The Tim Parry Johnathan Ball Foundation for Peace is an outstanding organisation. It teaches young people to think independently, and that violence, in any and all forms for any reason, is wrong. I believe that it accomplished both of these aims with regards to the group of boys from Burnage Academy.
Several methods and activities in particular stood out. I would like to start by praising the fun and entertaining games that the boys participated in. These activities were very team-based, and as such focussed on building up team skills such as patience and cooperation. However many of these activities also incorporated an element of competition, and this was used to make the boys consider and analyse their own behaviour both towards their own team and fellow team-mates, but also to the opposition. Several components helped to make these activities so fantastic, and these included the fact that many of them required the boys to either stand or move about providing a distinct difference from a classroom setting, where the boys would spend the vast majority, if not the whole lesson, seated.
Other stand-out moments were when we met Harriet, whose mother died as a result of injuries sustained during the Warrington bomb, who is a survivor of the attack herself. I have never met a victim of a terrorist atrocity before and it was deeply moving for me.
Equally moving was our meeting with Colin Parry, whose son Tim was murdered by the IRA and provided the inspiration for building the centre. His honesty and calmness were surreal, and he had a massive impact on the students who in turn asked some really perceptive and inquisitive questions. I think that meetings with Harriet and Colin reinforced the idea that all of our actions have consequences, and these consequences have real life implications.
A video clip from the Guardian highlighted the importance of perspective and having the whole picture. Several of our boys were already wise to it however, and it also warned of the dangers of assumptions. A great deal of learning was done about the American civil rights movement and their strategy of non-violence.
A lot of acting and other drama work took place based around an activity in which the boys were asked to think of as many different groups of people who currently lived in Manchester and then think of real-life situations where these groups might possibly come into conflict. The boys then enacted some of these scenarios.
The conference held in Manchester Town Hall during the second part of the residential provided the metaphorical icing on the metaphorical cake. It gave our pupils the perfect opportunity to teach others about what they had spent their time at the centre learning, which is one of the desired goals of the project – that not only do we teach individuals that violence is wrong, but that we give them the knowledge, skills, and confidence to pass on what they have learned and teach others.
Finally, I would just like to comment on the residential aspect of the trip. As with any residential it provides several opportunities such as the boys being able to visit somewhere they may never consider going, or have never been before. It also gives them the freedom to discover their own personalities more, while away from home and their parents. While we had some minor issues with cleaning plates and bedrooms, the majority of the boys took full advantage of the opportunity to prove their maturity and demonstrate how responsible they were.
In conclusion, I cannot overstate the benefits of this centre and this particular programme. It helped teach our pupils the value of:
Teamwork and co-operation
Tolerance and respect
Thinking independently in addition to the dangers of:
I would recommend this organisation to all schools, because while there is nothing that can totally prevent violent radicalisation this programme, I strongly believe, has the right goals and methods, but most importantly of all it achieves visible, tangible results.