The Knife Angel: A lecture without words

Many years ago, Nottingham was labelled as Shottingham. We became an infamous ‘crap town’ and got unfairly hammered in the press. It was at this point that LeftLion set up, determined to draw attention to the positive aspects of city life. I got involved for 13 years as the literature editor. I quit my role in May 2017 when Jermaine Jenus hosted a BBC 3 documentary called ‘Teenage Knife Wars’ because I could see history repeating itself and I no longer had the fight in me: “Too poor to afford guns anymore, youth from Nottingham have now turned to knives”.

The thing is, Jenus was right. Nottingham does have a knife problem despite some excellent intervention and education programmes in schools. Nottingham’s Police Commissioner, Paddy Tipping, reports that “a recent knife amnesty and week of action by Notts Police took more than 1,000 knives out of circulation”. Things may be slowly improving but there was a 10% rise in knife offences reported in Nottinghamshire between 2017 and 2018. With 900 reported knife offenses, we are now the only police force outside London to have a dedicated knife crime team – itself an intervention method. We can add that alongside our other titles: City of Literature, University of the Year, Knife Crime Team of the Year.

You would think that this would warrant a visit from the 27ft Knife Angel statue that’s been doing the rounds across the UK? Oh no. Former council leader Jon Collins turned it down, believing money was better spent elsewhere. This is understandable given the pressures on local government. But I wonder if there were other reasons. Firstly, it might draw negative attention to our knife crime stats and we don’t want to put off students – one in six people in Nottingham is a student. If education goes tits up, Nottingham will implode. Secondly, perhaps they were worried that the statue, comprised of over 100,000 blades, might get dismantled…

On a more serious note, it demonstrates how completely out of touch the council are with this problem. I went to Derby at the weekend to see the statue. It is terrifying, beautiful and prescient. It looms high above the crowds, forcing everyone to look up and confront the ugliness of violence. But most importantly it gets people talking. I watched numerous people writing notes and attaching them to the barrier around the statue. I heard people sharing their own experiences of violence. Grandparents gripped grandchildren, parents hugged children, groups and gangs of teenagers looked uncomfortably at one another and shared stories. It touched people in a way that I’ve never seen before with public art. It was a lecture without words. And this is why Jon Collins was wrong to turn it down. It is more than just a piece of public art. It is a conversation starter. The UNESCO City of Literature slogan is ‘building a better world with words’. Please don’t deny Nottingham the opportunity to talk.

PS: A kickstarter campaign could raise funds for it come here if we’re that skint. I’ll donate £100.

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