A year or so ago, the play of Dan’s story “I Love You Mum, I Promise I Won’t Die” did a tour of a few schools in Scotland. This had a significant impact on many students – and school staff members – who got to experience the performance and the mini-workshop afterwards, but also a Detective Constable called Stuart Ritchie who had been invited to be in the audience. He was so taken by what he saw that he met with Fiona with a view to achieving a huge ambition: a roll out of the play and other DSM Foundation offerings in schools across all of Scotland. And he set out to make that happen.
Of course we’d love to do this, but such a large-scale venture requires investment; from the schools and local authorities in terms of engagement, but also for DSMF to enable the costs to be covered. So the idea was hatched, with funding and incredible support from Police Scotland, for a series of showcase events, with movers and shakers, young people and parents, as well as potential sources of funding invited along, in Edinburgh, Glasgow, Aberdeen, Dundee and Tulliallan.
If you haven’t heard of this last place, that isn’t surprising. It’s a tiny place, close to the river Forth, and you’d blink and miss it was it not for the castles. Yes, that plural is correct. The first castle – now ruined – dates from the 14th century, while the second lies about half a mile away and was built in the early 19th century. This still stands proud, and has been the home of the Scottish Police Training College for nearly 70 years, and more recently became the headquarters of Police Scotland. So holding a showcase at this (slightly intimidating) location was a departure for us, as previous events had been held in schools so attendees were able to see the impact of the play on those who matter the most: young people.
Nearly 200 people signed up for the Tulliallan showcase, and while they were only able to see the filmed version of “I Love You Mum, I Promise I Won’t Die” rather than a live performance, it still packed an emotional punch. The rest of the line up was impressive, with Police Scotland’s Chief Constable Sir Iain Livingstone QPM opening the event, followed by Scottish Cabinet Secretary for Education and Skills Jenny Gilruth, Deputy Chief Medical Officer Professor Marion Bain, Police Scotland’s head of organized crime and counter-terrorism Detective Chief Superintendent Stuart Houston, and Allie Cherry-Byrnes and Claire Wadsworth from third sector organizations Fast Forward and Scottish Families Affected by Alcohol and Drugs respectively. Each brought their own perspective on how drugs education fits into the wider landscape of their work and Claire brought two teenagers who’d benefited from one of their projects to support young people.
The DSM Foundation’s founder and director Fiona Spargo-Mabbs was also there, providing some context around drugs education and, alongside Superintendent David Howieson from Police Scotland’s North East Division, describing the pilot programme launching soon in the Grampian region. This will see a small sample of schools in the three authorities receiving almost all aspects of the DSMF programme, including play performances, PSHE resources, and workshops for students, parents and staff.
The feedback – gathered at the end of the event – was incredible. To establish a baseline, attendees were asked what they thought about current drugs education provision for young people in Scotland , and only 26 per cent said that they felt it was effective in preparing them to make safer choices about drugs. Against that backdrop, 98 per cent said they felt the DSMF programme would benefit children and young people, and 90 per cent said the play and workshop would help young people manage decisions around drug use more safely. There was also a lot of support for the training provided by DSMF for professionals working with young people, with the vast majority saying it would help them feel more knowledgeable and confident about drugs education.
The feedback additionally revealed a sharp awareness of the issues being faced north of border, with one attendee saying: “The number of drugs deaths is a sobering reminder of the challenges Scotland faces… it would be good for the Scottish Government to take this on and ensure local authorities have sufficient funding to have DSM in every school.” And while resourcing was acknowledged as a hurdle, another attendee summed it up well, commenting: “Given the national commitment to tackling drug deaths, something as innovative as the DSM Foundation should absolutely be supported and promoted. Breaking the cycle is key… and breaking down barriers with our young people is surely fundamental.”
What is clear is that the aim of the DSM Foundation – helping young people make safer choices about drugs – is a shared ambition, and more and more people (and influential ones at that) are seeing drugs education as a core component. We will keep you posted as to how our work in Scotland progresses.