Matthew Barber, Police and Crime Commissioner for Thames Valley, visited Trevelyan Middle School in Windsor last week (17/3) to see the pioneering pupil-led work taking place to address County Lines child exploitation.
County Lines, where children as young as nine are coerced into carrying and storing drugs for sophisticated gangs, sadly continues to be a high risk.
Pupils from Trevelyan Middle School are seeking to fight back with the production of hard-hitting film about one child’s journey into slavery and exploitation. The film, titled Notice Me!, will be available to schools across the local area as a learning tool to understand the process, risks and realities of County Lines operations.
Matthew witnessed a sneak-preview of the film, with cast members performing segments of the upcoming production live on the school site. One scene showed the way County Line gangs will promise children all kinds of luxuries, only to trap them into failing and then place the child forever in their debt. Another scene showed the grim reality that, for children who find themselves in the world of County Lines, it is the gangs themselves they are most afraid of – not the prospect of arrest. However, the film also has a message of hope. It seeks to educate children and adults alike for those warning signs that someone might be involved, such as disappearing for stretches of time or coming home with unexplained bruises or odd equipment.
While the film is the centre-piece of the project, it will be accompanied by an innovative scheme of lessons for pupils to study in-school. These lessons will include video inputs from a range of partners, including County Lines survivors and organisations such as SPACE – an organisation devoted to supporting victims of County Lines and who provide training for police forces across the country. Matthew was interviewed by the cast for inclusion within the scheme.
There will also be both a pupil and parent guide to County Lines stemming from the project, which the school hopes to make available to as many children and adults across Windsor as possible. These guides will include inputs from many experts in the field, including those working on the front-line in tackling the issue every day. Combined together, the aim is for pupils to see County Lines for what it is – not the glamorous lifestyle that is sold to young people at first, but a form of slavery and often humiliating abuse. It also aims to show that County Lines is not something that affects a certain “type” of child, but increasingly it can affect any child .
Matthew also met with the senior leadership team at Trevelyan Middle School, and listened to their concerns about the very real risk of County Lines across our local community and the way it is still perceived as a drugs crime issue rather than one of exploitation and modern slavery. Cracking down of County Lines is one of Matthew’s key strategic priorities for Thames Valley Police Force as part of his Police and Criminal Justice Plan.
Bradley Day, Assistant Headteacher responsible for Personal Development, said: “At Trevelyan, we never shy away from tackling the tricky issues head-on. We don’t protect pupils by shielding them from these issues, but instead by allowing them to be explored in full. This project has been so inspiring as it’s been entirely led by the pupils themselves. They have thoroughly researched the issue, but every line in the film has been improvised by them.”
Louisa Harris, Head of Trevelyan Middle School, said: “It was a real privilege to show off the enormous creativity and maturity of our pupils to the Police and Crime Commissioner today. We pride ourselves on being an outward facing school, part of a pioneering Multi-Academy Trust and we are keen to share our work and the talents of our pupils across the wider community.”
Freddie Wilson, who plays the boy who gets caught up in County Lines, said: “Through taking part in this project, I’ve learnt how scarily quickly you get become dragged into to danger that is then not in your control. However, with the right awareness we can try to stop the exploitation before it starts.”
Matthew Barber, Police and Crime Commissioner for Thames Valley, said: “I was blown away by the quality of the performances I’ve seen today. I’ve no doubt this project will help spread awareness of the risks and dangers of County Lines in a innovate new way.”