Bellshill pupils put First Minister in picture on sectarianism issue

First Minister Alex Salmond with  Bellshill Academy and Cardinal Newman pupils at launch of anti-sectarian DVD
First Minister Alex Salmond with Bellshill Academy and Cardinal Newman pupils at launch of anti-sectarian DVD

A HARD-hitting film on sectarianism produced by Bellshill teenagers was screened to an audience which included First Minister Alex Salmond and Scotland’s top prosecutor, Frank Mulholland, last week.

‘Them and Us’ - written and performed by pupils at Bellshill Academy and Cardinal Newman High - tells the story of a youth who finds himself locked up for murder after petty name-calling between rival youths spiralled out of control.

The short film was described by Mr Salmond as ‘extraordinarily powerful’ after he viewed the premiere in the North Lanarkshire Council Learning Centre at Bellshill Academy.

It will be made available to schools throughout North Lanarkshire and it’s hoped pupils all over Scotland will eventually get the chance to view the film.

Senior pupils from both schools spent months working on the project. They came up with a storyline and wrote the script with guidance from a professional screenwriter.

Pupils then showed their dramatic ability by taking the acting roles. The film was shot by a professional crew at various locations in Bellshill.

It tells how petty hostility between groups of teenagers leads to Steph, played by Wendy Norton, being assaulted.

She persaudes her boyfriend, Jack (Joseph McAulay), to set fire to the door of another girl’s home, assuring him the family are away when they are, in fact, asleep in bed.

The fire takes hold and the people trapped inside the house are killed. Jack gets a life sentence for murder.

The pupils involved in the film said they are keen to help rid the area of sectarianism and wanted to highlight how seemingly harmless name-calling can lead to something much more serious.

They stressed there are no serious problems between the Bellshill schools.

Jospeh McAulay, who attends Cardinal Newman, said: “I think it’s mostly problems between individuals. Most people have friends at both schools.”

Colleague Clare Mitchell said: “A lot of sectarianism is football-orientated. We hope to get a message across about the consequences.”

And Laura Robertson, also of Cardinal Newman, added: “People inherit behaviour from their parents. I hope if the film gets shown across Scotland it will go a long way towards stopping it.”

Bellshill Academy pupil Jason Clark was also involved in the project.

He said: “We wanted to get across the point that something that starts as a laugh can have huge consquences.”

Abby Cathcart said sectarianism is a big problem and hoped the film would ‘promote understanding’ while fellow Bellshill Academy pupil Graeme Lester said: “People use Facebook and Twitter to make sectarian comments. The film shows how something silly like that can lead to a situation where lives are lost.”

The project was funded jointly by the Crown Office and Procurator Fiscal Service and North Lanarkshire Council. Strathclyde Police, the Scottish Court Service and the Scottish Prison Service provided props and locations.

The students worked closely with Ruth McQuaid, the Crown Office diversity representative, a former pupil of Bellshill Academy.

Mr Salmond said: “Our aim is to eradicate the scourge of hate crime, sectarianism and bigotry. We must get the message across to our young people that intolerance of others is unacceptable.

“It is exciting to see the young people of Bellshill Academy and Cardinal Newman High School seeking to educate their own peers about the terrible consequences that hate crime, bigotry and sectarianism can bring.”

Mr Mulholland, the Lord Advocate, added: “It is vital that we speak to communities and young people to listen to their experiences of sectarianism and use these to help educate others about the corrosive nature of bigotry and intolerance.

“I urge young people to challenge intolerance, even if they hear it from their parents or grandparents.

“Know your own mind and tell them you want Scotland to be a country where sectarianism and bigotry are a thing of the past.”