Reggie Yates: Teen Gangs
I grew up in a single parent family on a tough council estate in North London where many people lived on benefits. Like many kids in my area I was offered the chance to get involved in gangs and make some fast money.
But I was lucky. I was also given the opportunity to take up acting, and eventually that led to a part in a TV series. Drama gave me a way out, and provided a different direction to my life. I've always known that I had been lucky in that respect, but making this film about teen gangs has really driven home to me just how fortunate I've been.
When I began working on Reggie Yates: Teen Gangs (Tuesday, 9pm) I had some pretty firm views. I started out thinking that people who become involved in gangs were just weak or foolish. But the journey I’ve made over the last few months has opened my eyes.
I've met young people up and down the country who really didn’t have much choice about whether or not to join up with a gang. Some did it for protection, others just to survive.
Take Darren, a bespectacled 22 year old from Manchester. He looked much more like the kind of bright young college student that you might find at lunchtimes in the library, but he'd spent time in prison as part of Manchester's notorious Gooch Gang, and had been involved in drug dealing, violence and carrying weapons.
I was shocked, because he looked such an unlikely gang member. But as I chatted to him it became apparent just why he'd joined up. He'd spent his early years being shunted around care homes – forty two of them in total - and had been bullied at school. He wanted to show that he wasn’t to be messed with, and for him the gang was like a surrogate family – a group that would protect him if he was threatened.
The other thing that surprised me on my journey is just how strong a part money plays in all of this. Time and again, I was told that people join gangs for easy money, and the prestige that goes with it.
Perhaps I shouldn't have been so surprised. In these consumer-driven times when people seem obsessed with gadgets and material possessions, money gives you status and power. It's a way of showing how successful you are; almost a way of keeping the score.
I wanted to be involved in this project because I felt I could relate to the people we were filming, but for me it’s been a learning experience. Perhaps the key lesson I take from it is just how difficult the lives of some young people are. Many have grown up without a stable family background and without any good role models in their lives.
Worse than that, some think that they don’t have any real prospects. They don't have a real stake in society, so why bother obeying society's rules? Others simply don’t expect to live beyond the age of 25.
Perhaps what most of them really need is a future that they believe is worth staying out of trouble for.
Reggie Yates: Teen Gangs is on Tuesday 27 March at 9pm.