BACKGROUND: Abi Billinghurst set up the social enterprise Abianda in 2014, to support gang-affected young women and the professionals who work with them. Abianda was recognised by Nesta and The Observer as a new radical in 2016, and receives funding from The Paul Hamlyn Foundation, Esmée Fairbairn, MOPAC and the Mayor’s Young Londoners Fund amongst others.
Abi has collaborated with a number of organisations to develop participatory and strengths-based approaches to working with vulnerable adolescents. She has written training tools for young people and professionals across Europe, to respond to young people’s experiences of sexual violence and to support efforts to prevent sexual violence. She regularly supports local authorities and government to shape responses to gang-affected young women.
WHAT INSPIRED YOU TO SET UP ABIANDA?
I founded Abianda to bring about a culture shift in provision for gang-affected young women who traditionally neither felt safe accessing, nor trusted, services. Young women would, therefore, deal with adversity, risk and harm within their peer group, rather than reaching out for professional support. As this service provision was not working for gang-affected young women, I wanted to create something that did.
WHAT ARE THE KEY ISSUES YOUR ORGANISATION IS TACKLING?
The young women we work with may have experienced: sexual exploitation, rape, group sexual abuse; threats of violence and abuse towards them and their families, including threats to life; gang harassment and assault; and coercion into criminal activity. This coercion may have led young women to participate in county lines and drug dealing; to carry weapons; and/or to perpetrate violent assault.
Our unique model of practice addresses the barriers that stop young women seeking help. By asking young women the right questions and offering an equal, transparent relationship, we help them to discover their own resilience and competence and to develop the power to change their situation.
WHAT ACHIEVEMENTS ARE YOU MOST PROUD OF?
Our reputation as specialists has been built on the integrity and loyalty we hold to our principles and participatory approaches towards engaging high risk / high vulnerability young women. This leads to our key strength: young women affected by the issues we address are embedded in our organisation through Young Trainer work, participatory and ongoing feedback, and our Young Women’s Business Advisory Group.
We have constant direct consultation access with those we are trying to reach so are continuously informed of the realities of their lives. By offering a culturally different service to those young women affected by gangs have previously experienced, we also help them move from a ‘deficit’ to a ‘competence’ based model; allowing them to set the agenda and lead service provision.
WHAT ARE YOUR AMBITIONS FOR THE COMING YEAR?
Over 2018, we grew from 2 to 8 full-time members of staff, not including freelancers and a growing cohort of Young Trainers. Over 2019, we will consolidate our service delivery, embedding the team of practitioners to ensure the quality and integrity of our service delivery as we significantly increase our reach.
We will grow the commercial arm of Abianda, so that we deliver more training resulting in meaningful paid employment opportunities for Young Trainers.
GIVEN THE SAMWORTH FOUNDATION’S FOCUS ON SEXUAL EXPLOITATION, WHAT, IN YOUR VIEW, ARE THE KEY CHALLENGES OR OPPORTUNITIES FACING YOUNG PEOPLE ACROSS THE UK?
A significant challenge for young women affected by gangs and county lines is that they can be an overlooked group. Having young women who have been affected by gangs or county lines deliver training ensures that professionals from a wide range of sectors and specialisms understand the realities of young women’s lives and experiences, and the problems they face in the context of gangs.
Our Young Trainers explain the barriers that stop gang-affected young women accessing services. This means that professionals will be better equipped to support young women affected by sexual exploitation in the context of gangs and county line activity.