Birthday celebrations for Finsbury Park organisation that breaks gang links
Abianda celebrated turning five with a party in Smithfield
08 February, 2019
From Left to right: Dr Mary Henes, Abi Billinghurst, and Lorraine James from Abianda
YOUNG women affected by gangs and “county lines” drugs networks shared their experience of working with Islington-based social enterprise Abianda during the organisation’s birthday celebrations on Monday night.
More than 10 women who have gone through the programme with Abianda joined in festivities to celebrate its fifth birthday.
“When I was doing county lines, I wasn’t able to shower for days on end and spent days not eating,” said one young woman, who did not wish to be named.
She explained to those present – who included Town Hall workers and the organisation’s backers – how her boyfriend had coerced her into gang life, where she prepared and sold drugs.
“Gang life was everything to me.But Abianda gave me a job and the opportunity to do the Trainer programme,” she said.
“Now I can train professionals in how to work with young women affected by gangs and ‘county lines’ activity, so that young women can be better supported by services.”
There were tears as other women recounted how workers from the organisation taught them how to recognise unhealthy relationships and offered them employment opportunities as trainers.Abi Billinghurst, 40, set up the organisation when she realised there was a gap in services offered to young women affected by gangs and ‘county lines’ activity.
“I thought it was unacceptable that young women didn’t feel safe to come forward and access services,” she said. “I also saw services weren’t able to respond to their complex needs and unique circumstances.”
Abi Billinghurst speaking at the party on Monday
The organisation, with a staff of eight, worked with 40 young women in Islington last year.
“I started as a sole trader five years ago delivering a one-to-one service to just four girls,” said Ms Billinghurst. “Now we deliver services in every London borough as part of the Mayor of London-funded Rescue and Response project.”
Abianda delivers frontline services to gang-affected young women aged 10 to 25, as well as training and professional development programmes to those who work with them.
It works closely with the council’s integrated gangs team and Islington’s targeted youth support team. Multiple agencies, including police and NHS workers, come together to help youngsters affected by gangs.
Ms Billinghurst said: “I am so proud of what we’ve achieved. We have so much more to do but it’s great to take a moment and celebrate.”
Islington Council chief executive Lesley Seary praised Ms Billinghurst and her organisation’s work.
“You’ve brought so much added value to us in Islington. The service you offer changes lives. You give so much to young women and girls,” she said.