How do we get ahead of County Lines?

How do we get ahead of County Lines?

In his new book, “County Lines: exploitation and drug dealing among urban street gangs”, Professor Simon Harding relays the findings of his extensive two year study into county lines drug markets in London and South East England and provides an insightful overview of the evolution of our UK urban street gangs and their impact on the developing new drugs markets in the UK, known as County Lines.

After a comprehensive overview of how gangs, and even the County Lines structures have themselves, evolved, Simon Harding captures the tragic reality of life within County Lines operations at all levels, the nature of control and exploitation used by County Lines Managers and Gang Elders, and how this reverberates back to the families and communities of those involved.

In concluding, Professor Simon Harding asks a powerful question – “How do we get ahead of County Lines?”

Some of the solutions he offers are set out below:

“It will need co-operative multi agency work to address this at national, regional and local levels. There are no short term or single solutions to the challenge of county lines and criminal exploitation”

“Only by working in concert, across a range of disciplines will these possible solutions have any chance of realistic effect”

“We need to find solutions ‘with’ young people not ‘to’ young people”.

“…we must inform our communities of the current situation then actively seek their help by unleashing the community energy of volunteering.”

“…. a re-invigorated community safety approach will share the burden of delivery and ownership and widen expertise…. The full legislative structure for community safety is still on the statute books – let’s use it.”

“…. partners need to be co-located and fully integrated to work effectively. Old Town Hall fiefdoms need reconfiguring and refocussing, not least to avoid duplication of service provision.”

“More research is needed into all aspects of Urban Street Gangs, knives and drugs markets to allow academia to improve our understandings and then to contribute to solutions.”

“Contextual safeguarding – this approach expands the objectives of child protection systems, recognising young people are vulnerable to abuse in multiple social contexts. It should be adopted as national policy and best practice.”

“…. we need to vastly increase our early intervention programmes with schools, developing innovative classroom engagement to build awareness, build capacity and improve resilience among young people.”

“Leaders at all levels across all stakeholders must now recognise and understand this issue: and give strong strategic direction and lead collaborative work across all partners.”

“Prevent/ intervene/enforce – all three elements are needed for a balanced strategy. Over reliance on one single element will only alienate communities and weaken the overall effectiveness of any response.”

“Data quality…. poor quality, out of date, not coterminous, incomplete, or simply not worth sharing. This is an area which needs speedy improvement.”

“…all of our interventions must take account of vulnerability, exploitation, ongoing trauma and mental health implications for participants in urban street gangs and County Lines. This provision should be long term, with greater investment in bereavement counselling, mental health provision for young people and ongoing support”

“…. we need to identify those young people wishing to exit urban street gangs and county lines and then provide effective pathways out.”

Resilience UnLimited believes that a major part of the solution to the current risks posed by county lines activity comes from strong, active, educated communities providing effective alternatives to violence, drugs, and gang life.

We have incorporated many of the approaches set out above in our Resilience Programme – putting young people, their families, and communities at the heart of our work. For example:

  • Delivering comprehensive, appropriate, up to date information and educational resource for young people and parents, explaining the nature of the risks posed by gang activity locally, where the gang activity is in their region (taken from current police data) outlining key signs and symptoms of gang membership, as well as suggestions for resolving the issues.
  • Those supporting young people will sometimes only have a small window of opportunity to make a difference to a child or young person’s future direction. If that window of opportunity is lost, the opportunity to change a child’s life for good may be lost too. We believe that it is essential that directories of support and services for young people are up to date, accurate and checks are made to ensure that organisations are still operational. We are working with communities to deliver a comprehensive directory of support services and organisations, capturing what help is on offer, contact details, and links to organisation’s websites – ensuring accessible support is available for  young people and their families, as quickly as possible.
  • Supporting young people looking to exit gang and county lines activity, we have created teams of ‘community peer advisors’ fully trained in understanding the causes, signs and symptoms of gang activity, able to listen to and engage with young people and their families, and to signpost them to the support services and networks they need.  We believe every community should have access to an Advisor and we are working with local authorities, Police and Crime Commissioners and community groups to try and achieve this.
  • We have developed our volunteer outreach programme using insights gained from careful co-production with young people, role models, people with lived experience, community groups, and experts in the field of criminal justice/gang activity, as well as health and social care partners.
  • Committed to identifying and evaluating ‘what works’ – we are capturing evidence of impact and being up front about where we can improve.

We have also started to build a network of experts and local, regional, and national leaders across England and Wales capable of challenging the innovative, entrepreneurial, and embedded networks created by gangs and county line markets. 

Our approach is evidenced based – having worked with communities over the last few years to do deliver this work. One of the areas where we have worked has reported a 27% reduction in knife offending in the first year of its’ violence reduction programme.

To learn more about our aims, objectives and human rights approach,  please visit

To understand more about our work, see

“County Lines: exploitation and drug dealing among urban street gangs” is available from Bristol University Press –

Simon Harding’s book on the evolution of UK street gangs “The Street Casino” is also available at

“Theoretically rich and thought-provoking, Simon Harding s casino metaphor captures perfectly the addiction of street life. With clear implications for policy and practice, Street Casino is a winner a true breakthrough in street gang research.”

James Densley, Metropolitan State University, USA