In November 2015, the RSA Academies team held their annual Takeover Day, with students from across our seven academies in the West Midlands descending onto the RSA in London to ‘take over’.
Part of the programme for the day gave each school the opportunity to pitch a school or community project in front of a formidable Dragons’ Den panel of RSA staff, with a £500 cash prize at stake. This money would then be used to kick-start the project, turning the students’ ideas into action.
The range and detail of project pitches from all the schools were of a truly excellent standard. Ipsley students, who were awarded second place, gave an impressive presentation with budget breakdowns and predicted timelines to show how selling smoothies would help fund iPads for an afterschool club. Abbeywood First School innovatively made use of song and dance to pitch for their aptly-named project ‘Perform Outdoors!’. Holyhead’s ‘Homeless Heroes’ project did not win on the day but went onto the finals of Envision’s Community Apprenticeship 2016. More detail on all the projects, and how pupils turned their ideas into action, can be found here.
After a tense deliberation between the dragons, RSA Academy students were declared the winners with their idea for a multi-faith museum. The fantastic presentation from the sixth form student leadership team explained the need for such a project and outlined the context of the school as majority of white working class British students, located in the top 20% for deprivation in the country and with 41% of students pupil premium. They highlighted the community in which the school is situated as having high potential for insular attitudes, with a history of support for right wing politics exemplified by a recent controversy about the opening of a supermosque in nearby Dudley.
Also mentioned was the new government legislation, introducing British Values as part of Spiritual, Moral, Social and Cultural Education, and the students particularly emphasised the value of mutual respect for and tolerance of those with different faiths and beliefs and for those without faith. So how, asked the students, are we going to ensure that young people can help promote diversity and acceptance of other cultures? How are we going to have a wider impact, beyond our student leadership team – for whole school and the surrounding community? And that is when the idea of a multi-faith museum with artefacts representing world faiths, linked to education and community programmes with involvement from local faith organisations was pitched to the panel.
And so, over the last half year, these students and the RSA Academy Community Development Coordinator, Arvind Batra, have been working tirelessly to turn their idea into action, their aspirations into reality. Meetings have taken place with faith leaders in the community to source artefacts; £1000 has been secured from the local Police and £100 from Harbans & Co Solicitors to help fund the museum; a Museum Magazine has been launched with students generating the digital content; RSA8 members have visited Birmingham Museum and Art Gallery to gather ideas for the museum; various artefacts have been donated, including a Sikh Wedding dress and an Islamic Prayer mat and cap and the first phase of museum construction has taken place.
Unfortunately, the issues outlined by the students as situated within their community now feel more relevant than ever to us all – with the EU referendum exposing deep divisions within and between communities, and apparently resulting in a sharp increase in racist and xenophobic attacks, now, more than ever, we need to think about the value of mutual respect for and tolerance of those with different faiths. RSA academy students expressed concern over the political direction of travel in their locality and sought a creative, practical and community-based approach that would allow people to come together and provide a space for conversation and engagement in the aim of fostering tolerance.
RSA colleagues have written eloquently about the importance of place-based policy and renewing local civic pride post-Brexit. And so, in these times of heightened political uncertainty and increasingly divisive rhetoric, the attitude and approach of these students – and, indeed, of all the students who have worked so hard post-Takeover Day to make their community-based projects a reality – is one that can inspire us all.