As someone who has worked in Prevent for over ten years, I know full well how much Prevent has achieved. I have seen first-hand how individuals toying with hatred and violence can change when they are approached with empathy and provided timely support during their time of need. Prevent has not only achieved much, it has also learnt and changed. Whether it be revising the strategy in 2011, the Home Office publication of data to improve transparency, renewed efforts to tackle far-right extremism, or a greater emphasis on community engagement, Prevent is constantly seeking to adapt and improve. We have come a long way and changed a great deal.
In previous articles I have spoken about community engagement and communication as crucial parts of our work. However, I think it’s worth repeating one of the key ideas that binds these two things together: community engagement and honest communication is precisely how Prevent learns and changes. It is through engagement with Prevent that people can better understand our work and suggest changes to improve it.
Locally, there are few, if any, parts of my team’s work that have not been changed by our engagement with the Prevent Advisory Group (or PAG) – a growing group of local community and faith groups who review our work and advise us. PAG is instrumental in helping us to identify what local support might be helpful and the activities we should run. For example, in keeping with PAG requests we arranged for security awareness training to be delivered to local organisations in the wake of the Parsons Green attack. In line with community suggestions, we have also organized bespoke sessions and activities for parents and young people in local youth clubs. Community members have also been in the driving seat regarding the focus of the community discussion events we help organise. For example, local concerns have led us to help organise events about the media portrayal of Muslims, the conflict in Syria, and far-right extremism.
A growing number of community groups have also attended our training, partly so they can share any suggestions or concerns they may have about the sessions we deliver. Even the language we use has been influenced by PAG. My team steers clear of the terms ‘jihad’ and ‘jihadism’ out of acknowledgment of the word’s religious significance, a point which was raised to us by community groups. Our safeguarding work is also shaped by the feedback we receive. For example, my team recently presented to PAG the forms of support we would consider should we be asked to work with a minor returning from territories controlled by a terrorist organisation. Far from the view that Prevent is shrouded in secrecy, we spoke frankly about the support we would consider and opened this up for discussion. The community members present had several suggestions, all of which have now been taken onboard by ourselves. Ultimately, the hint is in the name: PAG is an advisory group. By sharing their thoughts with us, PAG has changed local Prevent delivery in more ways than I can count.
I think some people may be surprised at the genuine appetite to hear from communities when it comes to Prevent. As the Chair of the London Prevent Network (a platform which brings together my counterparts across London and beyond) I know this eagerness is also shared by my colleagues. Nor is this just about local authority staff either – some of our local groups have shared their views on Prevent with a previous Home Secretary, Councillors, the previous Independent Reviewer of Terrorism Legislation, and Ofsted’s Chief Operating Officer.
There’s often much talk about the need to involve communities to a greater extent in counter-radicalisation. I couldn’t agree more, but the truth is that the structures necessary for this to happen are already in place. The individuals and groups that talk to us make a real difference. Thanks to them, Prevent has come a long way and changed a great deal. Through our ongoing community engagement, we look forward to learning a great deal more.