Kieran takes a stand and helps students to counteract the bullies

Kieran O'Toole, who organised an anti-bullying conference
Kieran O'Toole, who organised an anti-bullying conference
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More than 700 students packed into Portsmouth Guildhall to learn how to cope with bullying at school.

Portsmouth’s Biggest Anti-Bullying Conference 2018 saw schools from across the city descend on the Guildhall to take part in workshops and fun activities to help students deal with what remains their top worry at school.

Speakers shared insights on coping mechanisms while underlining the importance of speaking to someone if on the receiving end of bullying.

The conference, which is set to be rolled out to London and Southampton next year, was inspired by Kieran O’Toole after he suffered in silence for three years following bullying from a group of girls during secondary school.

The 17-year-old set up Rock Clothing as a means of generating funds to raise awareness of bullying and is determined to help others and reduce the damaging behaviour.

‘I felt so isolated when I was bullied that I didn’t speak to anyone about it. It was the worst time of my life. I felt so isolated,’ Kieran revealed.

‘I used various coping mechanisms that helped get me through bullying like taking up dinghy sailing and volunteering.

‘My biggest piece of advice would be to tell someone about it, whether it’s a friend, parent, teacher or even your teddybear. It’s so important to get it out of your head.’

Kieran plans to combat bullying in schools through workshops and ambassador programmess. He is supported by Portsmouth College, Paul Morrison, Portsmouth Guildhall, AT&T and Portsmouth City Council, which he says has spent £50,000 on the scheme.

Mike Stoneman, deputy director of children, families and education at the council, told the conference that addressing bullying is vital with it remaining the ‘top concern of pupils and parents’ according to a recent survey.

‘Bullying can have a lifelong impact not just on the victim but on the bully as well. It can affect a student’s educational achievement and the reputation of schools,’ he said.

Mr Stoneman added that the council was countering bullying by offering a steering group, providing training and support as well as focusing on restorative methods that seek to bring parties together to find a solution rather than just punish individuals.

Host of the conference and former bully victim Ben Clabon said: ‘Our schools haven’t always been that well connected when it comes to bullying so this has been a great experience to listen to others and share ideas.’