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A shocking lesson in safety awareness


Frances Burscough

Frances Burscough

Frances Burscough

At the time of writing this, my son Finn is taking part in a top-secret mission involving the Government, the police, local authorities and assorted politicians. Seriously.

I only know about it because I happen to be his mum, but I’ve been sworn to secrecy...

However, by the time you read this, the mission should have already been accomplished — fingers crossed — so I can tell you all about it. The fact is, Finn, who’s a student actor at the Lyric Drama Studio, has been undercover, working on a covert operation to shock the living daylights out of hundreds of people en masse and to spell out the repercussions of dangerous driving. 

‘Operation CARnage’ as it is called, is the brainchild of the innovative Big Telly Theatre Company, based in Portstewart. They devised a unique and groundbreaking road safety campaign that they hope will have a dramatic and long-lasting effect on those who see it. But it’s not on the telly, the radio or in any other tried-and-tested formula. It’s being acted out right in front of those most susceptible to dangerous driving — teenagers — in schools across Northern Ireland in the course of a single day. Here’s the back-story and where my Finn comes in.  

Sam Campbell is a 17-year-old sixth former who arrives at a new school after having been expelled from his own school for an internet prank that went wrong. The night before, his mum allowed him to borrow her car to take his girlfriend to the cinema. On his way home, he got distracted by a text message and reached to get his phone out of his pocket. As he looked away for a few seconds to read the message he felt a sudden bump followed by the sense of something flying over the bonnet. He stopped the car and got out to look, but he couldn’t see anything because it was a country lane and very dark. So he got back in and drove on.

It was only when he got home that he noticed a distinct dent and scratches to the front bumper. He decided not to say anything to either his mum or dad and went straight up to bed, to prepare himself mentally for his new school in the morning...

Yesterday, on Friday, February 26, Finn became Sam for a day, took on his character and arrived in time for assembly at his new school. He looked the part, dressed in the school uniform and introduced himself to his classmates before going into the assembly hall for morning register. While he’s there, standing alongside the whole of the school, two uniformed officers from the PSNI walk in and interrupt the proceedings.

They announce that they are there in connection with a local hit-and-run road traffic accident from the previous evening. And then they ask Sam Campbell to step forward. Just as he is approaching the stage, an actress, playing the part of the victim’s mother, bursts in too and begins to shout at him hysterically. The drama unfolds, watched by the entire school, before their very eyes. Only at the end of the session, when Sam has been escorted out, do the PSNI address the group directly and spell out to them the dreadful and very real repercussions of dangerous driving.

Now, in order for this to work, the campaign has to be carried out in a single day because in this age of social media, word spreads fast among teenagers. For it to have the element of surprise, it has to happen simultaneously across the region. So there are six teams working in unison in a single morning across the entire North West. Altogether 18 schools will be visited, while 12 professional actors and 12 PSNI officers will take part. And at each school, the only person who is aware of it in advance are the principals. Even the teachers haven’t been briefed. Hence all the secrecy.

I don’t know about you, but I think it is a truly brilliant idea and, if it all goes according to plan, then the message will be spelled out loud and clear in the most dramatic and memorable way. Let’s hope it works and that a generation of kids in Northern Ireland will have learnt a terrifying but valuable lesson.

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