Gunmen 'no longer fear' reprisal warns UEW leader

Image caption Greg Davies believes the gym steers people from gang culture

Two weeks ago Kevin Bond had been on his way to a wedding fair with his fiancee when he was shot dead in broad daylight.

The gunman, who had made no attempt to cover his face, struck at close range by a set of traffic lights in Wythenshawe, Manchester.

Despite there being several witnesses at the scene, no-one has been arrested.

For local gym owner Greg Davies, who has spent the last two decades trying to entice young people away from a life of crime, this shooting did not make him bat an eyelid.

"There's no fear of reprisal, no fear of the law - he didn't try to disguise his identity, it was just another occurrence," he said.

The murder of Mr Bond is the very thing former doorman, Mr Davies, is fighting against.

'Credible alternatives'

Speaking from his Broad Oak gym in the heart of Wythenshawe, it is hard to hear him over the clang of metal, grunts and guffaws and the yells of encouragement.

He is surrounded by body builders, keep-fit fanatics and ex-convicts.

As the founder of United Estates of Wythenshawe (UEW) Mr Davies is determined to free those born into a world of crime from the daily cycle of violence and desolation.

"The kids on this estate five years ago could be described as hard-to-reach youths.

"They have now become 'don't want to be reached youths' because they have been socialised into that kind of criminal lifestyle.

"They might only make up 2% of the local population but they could be responsible for 90% of the crime," he explains.

His battle to stop children getting involved in violent and criminal gangs is one that is happening in communities on inner city estates across the country.

By introducing them to "credible alternatives" which he explains as "something that sparks their interest rather than stabbing each other", he has led people down a very different path.

The gym, a performing arts space, a professional recording studio, a community shop and a cafe form part of his dynasty.

He said: "The estate also has two massive youth clubs they are very nice.

"But very nice is not what appeals to those who we need to appeal to.

Image caption The gym gives young men and women a sense of belonging

"Many lads here wouldn't be seen dead near a youth club. They seem to attract nice kids - when did you last hear of a nice person stabbing someone?"

It is these ideas that have caught the eye of the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS), the police, and action groups nationwide.

So much so, more than 500 people attended Mr Davies' Street Peace 2010 at Gorton Monastery earlier this week.

Baying mob

Many of them who came to the day-long conference had lost their loved ones to violent gangs.

Margaret Mizen, whose son Jimmy was murdered outside a London bakery and Sylvia Lancaster, whose daughter Sophie was killed by a baying mob in Lancashire were among them.

"The main thing that came out of our debate was the need to have a national strategy to prevent youngsters from joining violent or hostile street gangs.

"Anti-social behaviour has been hitting the headlines for the last decade, it's remarkable no national strategy has been written," Mr Davies said.

These diversionary tactics were not around when Kevin, one of the gym members, was a teenager on the streets.

Image caption Akis said everyone at the gym has a collective mentality

He, as he put it, "got into mischief" which led to a 19-year stint behind bars.

"When you're hanging out with friends, you don't see it as a gang.

"They're the people you grow up with, it's from the outside that people think we're a gang, when really all we're doing is hanging out - but there was nothing to do so, so yes we got into mischief and yes I broke the law."

He's been out for a year now, and he has no plans to return to a life of crime.

"The gym keeps me on the straight and narrow, it keeps me busy and I can take a lot of my frustration out here."

For 29-year-old Akis, the gym is his social lifeline. His only family is his father who lives in Greece and after he was badly beaten a few years ago, life has become a little more difficult.

Gym banter

"I used to be doorman, and I got big in the gym. But then one night I was walking to my car and a gang of lads set upon me from behind.

"I was unconscious but they carried on hitting me. They damaged the front lobes of my brain and I got mild schizophrenia and depression from it.

"I can't work or anything now - I'll never get over it I have to take pills everyday to stop the images.

"This gym is like a family for me. This is where everybody - youngsters in the same situation as me with an unstable family background can feel at home.

"We come here and have gym banter and it's a good laugh and we feel like we belong."

Mr Davies agreed, adding that UEW is the "best equipped gang in the neighbourhood".

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