Tuesday, 9 June 2009

Fire Reach - Where I blog about my daytime fun

In my day job I try to end child poverty in the UK. I always giggle when I say that because quite obviously, if I knew how to end child poverty I'd be out of a job and probably very rich. It's a grand vision to be fair and one that I'm happy to pursue as best I can.

If it weren't so darn hard to actually deliver change.

So, you try and sometimes you see little changes and a light bulb switches on in you and some of the young people you work with.

One of these light bulbs is an initiative called Fire Reach. If you google it, you won't find much info. I found out about it through a fellow Common Purpose participant (that's a leadership training programme that I was sent on, rather strangely, because I'm not exactly senior management, but nevermind), who works for Strathclyde Fire and Rescue. A firefighter to you and me. It took me a couple of days to find the right person to find out more, but once I got his contact details, it was all go.

We've been working with 2 groups from a secondary school in the East End of Glasgow. For those amongst you not from Scotland, Glasgow East and Glasgow North are areas of multiple deprivation. Shettleston Man is the running term to describe this situation: life expectancy the lowest in the UK, high levels of substance abuse, teenage pregnancy rates, smoking and so on. I work in Shettleston, and the interesting bit is that in spite of the statistics, to me, Shettleston doesn't even appear too bad. There are people who are clearly not wealthy, but friendly and just, well, normal. I hate to think that they can expect to die before they are 60.

Back to the school. The two groups we work with are young people who show challenging behaviour and are at risk of exclusion. We've been working with them for a full school year now, in the form of one period a week of group work. There's only so much you can do in one period a week. These kids aren't bad. They simply don't think they are good. And nobody else thinks they are good. They've been told all their lives that they are worthless, have nothing to look forward to, can't achieve, won't pass exams, won't get a decent job, won't get picked for the football team you name it. They are normal teenagers, but with negativity streaming out of every pore. Negativity about themselves first and foremost, and only as a secondary symptom, negativity towards others. Each of them has another story, another nut to crack.

Fire Reach, as I got to know it, delivers a free course of 4 half days to young people who may be at risk of causing vandalism or other destructive behaviour. It tries to challenge this behaviour by giving positive role models, educating about consequences of such behaviour, and letting every young boy's dream come true: being a firefighter for two days.

There's more to it of course. The young people learn about basic first aid, how to get out of a house fire, how to locate a victim, how to keep themselves and their families safe. They get to try out the equipment of firefighters, find out what the "Rescue" in Fire and Rescue stands for and generally, how a fire station works.

It's all very interesting and fun. And it works. Every half day of the course, the first thing the young people do is agree some ground rules of respectful behaviour and then they put on the fire fighter uniform. As soon as they are in uniform, all the negative behaviour seems to leave the room. The kids are transformed. They work together, they participate, they listen, they have fun. They have, even if just a little bit, become firefighters who save people's life.

Maybe, just maybe, this experience will translate back into their lives, make them feel worthier and make them realise that they too have choices, opportunities and something positive to offer.
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Fire Reach at Calton (Glasgow) Fire Station currently has availability for groups of young people to participate in Fire Reach courses during the summer months.
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Photo credit (because I forgot to take my own camera yet again): didbygraham on flickr.

1 comment:

rosiescribble said...

Sounds like a very worthwhile cause.

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