Guns to Goods: Can old firearms forge a new future in Manchester?

Thousands of guns are seized in the UK every year and most are destroyed by the police. But a new scheme hopes to put some of the weapons to good use by turning them into fashion and art products - and then investing the profits in schemes for young people.

In a dusty, noisy foundry on a small industrial estate in the north of England, manager Craig Johnson oversees a batch of replica handguns being loaded into the furnace.

Workers at the foundry are more used to making machine parts for industry, but these guns are being melted down and recast as small metal tags for a range of fashion T-shirts.

Image caption Sam Ingelson said it was important the project generated income for the local area

"It was a bit strange handling the guns at the beginning," said Mr Johnson.

"But we've got used to it now and we feel like we've become part of a team that's taking guns off the streets".

That team is the Guns to Goods project, brainchild of staff at Salford University. The project recycles both guns and replica guns seized by the police, turning the metal into products that can be sold.

The money raised will be invested in schemes offering training, work experience and mentoring in the area. The idea is to increase opportunities for young people and steer them away from street gangs and crime.

Project leader Sam Ingleson said the money-raising side of the project was important.

"Initially we were approached by a local charity with the idea of creating a piece of public art out of the guns, but we thought putting them to use in a way that could generate income would have a more lasting impact on the local area," she said.

The metal tags being cast at the foundry will go into a brand of T-shirts called Show//Metal.

The name is a play on showing inner mettle - or strength - and the message is deliberately subtle with the tag sewn on the inside of the T-shirt.

Ms Ingleson said she hoped this would give them wide appeal.

"We've had a very positive reaction so far," she said.

"People seem to see the Show//Metal brand as a simple way of turning something negative into a positive."

Powerful message

The project is supported by Greater Manchester Police who provide the firearms for melting.

Image caption Ms Ingleson said she hoped the sale of ingots would help fund young people through university

More than 1,100 guns and replica guns have been seized or found by the force so far this year, and Det Insp Paul Miller said recycling the weapons - rather than just destroying them - could send a powerful message.

"A lot of the young people we deal with have lost good friends and family members to gun crime. Creating a symbol that raises awareness and is a constant reminder of the dangers of guns is important," he said.

Manchester once had one of the worst gun crime rates in Britain, and areas like Moss Side were notorious for gang-related violence.

In response, Greater Manchester Police set up the Xcalibre task force to tackle gun crime.

As well as increased policing in areas where gangs are known to operate, and greater use of tactics like stop and search, Xcalibre has focused on building relationships with local schools and communities.

The force said gun-related crime was now less than a quarter of what it was four years ago.

Mr Miller said he believed community initiatives like Guns to Goods and the local charities that will provide the training and mentoring also play a crucial role in keeping guns of the streets.

"Targeting children who are at risk of getting involved in gangs, like siblings of gang members or children in gang areas, means we can head off problems long before they get in trouble," he added.

As well as the T-shirts, Guns to Goods also has a number of limited edition art pieces ready to sell to local businesses. The metal from melted down shotguns is used to make a large ingot, each of which houses a unique glass sculpture.

Prices will start from £3,800, but Ms Ingleson said her aims were much higher.

"An ideal would be that a business would buy one of these ingots and fund a young person through university education," she said.

Guns to Goods recently held a competition among local schools and colleges to come up with designs for the Show//Metal T-shirts. They plan to launch the brand mid-April selling via their own online shop and in high street stores.

Ms Ingleson said they had shown the shirts to focus groups and she was confident the brand was "cool" enough to impress young, image-conscious consumers.

"People like the look of the T-shirts," she added.

"And they like the fact that you can buy into the Show//Metal brand without it being too grand a gesture."

Sarah Austin's report will be broadcast on The World Today on theBBC World Service.

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