In Haunt

Action to address issues of Hate Crime is increasingly in the News – with Closer magazine running a recent article on the issue, and numerous stories across the Press exploring the prospect of misogyny being treated as a Hate Crime.

Action on Hate Crime and expansion of its definition has been significantly shaped by the Sophie Lancaster Foundation (also known as SOPHIE – Stamp Out Prejudice Hatred and Intolerance Everywhere), set up in 2009.

The charity was founded following the tragic murder of Sophie Lancaster in 2007, a 20-year old woman from Bacup, Lancashire – who it was believed was targeted (along with her boyfriend)  by a group of young men, due to her alternative style.

SOPHIE was a keen fan of Gothic and metal music, and made frequent trips to Manchester to see her favourite bands. There is a huge second stage at Bloodstock Open Air Festival named after her, and Northern music legends The Membranes, fronted by John Robb, often raise money for the charity at gigs – as well as bands including The Damned and The Levellers.

Sophie’s mum, Sylvia Lancaster, is the Chief Executive and was awarded an OBE for her work, the charity also gaining ‘Upstanding Organisation Award’ at the No2H8 Awards Ceremony. She was also recently awarded an Honorary Doctorate from the University of Bolton.

The Sophie Lancaster Foundation has worked determinedly throughout its time to expand Hate Crime legislation to include crimes against alternative subcultures, such as the Gothic community.  The charity has worked internationally and with significant success, with many key developments taking place right here in Manchester and the North West.

Greater Manchester Police was one of the first force to partner up with The Sophie Lancaster Foundation, and from April 2013 was the first to recognise crime against people from alternative subcultures as Hate Crime. Up to 18 other forces have now followed their example.

And Sophie’s legacy hasn’t just been in the legislation of this city (and much further afield), its expanded to literature, onto the airwaves and into culture. ‘Black Roses’ was a piece first premiered as a radio play on Radio 4 in 2011, written with words from the poet Simon Armitage as an elegy to Sophie. Sylvia Lancaster OBE, Sophie’s mother, speaks alongside him – giving moving descriptions of her daughter’s life and death.

There was also a listening event, where members of parliament and the community could come and listen to Black Roses – hosted by Kerry McCarthy MP in the House of Commons. Other significant figures involved included Yvette Cooper, the then Shadow Home Secretary, and iconic musician Adam Ant was also in attendance.

The ‘Black Roses’ format evolved here in Manchester from radio to theatre, where it played at the Royal Exchange Theatre studio, before touring community centres in the North West – determined to spread the message of tolerance and acceptance to deprived communities. It then played for a week at London’s South Bank Centre in March 2014.

‘Black Roses’ won the BBC Audio and Music Award for Best Speech Production of the Year, as radio play – and went onto become an equally award-winning televised film under the title ‘Black Roses: The Killing of Sophie Lancaster’. It starred local actor Julie Hesmondhalgh portraying Sylvia Lancaster,  and was awarded 'Best Single Drama of Year' and 'Female Performance of the year' in the Royal Television Society Awards 2015.

And ‘Black Roses’ is still growing – rather than being frozen in time, its adaptation to multiple mediums is proving that it is an ongoing piece of positive impact. One example, is in its initial use for Learning Zone, used to train professionals in equality and diversity training. The profound impact of the film version in particular has led many organisations to work on and emphasize their actions against Hate Crimes.

Right now, the Sophie Lancaster Foundation are taking ‘Black Roses’ into schools and colleges – in a unique piece of tolerance education which is having transformative results in the North West. In 2018 The Foundation received funding from the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government (MHCLG) which could be channelled into drama-based and classroom resources.

This includes work at the Darwen Aldridge Community Academy (DACA), where Key Stage 3 pupils have gained permission to use ‘Black Roses’ to develop their own drama, working with Clitheroe theatre company ‘Ribcaged’ to explore the impact of Sophie’s story through acting. ‘Ribcaged’ have workshopped significantly with the students, using the verbatim technique, to bring together people’s thoughts.

As the result of this, on the 11th July, the launch of the Black Roses Educational Resource took place at DACA – with more than 150 attendees, including a number of members from Lancashire Police, the Youth Justice Service and the Police and Crime Commissioner’s Office. DACA Principle Lisa Dolan welcomed guests with a speech, whilst Owen Philips – Director of Ribcaged Productions – also gave some words.

Philips explained how he had used ‘Black Roses – The Killing of Sophie Lancaster’, alongside ‘Porcelain – The Trial for The Killing of Sophie Lancaster’ which is a drama written by Ian Kershaw and contains transcripts from the actual trial.

This was followed by the highly powerful performance itself, a Q&A session and words of thanks and strength from Chief Inspector Ian Mills, Lead for Hate Crime in Lancashire Police. The evening was testament to the charity’s enduring work to increase Hate Crime awareness and continue the legacy of Sophie.

The influential impact extends across organisations too, with Leicester Police, which has worked closely with the Foundation, recently prompted into creating an educational film celebrating its ‘Alternative Staff’.

For a key concept behind the work of The Sophie Lancaster Foundation and their modification of ‘Black Roses’ over time, is the determination to raise resolutions to issues, not just questions.

Sylva Lancaster reflected:

“The Sophie Lancaster Foundation has worked nationally in both primary and secondary schools, colleges and with offenders in the community and prison to increase awareness of diversity and to eradicate intolerance. In terms of ‘Black Roses’, which has been used in Secondary Schools and colleges especially, we found that this had a profound impact… but leaving people with just the raw emotions of the film was concerning as there was so much more follow up needed by teaching staff to deal with the issues the film raises – and we want to raise solutions as well as the issues.”

Hence, the development of high-quality educational resources to accompany the film, so classes can work through some of themes and their thoughts. The Sophie Lancaster Foundation is also working for a 6th strand to be recognised in Hate Crime legislation – that crime against subcultures is a Hate Crime in its own right.

Photo credit: with thanks to Daley Wilson Photography for the Sylvia and wristband images, and thanks also to The Sophie Lancaster Foundation

Article by Emily Oldfield




Nobody has commented on this post yet, why not send us your thoughts and be the first?

Leave a Reply