University law student James is sitting at a table in the Walthamstow branch of McDonalds. Rain pours down in the darkness outside. Slim and unassuming, the 20-year-old speaks in a soft voice as ambient music plays over the speaker system. I’ve lived quite a sheltered life, he says. My parents made sure to stop me going to places where gangs were present. 
For much of his childhood, he was unaware of the extent of youth violence in the London borough of Waltham Forest where he grew up. But then, around the beginning of sixth form, one of my friends was stabbed in the head, he says. And this incident changed everything. At the age of 17, he and his friends became afraid to go out at night and enjoy themselves like normal teenagers.
Like much of London, Waltham Forest has been the scene of several high-profile teenage killings in the past few years, including the stabbing of 14-year-old Jaden Moodie in January last year. All this, says James, eventually led him to take part in a new council-commissioned initiative that uses young people themselves to help tackle youth crime and alienation.
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