It is a long way from London to Beverley but the views from the window on the train are getting better by the minute. Purple fields, bright green trees, I am now heading towards Humberside on my second visit for G-Week.
I have been invited to the Freedom Festival in Beverley. The Freedom Festival is the product of collaboration between special and mainstream schools and this is the third inclusive arts festival between schools in the area. The King’s Mill School have invited me to the festival to see students from the school and other East Riding schools perform music, drama and dance pieces on themes related to the abolition of slavery.
Home to William Wilberforce, the Freedom Festival is one of 34 events taking place in East Riding throughout 2007 marking 200 years since the UK parliament passed the Abolition of the Slave Trade Act.
As I enter the school auditorium I am faced by a wall chattering, laughing and shouting white t-shirts boldly covered in the word: FREEDOM. Parents and guests are being ushered to seats and in front of the audience hangs a large screen displaying images and information about the slave trade. In front lies a six metre long chain wrapped around an array of weird and wonderful instruments.
The event and schools performances follow the history of the slave trade from the origins of the transatlantic slave trade through to emancipation and modern day slavery. Singing, dancing, raps, capoeira and short, powerful drama performances written and performed by students serve as stark and moving reminders of the devastating experience of life on the slave ships against a backdrop of the music and dance carried by slaves to the rest of the world.
The students at Kings Mill School have chosen to write and perform six short acts illustrating the forgotten lives of children and adults still living in slavery. Recent estimates by the Wilberforce 2007 Fight for Freedom campaign indicate that there are more slaves today that were seized in Africa in four centuries of the trans-Atlantic Slave Trade. The King’s Mill students performances are powerful reminders of these devastating facts. Their performances are short, simple and shocking.
The audiences are confronted with trafficked children and women, people bound into forced labour and the final performance casts a deafening silence upon the audience as Gareth, a student from Kings Mill dressed in army fatigues, bellows and screams at a group of children, today’s child soldiers.
“Today was great” Gareth tells me “We’ve been working hard for 3 months writing and practising our short plays. I liked working with other schools. Everyone has worked very hard together to prepare for today.”
“We prepared the students through lots of lessons on rights, slavery, freedom, choices and peace before helping them to write the plays. The students were also joined by two musicians and our drama teacher to add music and dance to some of their plays. We are really proud of their performances today.” Andy Tearle, Deputy Head at Kings Mill explained.
Performing in the Freedom Festival is one of many activities the Kings Mill School organised during G-Week. Their G-Week this year was renamed Freedom Week with lessons, campaigning and fundraising activities around the theme of slavery and inequality past and present.
To thunderous applause, the students lead the audience to sign Fight for Freedom petitions aimed at “revitalising the abolitionist spirit of 200 years ago and harnessing it to make the eradication of all forms of slavery for each and every government in the world.”
I sign the petition and so can you here.
Some photos of the day’s events are here
Felicity Tyson is Websites Editor for Youth Programmes at the Citizenship Foundation