Ameerah is volunteering with The Linking Network and shares her thoughts on TLN events.
Earlier this month The Linking Network hosted our national networking event at Friends House in Manchester. This was a chance for all schools linking facilitators from the 20 Local Authorities areas we support, along with representatives from the Department for Communities and Local Government (DCLG) and the Pears Foundation to get together and look at the progress made with across the country over the year in sustaining and expanding existing linking programmes and establishing schools linking in new areas. It was a chance to celebrate the collective success in all areas.
The day started with Bishop Toby Howarth from the Bradford district discussing the barriers facing children and young people who want to engage in divided societies, and how the linking Network facilitates this engagement by reaching out and creating the right environment, laying the foundations for a ‘virtuous circle’ – something increasingly important in our current political climate.
We were then joined by Hilary Patel from the DCLG, who spoke about overcoming local barriers with local solutions and the importance of sustained interaction in working to breakdown differences.
The day encapsulated our ethos of keeping close and focusing on good relations with teachers and communities shining through. Azam who has recently joined The Linking Network team brought this to life when he spoke about encouraging students to be proactive in their wider communities and creating spaces to ensure this happens, such as the afterschool dialogue group Manningham Youth Talks and creating Secondary School links through curriculum areas.
Later on in the day the evaluation session was led by Chris Shannahan from The Centre for Trust, Peace and Social Relations at Coventry University. Linking facilitators shared ways in which schools linking programmes can be enhanced, rooted and developed in local communities with the goal of creating an environment for children to explore their own identity and community. Ideas such as a yearbook, an individual school linking journal and linking with a local football club were all suggested. The message that resonated the loudest was to enable local communities to run and be responsible for their own programmes by giving experienced and passionate teachers the time and skills to allow their local knowledge and relationships to benefit students and their communities.
Bridget McGing from the Pears Foundation shared words of encouragement and support for the programme and the network.
Towards the end of the session Rob Unwin, from the Development Education Centre South Yorkshire (DECSY). led a Philosophy for Children (P4C) school session ‘circle time’ activity with our facilitators and explained how P4C can enable thoughtful, reflective social and educational development for young children in schools. We read together the book Something Else, the well known and loved picture book by Kathryn Cave that powerfully yet simply explores issues of belonging, friendship, inclusion and exclusion. Rob is one of the network of local facilitators leading local linking programmes between schools in Rotherham and Sheffield.
Sarah Koster and Andrea Tuitjen updated everyone on faith school linking, sharing case studies about strategies and outlining the process by which 3FF will pass referrals from schools who want to link to local facilitators across the country.
As the day drew to a close, we were briefly joined by the Solutions Not sides team, who have currently just finished a one week tour of secondary schools in Bradford. Jess Brandler from the team spoke about the work Solutions Not Sides does in humanising the Palestine – Israel conflict and giving a platform to young people to discuss and create a voice for peace in the region.
With all the facilitators together, it was apparent that the Linking Network is universal in its aims and ethos, utilising strengths in each local district to create a pathway of resources by being rooted in the local community. It was clear to all that the work of the Linking Network with schools and their wider community brings people together, and offers a methodology which others subscribe to and recognise the benefits to children, young people, schools and their communities.