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#What25MeansToMe – Darren Laville

May 17th, 2021

“Access to opportunities is so important. Young people need to know their worth…so many feel trapped and stuck in places of shock and trauma”

**Content warning: contains descriptions of youth violence and bereavement**

Darren is the Director and Founder of The Epiphany People. A family-led organisation that allows families to have a safe and brave space to discuss the realities of living with a criminally exploited child. He has worked with young people for the past 20 years in various capacities, from youth offender teams to workshops in schools to working in a children’s home.

Why did you set up The Epiphany People?

In March 2016 I lost my own son to youth violence, it changed everything as I knew it. When I returned to work in October the same year, I then found out a young man I had been caring for was killed in county lines.

I knew from the moment when I lost my son, things had to change.

This is when I set up The Epiphany People, a key driving force was having an organisation that identifies culturally informed trauma support for young people and families. First of all, we solely had the view to support just the families, but now realise we can’t do this work in isolation. The level of growth with parents needs to be replicated with the young person. We offer a range of services, from a telephone support line (especially useful during the pandemic) to surgeries in youth centres in areas of high levels of violence. We also support families who have experienced loss, this programme is called ‘Catharsis.’ ‘PEERENT’ support families leaving with the reality of Child Criminal Exploitation. Raising awareness is key to our programmes, we ultimately believe if you know better, you do better.

What obstacles have you had to overcome during your adolescence?

I grew up in Hackney up until I was 12 years old, my family then moved up to Birmingham. In hindsight, it was quite a traumatic time as it was a big shift in everything that was familiar to me. When I arrived in Birmingham in 1991, the area I lived in was an extremely racist place which put me in a position of fear as a child. I was chased and all sorts as a small schoolboy, and when a child is afraid, they will do things and take provisions to protect themselves. The school I attended was taking no responsibilities or safeguarding precautions, nor did the police – it just didn’t happen in the early 90s.

I did carry a knife on the odd occasion but I was scared and more cautious on what I could carry that wouldn’t incriminate me. So, at times, this meant having a frozen bottle of squash on me, carrying it as a weapon. I used it as a weapon once but when I saw the harmful effects, it worried me a lot and I had a stern talk from an older cousin, “Darren what the hell are you doing!”, and to not do it again, which I didn’t. My family then moved to a more diverse area in Birmingham, Handsworth, which was good for me, I felt more at ease.

From these childhood experiences, I can really empathise with young people’s feelings and safety today.

I struggled with dyslexia at school, I was absolutely fine verbally but really struggled when it came to reading and writing, I also questioned was the school the even bothered about me? I wasn’t diagnosed until I was 19. The diagnosis was one of the happiest days of my life! It was a massive relief, I then straight away bought the book ‘The Gift of Dyslexia’ and read it cover to cover. I come across a lot of young people who have been diagnosed with dyslexia at an early age and I congratulate them on how lucky they are to have an early diagnosis!

I was a teenage father, by the age of 19 I was a father to two. After experiencing a gap in being fathered through father absence, it was an extremely challenging thing for me to deal with in my adolescence to adulthood transition. I had to do a lot of inner-child healing. Being a young father allowed me to contextualise my experience and to now support others who are going through similar experiences.

Who has helped you get to where you are now?

In my early days journey, I attended the centre ‘Law, Leisure and Learning’. Led by a man John Horcroft and his wife Pauline, an amazing couple and role models. They really took my siblings and others in the community under their wings at a time when young people needed extra activities. Through Law, Leisure and Learning, I set up TEAM (Together Everyone Achieves More) with a friend, Errol Lawson. Together, we created a mentoring and talent show for young people in the local area. We managed to get loads of mentors involved and people given their time and expertise. It was an amazing event which was organised by young people, for young people.

My time at University College Birmingham, special shoutouts to Dr Sangeeta Soni, Michelle Parvin, Craig Pinkney and Philip Hoppner. All four were amazing support for the work I do at Epiphany People. It was a space to flourish and step into my own powers.

Education really became part of my healing and post-traumatic growth.

The Blesst Centre, based in Birmingham, an amazing collective of friends and colleagues who work together and collaboratively to support young people and their families. I also have to mention Citizens UK, an awesome organisation which is a massive ally and partner.

What advice do you wish you could have given to your younger self?

The advice I would give to myself is often the advice I give to young people now. For me it’s about understanding the importance of trusting your instincts and learning how to read energies. It’s important to spend time alone to get to know yourself and build your own identity. Once you have that built your identity, you are more capable to establish your own boundaries. That will set you free from all types of negativities.

I would also say 100% get educated young, if you are able to. Have the aim to get paid for your expertise by specialising in something – be the go-to person for that thing. Understand your value first before anyone else can.

How can society better support young people going through the challenging transition from adolescence to adulthood?

There’s this whole notion around safe spaces but I think it’s about brave spaces as well. A safe space is somewhere where you can just exist but a brave space is where you can speak your heart and mind. A place free from judgement, but full of empathy. We need places where young people can process their unpacked trauma and be able contextualise it before ‘growing.’ For this, we need trauma-informed people and places.

Access to opportunities is so important. Young people need to know their worth. So many young people feel trapped and stuck in places of shock and trauma. Society needs to understand the culture around mental health more.

One-to-one support and mentors in schools. At Epiphany People, we run ‘Trauma and Me’, an intersectional look at trauma and how it impacts people differently. Our team are ‘Mental Health First Aid’ trained and support young people who have experienced the death of a friend through youth violence. The impact so far has been absolutely amazing and so impressive seeing young people understand the impact trauma has had on them.

You can download the full blog here

This is part of our ‘What 25 Means to Me’ campaign. To celebrate Redthread’s 25th year, our blog series provides different perspectives on the eclectic experience on ‘growing up’ and how society can better support young people going through this transition. 

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