This is a column no columnist is supposed to write. The whole business of journalism is to put the reader first, not one's own interests. But these are desperate times, and in response to a critical situation I am going to flaunt that rule.
For the past three years I have been involved, first as a street worker and then as a trustee, in a charity called Prospex (prospex.org.uk) in Islington, where I live. Prospex is the only thing stopping the area north of King's Cross from erupting in anarchy. Three main youth workers – Richard "Beef" Frankland, James Connolly, and Maxine Johnson – and a few local volunteers patrol the streets day and night, bringing calm and authority and establishing trust with extremely vulnerable young people.
Many of them are involved in knife crime, gangs, and have given up on education. Most are from horribly broken homes. Beef, James, and Maxine keep them out of trouble, mentor them, run community projects and literacy and numeracy courses, support them in courts and at school, and raise their horizons. Hundreds of local children and young adults openly say they would be in prison now, or dead, were it not for Prospex.
Beef, James, and Maxine are probably the three most inspirational people I have ever met, uncomplaining heroes of civic society. Each has taken a huge pay cut (from a low start) to keep working. But now our funding situation is critical, a result of recessionary economics and austerity politics. It runs out in the new year. The local council has slashed its funding. Our only major corporate donor can't give this year. Local patrons say they're skint. Police, the council and social services know how much load we take off them. The difference is we're doing it with no money.
If you work for a funding body or trust, or in the corporate social responsibility department of a big corporation: please get in touch. The same goes if you live in north London and are willing to give up a few hours a week to volunteer, either by bringing adult authority to your streets, or to help us with applications for funding. Above all, personal donations, however small, are crucial to us.
The plight of Prospex shows the gulf between the principles of the Big Society, which I support, and the practice, which in this case I abhor. Nothing matters more than nurturing the vulnerable young, and if you can in any way help us to do that, Beef, James, and Maxine need you. Together with these silent soldiers of civilisation, you can reduce the suffering on our streets.