The Tim Parry Johnathan Ball Foundation for Peace was approached by Leeds City Council to address problems at South Leeds High School. The school, which was attended by one of the London bombers, had seen violence and racism increase dramatically following the 7/7 attacks as communities were polarised by these events. The BNP were highly active in the area, fielding 16 candidates in the May 2007 elections and were active in trying to engage and influence students including leafleting as students were leaving school. A number of local agencies had tried to intervene at the school and there was scepticism about the Foundation’s ability to make a difference.
The school was the result of a merger between a predominantly Asian School and a predominantly White school, both of which were in ‘special measures’. The Foundation’s staff worked with the school and other relevant local actors to investigate and audit the problems at the school. Of the 500+ consulted, 98% of young people and staff surveyed cited prejudice and discrimination (in relation to faith and race) as being the main cause of the violent conflicts taking place inside and out of school. The conflict audit helped to inform and underpin the design and development of a comprehensive intervention. The project was designed to cover three key themes: Leadership, Conflict Resolution and Self Awareness and Identity exploring issues of identity, prejudice and discrimination. Over the course of three years, the Foundation worked with 198 young people from across the school year groups and trained staff from the school and wider school support agencies. Training for staff included working with identity, prejudice and discrimination and exploring alternative approaches to managing conflict that arose in the school, particularly in relation to race and faith.
Over the Foundation’s three year intervention it worked with the school to develop an Inter-Agency group which enabled the longer term sustainability of the Foundation’s initiative and also set up a Peer Leadership model in the school. Events such as pupil take over days promoting anti-racism and community cohesion were examples of how the students, staff and wider community put their skills and understanding into action. This also enabled the school and wider community to increase their capacity and responses to external and internal threats to cohesion; as well as to ensure that responses to those threats were consistent and impactful.
The project was commended in the leading national youth magazine ‘Children and Young People Now’ awards and was a finalist in the Local Government Chronicle ‘Sustainable Communities’ Award. It is also highlighted in Department for Communities and Local Government’s ‘Improving Opportunity, Strengthening Society – One Year On’ report and the Commission on Integration and Cohesion’s ‘Our Shared Future’ report. In addition, the Foundation spoke about the project and process at UK conference ‘Building Resilience and Community Cohesion’ and at Am Teach Ban’s (former Irish Peace Centre’s Partner) ‘Fifth Annual Conference: The New context for Peace building in Ireland’.
Five years on, the school continues to deliver an annual Peace Day Event, has implemented a mediation system and cites the Foundation as being the organisation that helped ‘bring the school back from the brink’.
The Leadership Development Programme is a model that has been rolled out across the country with another school in Leeds recently visited by the Office for Security and Counter Terrorism as part of the UK Government’s review of its Prevent Agenda.
Year 10 mentors on their experience: “The leadership programme has truly been the greatest experience of our lives so far. We feel proud and lucky to have been able to take part in such a brilliant programme which has really helped to transform our school from being a place full of conflict and fear, to one where happy students and a happy staff work in an environment where violence and conflict is no longer the norm.”
Speaking of the project one of the students, Asma Rehman aged 16 said: “The Foundation for Peace project has helped our school immensely in terms of building a foundation of unity among the students. We needed this project to help us become one school, and become a successful school that knows how to deal with conflict at the level we encountered. The best aspect of the programme is that we the students are learning these skills that will not only help us in our local community but later in our lives. We are now more confident and able to deal with conflict and the procedures we need to follow”.
Head teacher Colin Bell commented in January 2010:
“We became involved with this group of people and thought wow…what we had needed was to get our staff, young people and the community to understand that there are other ways to resolve conflict instead of simply resorting to violence…the impact [of the work] was instantaneous”