YOUNGSTERS have been taking part in a project giving them a ‘safe space’ in a bid to stamp out hate crime.
Year 5 pupils at Cottage Grove Primary School in Portsmouth yesterday opened their doors to show their work in the Heartstone Odyssey scheme.
Funded by the police and crime commissioner Michael Lane, the scheme sees youngsters read a book in class.
The story contains scenarios around hate crimes and includes racist words and situations – giving pupils a chance to discuss the topic.
During a visit from Mr Lane and members of his Youth Commission, nine youngsters in the class said they had suffered hate crime.
Incidents ranged from a girl being told to take off her hijab to another child told to ‘go back’ to their own country.
Headteacher Polly Honeychurch said it was important that the pupils were taught about hate crime in a setting that they saw as safe.
Ms Honeychurch said: ‘As a very diverse community it’s important for us to make sure the children learn to live our school values of acceptance, perseverance, respect, achievement and independence.
‘Taking part in this project will have a safe space to talk about the issues that they’re living now. They’re having to deal with those issues.
‘I want them to be agents of change so that they can make a better future.’
The crime commissioner’s office has pumped £24,000 into the project – backed by National Counter Terrorism Policing Headquarters – for 40 schools.
Addressing pupils, Mr Lane told of his own experiences of suffering hate crime when he was brought up by his mother ‘at a time when just having a mother to look after me was quite difficult’.
But he told youngsters ‘I survived’ and asked them to ‘help make it difficult for people do hate crimes’.
Speaking afterwards, he said it was one of a ‘number of initiatives’ to tackle hate crime, while police would still target perpetrators.
Year 5 pupil Stephen Onawoore, 10, said: ‘I thought it was very impressive for people that have been affected by this. We know how to help and support each other.
‘People have been racist saying the N word – it makes me feel sad.’
Classmate Olewthu Thusi, 10, said she had been encouraged to know ‘exactly what to do’ if a friend suffered hate crime and she could help.
‘You never know what’s going to happen but just from the story you know what to do if someone says something,’ she added.
Phoneix Whitehall Butler added: ‘I’ve been enjoying it.’