the UK’s efforts, because there are various knife campaign groups, to raise awareness and try to turn the tide on this rising embarrassment within our society.”
Knife crime is becoming an epidemic in this country. What we have to do is to take the knives out of people’s hands to make our communities safer.”
The response was immense. The first skip which arrived at the company’s Shropshire base contained 6,000 weapons and, very quickly, the assortment of gruesome-looking armaments of death began to stockpile.
“The weapons coming in weren’t clean,” recalled Ben. “There was blood on them, there was skin, hair and bodily fluid; they were in a vile state.
“We had a difficult job of cleaning them. We used these huge Indian cooking bowls filled with bleach.
“One by one, we would clean the weapons with scourers.
“That took eight months solid. It was a gruelling task. The guys were wearing breathing apparatus and chemical suits to ensure they were protected.
“I imagined it was going to be pen knives and flick knives. Instead, we collected some really horrific things like machetes, Samurai swords, these fantasy double-ended swords from Game of Thrones and Lord of the Rings.”
Ben and Clive knew they had to change people’s mindset about knife crime by bringing it to the forefront of society’s consciousness. And that’s when the Knife Angel was born.
Working with the artist, Alfie Bradley, an angel sculpture was constructed completely of knives.
Each knife was blunted before being welded onto the structure before the wings were created using blades to create a feather-like shape. “We wanted to make something beautiful out of the destructive weapons collected,” added Ben.
The project took 100,000 knives off the street to create an eye-catching and thought-provoking 27-foot tall statue.
It is an initiative which recently won the Rotary International Peace Award, alongside the charity Médecins Sans Frontières, which works to alleviate suffering and protect life in war zones and has helped refugees crossing the Mediterranean.
The Knife Angel now rests at the British Ironwork Centre, and the plan is to give it a home on the fourth plinth in Trafalgar Square where there is a five-year waiting list.
However, Clive revealed that they are facing opposition from the Mayor of London’s Office, who has said the statue would be a poor reflection on the image of the UK, not helpful towards promoting tourism.
He insisted the statue would be making a bold statement how the UK is serious about tackling knife crime – a campaign which has drawn support from the families of knife victims.
“We have launched a petition for this and urge as many people as possible to sign it so that can become a focal point in raising awareness of the scourge of knife crime on our streets,” said Clive.
Ben added: “We want to dramatically reduce the number of people carrying weapons, raise awareness of the issue and get it high on the political agenda.
There were 32,448 knife crimes recorded in England and Wales in 2016.”
“We also want to identify the reasons why these youngsters are carrying a weapon, and to re-educate and re-align their mindsets, ultimately with the goal of reducing the number of victims and incidents.”
The knife collection continues with the Shropshire business looking to hit a target of bringing in 250,000 weapons.
And the British Ironwork Centre is also looking at gun crime and is currently working with the West Midlands Police and Crime Commissioner, David Jamieson, to establish gun amnesty banks in Birmingham.
Both are initiatives which Clive and Ben would like to partner with Rotary clubs across the UK, possibly with Rotary branding on the amnesty bins.
“This campaign works at the heart of our communities, and it helps to make our communities that little bit safer,” added Clive.
“We are saying our community does not accept violent behaviour, so here is your opportunity to get rid of your weapon and start afresh.”