Junior Smart, founder of the St Giles’ SOS Project and former offender, has been officially awarded an OBE for his work helping and campaigning on behalf of vulnerable young people exploited through criminal gangs. He was recognised in the Queen’s New Year’s Honours List in 2020 but took part in a delayed award ceremony this week, due to Covid 19.
Junior established St Giles’ SOS Project in 2006 upon his release from a 10-year prison sentence. Initially, a pilot project helping young people in Southwark, with Junior the sole caseworker, it has now grown across the UK and is now London’s largest gangs exit programme, helping hundreds of young people being criminally exploited through county lines. This support is provided by staff trained to provide practical and psychological support and advice, with lived experience of similar situations faced by the young people they assist.
The work ensures a young person’s safety, addressing their basic needs and helping them engage with opportunities and people who will provide a positive influence on their future. It also offers sessions in schools and other similar settings for vulnerable young people at risk of becoming involved in gangs, acting as a preventative tool by providing knowledge and dispelling myths. It aims to change young people’s perceptions of gangs and crime. Last year this service reached over 100,000 young people.
Junior has achieved a First Class degree in Youth Work, an MA with distinction in Criminology, Youth Crime and Justice, both from Middlesex University and has also been included in the Evening Standard’s 1000 Most Influential Londoners List, alongside receiving numerous additional awards for his work.
Junior is currently undertaking a PhD at the University of West London, centering on violence desistance in all its forms and feeds into public policy through Public Policy Exchange and the Centre for Social Justice and consults with the Metropolitan Police as well as other statutory bodies on best practice. He also spoke recently at the The Association of Charitable Foundations (ACF) annual conference on courageous leadership.
“I am thrilled and delighted to collect this honour, which I’d like to dedicate to the whole team at St Giles who all show unwavering commitment to
helping people who have a so much to offer society, but are often unfairly judged. After leaving prison it was a struggle to find employment because of my criminal record and St Giles were the only people who gave me a chance. I seized it fully, with a determination to help prevent young people from going down the same path I did.
“Our hard-working team of staff and volunteers with lived experience are all now tackling some of the most complex issues in society. We believe that everyone can contribute to society if they have the right training and support. I hope others will see this as proof that we need to see beyond the stereotypes and ensure someone’s past should not hold them back in the future.”
The SOS project approach is based on St Giles’ award-winning Peer Advisor Programme, which offers professional training and employment to people with direct first-hand experience of the issues facing those they are helping. This has been recognised as a key factor in the SOS Project’s success both through project evaluations and feedback from partners and those who have been helped. In Kent alone, Police calculate savings of £250,000 from the drop in missing episodes.
Over the years, the SOS team and team members have won the Charity Awards, the Centre for Social Justice Awards, Third Sector Awards and the South London Press Awards, as well as the Girdler’s Medallion. The team has also given evidence at Select Committee inquiries, and other policy and public affairs forums, to share both personal and professional insights.