Young people find Lemn Sissay "Inspirational"

by Michael Ford last modified 09 Apr, 2019 05:08 PM

A talk given by poet and broadcaster Lemn Sissay MBE has paved the way for a new initiative to support Wiltshire’s ‘looked after’ children.

Lemn told the audience that included teenagers in care, foster carers and other individuals involved in the care of young people, that children in care will now be offered opportunities to visit, volunteer and take part in special activities at Salisbury Cathedral.

Lemn’s talk was given to a specially-invited audience of around eighty adults and children from Wiltshire, Dorset and West Berkshire. The audience also included Virtual School staff, who oversee the educational progress and welfare of looked after children.

Lemn talked for an hour, sharing his experiences as a foster child and in residential care. He told the story of his birth mother and his sixteen-year search for her, describing how he discovered that she never agreed to give him up and had always considered his fostering to be a temporary measure. Above all, he explored painful feelings of rejection and the loneliness experienced in care, something that angers him to this day.

He said:
"Over 18 years, it was a sustained attack on an entire childhood, one in which my natural instinct, a child's natural instinct, to test the boundaries was seen as bad. If you did something wrong you were seen as inherently bad. That’s what I have fought to change my entire adult life. I believe things have changed and that we look after our children far better than in my day."

Twenty-eight young people aged 13 to 19 heard Lemn’s talk, which was simultaneously translated into two languages, Sudanese Arabic and Kurdish Sorani, to support those young people whose English is not yet fluent.

When asked afterwards what they thought, the responses were overwhelmingly positive, with one teenager calling the talk "relatable but also inspirational."

Another youngster said, "I liked his humour, I think he is really kind," whilst another commented that it was "nice to see an adult who has been in care."

Director of Learning and Outreach at the Cathedral, Ariane Crampton, who organised the event in partnership with Wiltshire’s Virtual School said:

"The Cathedral wanted to give these most vulnerable teenagers an opportunity to hear from an inspirational role model, who understands the difficulties they have had in their lives having been through it himself. Lemn brings a wonderful human touch to his talks, encouraging these young people to believe in themselves."

Kirstie Barter, Skills for Young People Manager and a Virtual School Governor in Wiltshire said:
"What I took away was, unsurprisingly, that we shouldn’t underestimate our young people and that as ‘looked after’ children’s guardians we should advocate all opportunities and experiences, as it can lead to great things!"

As a result of the talk, staff from Wiltshire Council’s Department of Children, Education and Skills and the Cathedral’s Learning and Outreach Department are looking at ways of encouraging youngsters in care to take up volunteering opportunities or work experience at the Cathedral. They are also exploring creating special sessions for younger ‘looked after’ children, such as stone carving, a tower tour, drama or craft workshop.

There are currently 75,420 ‘looked after’ children nationwide and around 400 in Wiltshire alone.

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