The founder of a charity helping young people with troubled backgrounds reinvent themselves has issued an impassioned plea for gang members to lay down their weapons and stop killing each other.

Colin James set up the Walthamstow-based charity Gangs Unite in 2011 to give youngsters sucked into gang activity a second chance at life.

Mr James, who is originally from Hackney, first became involved with a gang in his community at the age of eight and went on to commit a series of crimes.

But after an experience with God, which he says resulted in his miraculous change, Mr James began reaching out to youths heading down the gang route to offer them an alternative.

When asked what he would say to the young men and women in Waltham Forest, in the wake of the recent spate of violent crimes, Mr James said: “I would tell them to realise that life is about living and they’ve got to look at life from a different perspective.

“They are our future and they need to stop killing each other or else there will be no one to carry on our legacy. 

“And that is Gangs Unite’s mission – to stop the killing.

East London and West Essex Guardian Series:

Colin James, third from left, with members of Gangs Unite and MP Iain Duncan Smith who is patron of the charity.

“Everybody wants answers and things are very unpredictable at the moment. People are looking for some kind of hope and Gangs Unite is a safe place. We feel the heartbeat of the community.”

For the first time in contemporary history, London’s murder rate overtook New York’s earlier this year and the boroughs of Waltham Forest and Redbridge have not been left unscathed from the spate of violent attacks to grip the capital.

Five people have been murdered in Waltham Forest since the start of the year, while in Redbridge there have been three.

East London and West Essex Guardian Series:

Joseph Williams-Torres, 20, was gunned down in Walthamstow in March.

Funded by private donors, Gangs Unite caters for both boys and girls in their teens and early 20s in Waltham Forest, Haringey and Enfield.

It offers a number of services such as alternative education for students who have been expelled from school, gang outreach, victim support and mentoring.

Mr James said he has received queries from as far afield as Sheffield and Nottingham from parents who are desperate to find help for their troubled teens.

“It’s going crazy at the moment with the demand for our services,” he said.

“People say they’ve never seen an organisation like us.

“We come from a simple approach and we deal with people with respect.

East London and West Essex Guardian Series:

Amaan Shakoor, 16, was shot in Walthamstow in April.

“Most of the young people we meet have even been told that they’re special.

“They may have been promised things by so many people coming into their lives and they haven’t fulfilled those promises so they don’t trust people. But we are here for the long distance.

“Young people are the best at judging character. They can tell when you’re genuine or not.”

Sport is a big part of the charity’s work, with members taking part in boxing lessons, weight training and football tournaments.

Having struggled with anger issues in his early years, Mr James knows all too well the importance of being able to express your emotions in a healthy way.

The youth worker encourages participants to use sport to “unleash emotions trapped inside” and better themselves through discipline and fitness.

He added: “We are not products of our environment – we are the environment. We produce. Reach one, teach one.”

East London and West Essex Guardian Series:

Police at the crime scene in Vallentin Road where Jermaine Johnson, 41, was stabbed to death in March.

In February, 15 people died from knife crime in London, while there were 14 fatal stabbings in New York.

And in March, 22 people in London lost their lives to gun and knife crime, which exceeded New York’s 21.

Last weekend’s stabbing in Haringey saw the Metropolitan Police open their 74th murder investigation in London since the beginning of the year.

Iain Duncan Smith, MP for Chingford and Woodford Green, said:

“Gangs Unite are a self-sustaining organisation who rely exclusively on funding support from external sources.

He added: “I would like to see the local authority, as part of their commitment to reducing violent crime in Waltham Forest, working in partnership with Gangs Unite by committing funds to support their organisation and programmes to help young people to make better life choices.

"I am very proud to be a patron of Gangs Unite and I will continue to push for more business, apprentice and sport opportunities to help support the work they do. 

“They are a remarkable organisation which has been very effective in helping to pull gang members out and offer them an alternative to a life of crime.”

Waltham Forest murders, January 2018 to present:

Mark Smith, 48, found dead Warren Road, Chingford, on February 15. Suffered multiple injuries.

Joseph Williams-Torres, 20, shot in Walthamstow’s Essex Close on March 14.

Jermaine Johnson, 41, stabbed in Walthamstow’s Vallentin Road on March 19.

Amaan Shakoor, 16, shot outside Walthamstow Leisure Centre on April 2. Died the following day.

Sami Sidhom, 18, stabbed in Chestnut Avenue, Forest Gate, on April 16.

Redbridge murders, January 2018 to present:

Elizabeta Lacatusu, 44, stabbed in Norfolk Road, Ilford on January 3.

Seyed Khan, 49, disappeared from Ilford High Road on January 24. Body found in Ilford Cemetery on February 1. Suffered extensive head injuries.

Saeeda Hussain, 54, found with serious head injuries in Staines Road, Ilford, on February 13. Died at the scene.