Don’t Suffer, Together We’re Tougher: Rochdale teenager has a message for victims of bullying.

It’s been a long time since I blogged, and excuse today’s more personal post. I’ve been inspired by the daughter of a friend of mine.

It’s been a summer of role models and positive images of young people. August 2012, in contrast to the riots of last year, has given us plenty to look forward to, to celebrate and to shout about.

It’s not all about our Olympians or Games Makers however. This summer, whilst the much of the nation has been transfixed on the events of London 2012, a young woman in Rochdale has been undertaking a marathon of her own. Meet Emily Foster, 16, the founder of the Brave the Bullies campaign.

Emily was inspired to start the campaign as a way of remembering her best friend, Sam Riley, who tragically committed suicide in 2009 after being the victim of bullying. It seems bullying has rarely been out of the news lately, what with the so-called ‘trolls’ online posting vicious and hurtful attacks on Olympic bronze medallist Tom Daley, Blue Peter presenter Helen Skelton closing her Twitter account and, just this week, people abusing Gary Barlow after the tragic stillbirth of his daughter, Poppy.

As a teacher, I am all too aware that bullying is commonplace yet it sometimes seems it only really gets the attention it deserves when it is a celebrity on the receiving end. Emily is determined that the victims of bullying will not be forgotten and will not have to suffer alone, no matter who they are.

Emily describes herself as “a ‘do-er’” and explains that “whereas some people will sit and complain about something, I’m someone that will do something about it, that’s all.” She’s being modest; since finishing her GCSEs, she has dedicated herself to setting up a charity campaign rather than relaxing and waiting for her results. We’ve heard much about what motivates our young Olympians, but Emily’s motivation is similarly impressive. She explains: “ever since Sam died I’ve always hated bullying and it’s been something that really angers me. But a couple of days before my last exam, another teenager in my area committed suicide and, although I didn’t know her, it really got to me and made me realise that even if I don’t get anywhere with it, there’s no point in me wasting my summer doing nothing. I could be doing something positive that could actually save someone’s life. So as soon as my last exam finished on the 18th June, I went home and got started with it all.”

So what is Brave the Bullies all about? Emily aims to raise awareness of bullying and offer support to young people and parents. She is starting small, as at the moment she can’t afford to register as an official charity but with a summer fair and fun day planned this weekend, she is hoping the funds will come. Working towards charitable status is just one aim and she wants to create a website full of resources and information that people can access. However it doesn’t stop there, she wants to run workshops in schools across greater Manchester and the north west “and basically aim to educate pupils on how much of an impact their actions can have because I think a lot of people don’t even realise how hurtful they can be.”

Emily has been surprised at how willing people have been to help her. She puts this down to the fact that many people have been affected by bullying themselves, or know someone close to them that has. She has had to overcome some resistance, given that her campaign isn’t an official charity yet, but she says that the overwhelming reaction has been positive when she explains what she is trying to do.

Changing people’s mindset about what constitutes bullying, is one of Emily’s aims. She wants there to be more of a focus on the victim’s feelings, “I know a large amount of people that think that it’s only classed as bullying if someone is crying or has a black eye and I think that whole mindset is completely wrong. It shouldn’t be the bully that gets to decide whether it’s bullying or not, if somebody feels that they’re being victimised then they should be able to go to somebody about that without being made to feel stupid about it.” She is keen to raise the profile of the victims of bullying: “people who have been bullied deserve to be respected because it takes a lot of bravery to have aspects of yourself torn down and humiliated” and she wants people to understand that significant and lasting harm can be done to people, without there being physical signs or evidence.

Emily met Sam when they both started secondary school together. She describes him as a joy to be around and “one of the friendliest boys in the whole school regardless of some of the taunts he got.” Sam suffered from eczema and it was this that people chose to pick on him about. Unfortunately Sam clearly felt unable to cope with the bullying he was receiving and, in 2009, took his own life. It is not hard to understand why her motto for the campaign is “Don’t suffer, together we’re tougher.” Emily doesn’t want anyone else to feel they have to put up with bullying alone. She has a simple message for potential bullies too: “all I want is for them to take more notice about what they’re doing or saying.  Actually think about whether ruining someone’s whole self esteem and way they see themselves is worth it.”

This Saturday 18th August, Emily has organised a Brave the Bullies summer fair. It is taking place in Queens Park, Heywood from 11am to 4pm. You can also follow her campaign on twitter (@BraveTheBullies) and on Facebook

All too often, people criticise young people for their apathy and unwillingness to get involved in their communities. In this Olympic year, if there were a gold medal for making a difference, then I’d say Emily Foster would have a place on the podium in her very determined sight.