Reading Amnesty Art project repurposes weapons to help combat knife crime through education

A new partnership project in Reading will be converting knives and other offensive weapons taken off the streets into a modern art sculpture. The project will work with local young people to design the sculpture while also helping to educate on the dangers and consequences of knife crime.

The Reading Amnesty Art project was set up in March 2022, driven by the passion of Stuart and Amanda Stephens, the parents of schoolboy Olly Stephens who lost his life to knife crime.  They had seen the role of artworks in helping educate and suggested a similar approach in Reading.

Olly Stephens, 13, who was killed in January 2021

In response, the Reading Serious Violence partnership – which brings together Reading Borough Council, Thames Valley Police, the Violence Reduction Unit and other agencies  – established the project.

A key aim is to create an opportunity to educate on knife crime without increasing fear through the sharing of images of weapons or displaying actual knives. Instead, the project aims to use a local artist to create a more positive sculpture, while still using the metal from recovered and destroyed weapons.

A series of workshops with young people will be facilitated by local community organisations to discuss perceptions of knife crime and violence, to understand the driving causes and to discuss how best to create safer communities. Their ideas will shape the design of the sculpture and will inform new educational resources to help teach others.

Thames Valley Police and Reading Borough Council are gathering weapons collected through the amnesty bins located in police stations and in other public locations, which will be melted down to provide the material to create the artwork.

Reading Borough Council’s Arts & Culture team is working to identify local artists and organisations who can assist, such as the Museum of English Rural Life with its connections to local foundries.

 It is hoped that by March 2023 the final artwork will be displayed in a prominent position near to the Oracle shopping centre. It will stand as a symbol of peace and hope and will allow a focal point around which further anti-knife crime education projects can be built around.

Funding has been provided through a £10,000 grant from the VRU, £7,500 was secured from the British Airways Better World Fund and a further £500 has been raised via a community CrowdFunder appeal.  

Inspector Kelly Reed, of the Thames Valley Violence Reduction Unit, said:

“We need to find creative ways through which we can educate young people on the impact and consequences of knife crime. Also, to do it in a way that doesn’t raise the fear of crime or glamorise weapons.

“Through this project we are working to create a positive way to reach young people and to challenge the culture and existing narrative around carrying and using knives.

“We also hope that by supporting this local initiative, it demonstrates how other areas can develop similar community-led projects which are shaped by local people.”

Donna Pentelow, Assistant Director of Culture at Reading Borough Council, said:

“This is a really exciting project for the people of Reading because the public art installation will be co-produced with members of the community, it will mean something to them and become part of Reading’s art history.

“But ultimately, it will contribute to making Reading a safer place for all.”

Local partners involved include: