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Consequences of drugs, knives and gangs hits home to students following powerful school workshops

Added on 06 March 2018 at 11:55

Last week nearly 1000 pupils at secondary schools in south Bristol learned first-hand about the destruction and misery that drugs, gangs and knives can have on your life.

Pupils from Ashton Park Secondary School, The Merchants Academy and Bedminster Down Secondary School took part in a series of unique and powerful workshops delivered by Paul Hannaford, an ex-offender and drug addict who now uses his own experiences to warn young people of the dangers of following the same path that he did.

In his workshops, Paul talks candidly about his life, beginning with his childhood growing up in east London. A promising football player, Paul had hopes of signing for West Ham United, but at the age of 11, he tried his first cannabis joint. He was expelled from school and became involved in gangs, criminality and regularly carried knives. He ended up as a heroin and crack cocaine addict, on a merry-go round of offending, going in and out of prison. Eventually, after being released from prison and hospital for the umpteenth time, Paul decided that he didn’t want to carry on with this life. He went into rehab in Weston-super-Mare and Paul has now been clean for 11 years.

Paul Hannaford delivering his workshop
Paul Hannaford delivering his workshop

However Paul still lives with the physical scars and injuries caused by his drug addictions. He has to take medication for the rest of his life because of the blood clots left in his body – without the medication he would almost certainly die. He has to dress the wounds on his legs daily, which are hugely swollen and bleed constantly, due to infections picked up from injecting drugs.

Avon and Somerset Police’s Youth Strategy Officer PC Kris Wither said: “These workshops in schools are part of our efforts to divert young people away from crime. Although most people understand that the police deal with crime once it’s happened, or with enforcing the law, many people don’t realise that we also work hard to prevent crime from being committed in the first place.

“Paul’s workshops do not glamourise his past life. The criminality, violence and drug addiction he lived through is not sugar coated – he tells it like it is and the kids listen. They see the state of his legs and the pain and discomfort he still lives with despite being clean for over a decade. He’s a big personality and he uses the rapport he has with students to really make them think about the choices they face and the consequences these choices can have.

“I honestly believe that this type of workshop, delivered by someone as engaging as Paul, will have a lasting impact on students. We can all think back to someone who made a difference to our lives when we were young and impressionable. I can’t see how anyone could come away from one Paul’s talks and still think that taking drugs, carrying a knife, or stealing is a good idea.” PC Kris Withers

PC Withers’ team and our school beat managers work closely with schools to support them and their young people with making the right choices. Paul’s workshops are age appropriate and tailored for Year 7 up to Year 10 students.

Jordan who is a year 10 student at The Merchants Academy in Withywood said: “Paul’s story showed how easy it is to start falling in with the wrong crowd and start taking drugs, no matter how good a person you are, or how good your life is. Something that stood out for me was when Paul spoke about carrying a knife. I’ve learned that if you don’t carry…you can never stab someone!”

Jordan’s fellow student Libby said: “I have learned that you should never take drugs that haven’t been tested, which can be easily bought on the streets. Paul’s story made a real impression on me because it showed the real life side of taking drugs, and how it impacts on a person physically, even after they have stopped taking drugs for a long time.”

Dan Goater, Assistant Head Teacher at Bedminster Down School said: “Staff and students found Paul’s workshops extremely powerful and moving. He tells an honest story which leaves a lasting impression that can only deter young people away from drugs and gangs. The fact that he has actually lived through these things himself and the way he speaks with such conviction makes him an engaging and inspirational speaker.”

Sarah Mayo, Learning Support Assistant at Ashton Park School said: “I think this is the first time I have ever witnessed such a powerful anti-drugs message in school. The ‘real-life’ aspect of the talk and Paul’s engaging presence packed a far greater punch and gained more focused attention than any video or talk had previously."

“Many young boys glamourise drug use and think the gang lifestyle is something to be aspired to – Paul certainly dispelled this notion.”