Creativity curbs crime: the hip hop artist and campaigner determined to end ‘county lines’

Steve Arnott
Tuesday, January 18, 2022

Steve Arnott, founder and chief executive of social enterprise Beats Bus Records this week launches an innovative campaign to tackle children and young people’s involvement in ‘county lines’ and gang culture.

Steve has been working on projects in and around Hull to cut youth crime since 2017 when Hull held the title of City of Culture.

In a new campaign, ‘No More County Lines’, he will take the colourful Beats Bus on the road to Hull, Grimsby and beyond to create a conversation about safety among eight to 25- year-olds who are at risk of criminal exploitation: a cycle of drugs, gangs and youth violence.

Here Steve explains why creativity is a key part of the solution:

Take one 7.5 tonne truck; one projector; one screen; a full onboard recording studio and what do you have? A Beats Bus! - in other words, a mobile recording studio combined with a mini outdoor cinema screen.

So why a bus you may ask? The vehicle is going on the road to break the toxic cycle of county lines and its trademark entrapment of vulnerable young people (gifts and attention), easy money, drugs and violence by travelling to communities to save people's lives.

An estimated 27,000 children in England identified as gang members last year. Children aged 15 to 17 years are those most commonly identified as victims of county lines exploitation, although those younger and older are also at risk. Sadly, these statistics come with a very high percentage of deaths.

On our Beats Bus, we teach young people new skills in hip-hop (djing, graffiti, breakdancing and songwriting) whilst we educate them about the dangers of the county lines activities, empowering them to use their talents to choose a life away from gang culture.

With four years’ experience at Beats Bus Records of teaching, protecting and nurturing young people we know, trust is a priority.

For the campaign, in collaboration with the Office of the Police and Crime Commissioner for Humberside, we created an animated educational music video, you can watch here:

The screenings teach the history of hip-hop, how it was created in 1973 to stop violence and end gang wars in communities.

When a child or young person finds out the music they listen to was created to combat gangs and violence NOT promote it, the reality hits home. They see gang culture differently.

Growing up in poverty myself, I learnt the streets at a very young age, we never had money. If I wanted money I had to make it. All it took was one conversation at a party and I was selling weed, groomed by an older guy to do his business for him. I was 15, skint working for £17 a week on a government work experience scheme.

Problem was, I wasn't a drug dealer.

I smoked half myself and sold half. After six months I was £300 in debt to him for the weed. He’d made nothing like the money he expected and he threatened me. He was only small, I was a big, rugby player. l hit him, telling him never to come near me again. It worked for me but most young people aren’t so lucky.

So, as the Beats Bus revs up for its ‘No More County Lines’ tour, I finish with a sombre reflection. In 2020 it all became very personal. I attended a vigil for a dear friend’s son who was murdered, brutally stabbed. He was just 21 years old, killed by people from out of town, a savage attack by someone he’d never met before. A heartbreaking waste of a life. An intelligent young man lost to mindless violence. If our work saves one family from having to hold a vigil then it is worth every effort.

I never want to attend another vigil again!

Steve Arnott is founder and chief executive of the not-for-profit Beats Bus Records, which is committed to building confidence and giving young people the space to be creative through music and art workshops. Steve was also the protagonist in Sean McAllister’s award-winning film, A Northern Soul.

Find out more about the ‘No More County Lines’ campaign here.

Steve is part of the Sounddelivery Spokesperson network. You can follow him on Twitter: @redeyefeenix and @bus_hull

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