You need look no further than the trial of the three teenagers found guilty of murdering Garry Newlove after drinking all day to understand growing public concern around the consequences of underage drinking, write Natalie Valios.
The project began in 2005, when teacher Lana Bullimore was doing some work with Year 5 and 6 pupils on litter in the village. “We don’t have our own sports field, and the children noticed that there was a lot of litter including alcohol bottles and cans at the community sport centre and on the cricket field. This is where we hold our sports day and we were worried that if the teachers weren’t able to clear the litter in time it wouldn’t take place.”
Bullimore asked her pupils what they would like to do about it and they wrote to the council. As well as prompting a ‘pick up litter day’, the letter called for a range of activity to raise the issue of underage drinking and alcohol misuse generally.
The pupils’ objectives included:
- Raising awareness of the negative impacts of alcohol use on young people.
- Writing to the community councillor to raise the pupils’ concerns at a council meeting.
- Asking the local shop and sports club to display posters designed by the young people identifying the negative impacts of alcohol misuse.
- Learning about best practice through work with the Specialist Under-18 Drinking and Drugs Service (Sudds), part of Prism, a community based specialist agency offering free advice, support and information to people with problems.
- Providing training for school staff on substance misuse so they feel confident answering questions from pupils.
The work won them a Mentors UK Champ Award for promoting children’s health through alcohol misuse prevention – and prize money of £20,000. As a result, the project has continued, with Sudds returning to the school to teach children about alcohol awareness.
With the help of teacher Christine Richards, pupils wrote a play on how young people manage to get hold of alcohol even when they’re underage. They filmed and edited it to turn it into a DVD which will now be used across the county – and possibly nationwide – in alcohol awareness education.
“Through the Healthy Schools scheme we were asked to present the DVD to the first meeting of all schools in Pembrokeshire when it was announced that alcohol awareness was being made a required subject on the curriculum,” says Bullimore.
Half of the prize money has been used to buy a desktop and laptop computer and to pay for a supply teacher to cover the teaching time of Bullimore and Richards when they are working on the project, as well as to develop resource packs on drug and alcohol misuse for primary school-aged children.
The other £10,000 has been used to set up a website that Bullimore hopes will go live in the next month or two. The website will have facts and figures about alcohol use and misuse and its effects on young people, and examples of good practice in alcohol misuse prevention with primary school children in rural communities.
It will also include:
- Suggested principles of good practice for working with primary school children in rural communities concerning alcohol misuse prevention.
- Links to resources for children.
- Suggested activities for primary schools seeking to address the subject of alcohol misuse.
- A message board or interactive webpage.
Bullimore believes it is too early to say whether the project will deter local children from becoming future underage drinkers, but says it is already helping them to see drinking as not a sensible thing to do and a waste of money.
“They are aware of the dangers – liver damage, making bad decisions, getting into trouble – and have seen through the advertising and how it makes it look glamorous,” she adds.
And surely, that’s a good start in anyone’s book.