Tools not weapons: Chef Karim Maoui launches Knife/Life charity to tackle violent crime across the UK

Tanwen Dawn-Hiscox

Tanwen Dawn-Hiscox

Deputy Editor

According to police statistics published earlier this year, knife crime in the UK has reached its highest levels ever recorded.

In 2018, 252 people died as a result of stab wounds, and altogether 44,500 offences involving knives or sharp objects were recorded. 

Chef Karim Maoui was listening to a radio programme about Ross Kemp's recent documentary, Living With Knife Crime, when an idea came to him:

Could chefs help tackle knife crime by giving people the chance to work in

professional kitchens?

The thought struck him as simplistic, and "daft," he said in an interview

Sheffield, South Yorkshire,
where knife crime is at an all-time high

with The Staff Canteen, but when he spoke about it to people around him, it dawned on him that many would be keen to help. 

The cause is close to the chef's heart: 19 years ago, a close friend of his was fatally stabbed in his home town of Sheffield. A father of three, the chef wants to impart change on his community. 

He explained: "I'm sick to death of seeing young people day in day out killing, stabbing and the knock-on effects for the communities - I've lost people that've been murdered, one way or another and I've seen what it does to families. It never goes away. Once it's happened, that family is destroyed." 

And so, together with his friend Adrian Hamilton, he launched the Knife/Life project; a charitable organisation aiming to train people to use knives as tools, not weapons. He hopes to give people who may have resorted to crime an alternative way of life. 

Giving young people a sense of belonging and purpose

"I want to get all of these kids to cook and when they've finished, to see a room full of people stand up and give them applause for what they've done because I know they've never had that in their life," he said.  

"I want to watch them go: 'wow, is this what food can do?'"

It is often said that when young people join gangs, they do so to gain a sense of belonging. To this, the chef says, what better place than in a kitchen? 

"A kitchen brigade is the most dysfunctional family on the face of the planet, but it's also the best. If you turn up and you do your job and you give your all, those people in that kitchen don't care where you're from, what you look like, what your background is, what your sexuality is, they've got your back, because you are there doing what you have to do and trying to make it better." 

A broader scope

The main goal of the project is simple: to take young people involved in knife crime and get them into kitchens - but other local independent businesses are keen to get on board as well. 

"A lot of people that I grew up with - from boxing gyms to self-defence classes to music production and mechanics - so if we do find a kid and he goes: 'I don't want to be a chef, I've got no interest in that, but actually I like music, we could send him down that route." 

"We're not going to turn around and say: 'right, if you don't want to be a chef, we're not interested.' It's a case of: 'if we can help you, we're going to help you.'" 

Inmates at HMP Brixton working
at The Clink Restaurant 
 have a recidivism rate of 11%, 
compared with 32% overall

A proven method 

Though he wants to begin locally, and has said that he would consider it a success  to even change the life of a single person, it is easy to see how it could become a nationwide campaign.

The success of The Clink Charity is an indication of how beneficial such initiatives can be.

The charity teaches prison inmates how to run restaurants - from learning how to cook to bartending and working the front of house -  and has been shown to drastically reduce reoffending rates. 

Making up for government shortcomings

Though he is seeking support from chefs, businesses and other charities, Karim Maoui doesn't wish to turn his Knife/Life project into a government-backed campaign.

"For me, if I involve government funding, they'll say: 'we've funded this one and look how good we are.' For me, if the government had done what they should've done in the first place, they wouldn't need people like me or anybody else to be doing what we're doing because they would have tackled it. Chicken boxes are really not the solution to the problem," he said.

"I would rather forego anything to do with the government. If they want to come and support it in some way that's non-financial and give us help with legality or anything like that, yeah fine." 

"They should have been doing something from day 1." 

Instead, he hopes that by offering people a chance to flourish in the professional world, fewer may be inclined to resort to violence. 

If you'd like to contribute towards Karim's campaign, here's a link to his GoFundMe page. 

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Tanwen Dawn-Hiscox

Tanwen Dawn-Hiscox

Deputy Editor 3rd September 2019

Tools not weapons: Chef Karim Maoui launches Knife/Life charity to tackle violent crime across the UK