Older people are going back to school in order to help children stay clear of antisocial behaviour. Anabel Unity Sale reports
Sixty years have passed since Roy Thompson last saw the inside of his classroom at Boarshaw Community Primary School in Middleton, Lancashire. Since his days in short trousers, the place has changed beyond recognition. Giant coloured statues stand tall in the playground, and there are carpets in the classrooms.
This isn’t just a trip down memory lane for Thompson but part of a housing provider‘s initiative to address antisocial behaviour through cross-generational communication.
Thompson is a volunteer for Rochdale Boroughwide Housing’s (RBH) Community Kids scheme, which teaches local children about the impact of antisocial behaviour.
Sue Kershaw oversees the RBH Community Kids project. She says the scheme aims “to encourage children to identify with the communities they live in” by taking 8- to 10-year-olds out of the classroom and into local residential areas. It also brings them together with older residents to talk about how antisocial behaviour such as graffiti or broken equipment affects them.
“We get children to talk about what a community is, how everyone can get along together and how they can make positive choices when faced with peer pressure, such as saying no to doing graffiti,” Kershaw says. “Often the things children dislike about where they live are exactly the same as the things older residents don’t like,” she adds.
Boarshaw Community Primary School’s head teacher Steve Williamson agreed to take part because he believes the scheme, which consists of one session a week for four weeks, promotes community cohesion. Children are positive about the scheme, he says, with many saying they feel safer in the community afterwards because older people now acknowledge them.
Tolerating each other
During the first half-day session at a school, Kershaw involves children in discussing what a community is, how people tolerate each other, and why different people want to do different things. “We draw a parallel between the rules in a school and the need for rules on the estates they live on,” she says.
In the second session, older residents such as Thompson visit the school to speak with the children, alongside the local housing officer, estate caretaker and police community support officer.
Thompson has lived in Middleton all his life and finds volunteering for the RBH Community Kids scheme extremely rewarding. “By talking to the kids it gives me the feeling that I’m not an old man,” he says. “It’s nice to sit down and speak with them. If you talk to them in the right way they will listen – and may even agree with you. I’ve been surprised because I’ve learned that the things children don’t like about where we live are exactly the same things as us adults – it’s the litter, the dog fouling and the graffiti.”
The class is divided into three in the third session, with one group visiting a local care home to speak to residents and the two others going on separate walking tours of the estate. Each child completes a worksheet and takes photographs about what they like and dislike about the estate.
“This helps children identify what is good and bad about an area,” Kershaw says. “Once there was a ‘no ball games’ sign and the children didn’t like it. But we asked them how they would like it if someone kicked a football into their granny’s garden and broke her window. Then they understood why the sign was there.”
In the final week, Kershaw goes through the photographs with the children and discusses how they feel about where they live. She also encourages them to think about what rules they would like to have if they could make them. “We’ve found the children are usually much more severe than we are,” she says.
Although not hard-hitting, the initiative makes children stop and think before acting antisocially, Kershaw believes. Looking ahead, she would like to roll the scheme out to local secondary schools to build on the good work already begun.
How the scheme works
● The Community Kids scheme was launched in September 2007 after a pilot in Boarshaw Community Primary School three months earlier. Since then, nine primary schools and 300 children have taken part in the scheme.
● The housing provider Rochdale Boroughwide Housing identifies primary schools in areas experiencing antisocial behaviour. After a school agrees to take part, a member of RBH staff visits to conduct the information sessions, which occur once a week for four weeks.
● The scheme is part of RBH’s wider Communities First initiative, which aims to improve community spirit.
To get the most from working with children to tackle antisocial behaviour:
● Involve schools early on by asking what sort of work they would consider being involved in.
● Link work to the school’s national curriculum to make it relevant to children’s learning.
● Make sessions with children interactive and fun, with information delivered in small segments.
● Approach residents’ associations to engage older people and strengthen intergenerational communication.
● Consider working with local housing providers and use their expertise.
This article is published in the 21 May issue of Community Care magazine under the heading Lessons in best behaviour