“Someone close to us and in our year group was killed in Dagenham Park. It was close to home, so addressing that issue was really important to us”
During their First Give programme, students from Sydney Russell Sixth Form began spreading a wave of social consciousness in their school. The class, whose participation on the programme was made possible by the Jack Petchey Foundation, chose to support a cause close to their hearts – gang violence. Devastatingly, members of the school community have been directly affected by this issue. They pointed out from their research that “Youth knife crime in London has grown, and an [Barking and Dagenham Post] investigation has shown knife attacks on under-25s in Barking and Dagenham have increased by 178% in 5 years.”
The team decided to represent GAV (Growing Against Violence), who work to reduce the impact of gang behaviour on the lives of young people and, by extension, their families and communities. “Our charity, GAV, offer seminars, talks and workshops to get young people thinking about the risks of gangs. It was then that we knew our social action had to involve an element of thinking, communication and persuading others.”
“We wanted to do something that was relevant and memorable… a debate seemed the best way”
Their social action idea was to demonstrate a positive way to go against other people. “Not doing it in a violent way, but expressing differences and overcoming them. A debate seemed the best way.”
On a Monday afternoon, after school, they held a formal debate for Year 9 students. “GAV offer workshops to kids in years 6 to 10, so we went for the middle and decided on Year 9.” Students debated the motion: This [school house] would make joining gangs illegal. The team recognised the impact the debate had. “In the process of persuading others of their stance, they persuaded themselves.” Some of the issues discussed were: the level of crime, the rise of acid attacks, postcode wars, and the disruption of learning and education.
“Our social action was much more dedicated to gaining publicity and raising awareness in our school than raising money, because we knew that the charity would prefer us to make a difference to young people’s lives directly”
The turnout was considered particularly successful as the students attended the debate in their own time. “No one was forced, they were coming after school. They came because they wanted to speak about it. They’re being heard.”
“We filmed the debate and uploaded it to an episode of SYD TV, the school news channel. A lot of people viewed this and therefore it helped us gather more support.”
“We requested that the money we won would be spent on delivering their workshops within Barking and Dagenham, specifically our school”
The work of these extraordinary young people was commended by the judges and they won the £1,000 First Give grant for GAV. The students requested for the money to be spent on delivering workshops in their school so it would have a further impact on their school community. “They’ll be delivering workshops to the younger students within our school, in order to prevent gang culture from destroying their potential. In these workshops our First Give class will also be involved as much as possible, to continue making a difference.”
One of the team members noted that “Some days afterwards, the word of the debate had spread and many teachers were talking to me about it. They suggested that we hold more debates on social issues. I believe that our debate was successful in spreading awareness of our issue and definitely a useful tool for spreading awareness of any issue, not just about gangs.”
What an incredible piece of social action that will have a lasting impact on the school community – well done to the students at Sydney Russell School.