Coronation Street’s Millie Gibson is backing Oldham’s pioneering methods to educate the borough’s children and young people on the severity of hate crime.
This comes after the 18-year-old actress joined local secondary school pupils and members of the Sophie Lancaster Foundation in an immersive theatre experience by Oldham Theatre Workshop (OTW) which highlights the impact hate crime and hate speech can have on victims.
Millie, who began her own acting career with OTW at the age of 8, watched on as pupils from New Bridge Academy and Royton and Crompton Academy were placed in the shoes of a hate crime offender at a ‘correction centre’ during the interactive performance.
Here participating students absorbed real-life testimonies, stories and experiences of hate victims first-hand, including the consequences of these activities.
The aim was to demonstrate the impact hateful events can have on many victims in the real world and to empower young people to be proactive in confronting hate crime and hate speech.
At the end of the performance, pupils were tasked with ‘Community Service’ and instructed to form an action group within their school to educate peers on the issue of hate and raise awareness and empathy amongst young people.
Reflecting on the performance titled ‘You Stand Accused’, Millie said she was blown away by the performance and described it as ‘incredibly thought-provoking’.
“Hate is such an important issue to address, and the actors did an amazing job of highlighting what sadly takes place in the real world today,” she said.
"Young people are so fragile and alone in what they have to do when they’re growing up and finding themselves, so it’s crucial they know it’s okay to be themselves and never to change.
“Bringing this awareness to theatre and using real-life cases as a way of educating our young people, is really unique and it’s great that local schools are getting involved in this project, as it all helps in spreading the message that hate will never be tolerated.”
Millie herself has become a leading figure in hate crime awareness since her character Kelley Neelan played a key role in Corrie’s harrowing storyline involving the hateful attack of Seb and Nina because of their alternative identity.
These shocking episodes were inspired by the real-life murder of Sophie Lancaster, who was also attacked and left for dead in 2007 just because of the way she looked.
Sophie’s case was referenced as part of the performance to local schools, and members of the Sophie Lancaster Foundation were truly moved by the impact it had.
“I think every person in that room felt really connected and because it was so moving, people will go home and this experience will stay with them for the rest of their lives, it was incredible,” said Alison Vincent, who was accompanied by Foundation colleagues Dena Payne and Sophie’s brother Adam Lancaster.
“When you’re in school day in, day out and teachers say the same thing, there’s an element of you’ve been there, you’ve done that, you can switch off.
“So, I think taking them out of that environment, particularly with the drama element, it was so engaging and now it gives schools a brilliant opportunity to go back and turn this learning into a cultural change of how to address hate crime.”
Nine secondary schools took part in the project over a two-week period with 40 performances played out in total.
When we asked Year 9 pupil Lilly, of Royton and Crompton Academy, what she had taken from the performance, she said: “It was really good, and we’ve learnt about hate crime and how to report it.
“It’s really important we have this because it’s happening quite a lot in the world and it needs to be stopped so it’s important to educate younger people.
“As we grow up, we can educate future generations and hopefully bring towards a world that doesn’t have hate crime or hate speech.”
Kimberley Spratt, Emotional Health and Wellbeing Lead at Royton and Crompton Academy, added: “This has given our pupils a detailed understanding of what hate is and the impact it can have on the people it affects and the people around them.
“It really hits home of how it can happen and while this education has a place in the classroom, it doesn’t give the same impact as to what we’ve seen today, so it’s been great to get involved in the project and I would definitely recommend it to other schools.”
These performances have been specially created in partnership with OTW, Oldham Council, Oldham Youth Council and Positive Steps, in response to findings from the National Make Your Mark consultation where young people had asked how organisations could effectively address this issue.
Reflecting on the work of the last fortnight, Craig Harris, of OTW, said: “The performances have gone down extremely well with our local schools and it was fantastic to have such a great uptake.
“The children were able to hear and absorb victim’s stories and see first-hand the consequences of hate crime activity, which is a really powerful instrument in their learning process.
“They’ve all taken away something really important from these sessions and that is that hate is not okay, and it will not be tolerated in our society, so the impact is huge.”
Councillor Jean Stretton, Cabinet Member for Neighbourhoods, added: “Hate Crime is abhorrent, and it has no place in our society.
“I want to thank our partners, Millie and the Sophie Lancaster Foundation, for their support in this project as it’s really important this education begins from an early age, so our young people do not grow up thinking hate is okay.
“Hate devastates the lives of those affected and it needs to stop, so if you have been affected by this please reach out for support.”
If you have been affected by a hate crime, please visit our website for more information on the support you can access, www.oldham.gov.uk/hatecrime