A Brief History of Peacemakers
Sidney White, prime mover and inspirer of the West Midlands Quaker Peace Education Project’s (WMQPEP) work, had a basic premise that since time immemorial we had taught war, now was the time to teach peace, to adults, to children, to ourselves. Sidney believed in looking to the future; for years he campaigned with the assiduity of John Woolman to persuade Friends individually and collectively that the time was ripe to set up an organisation, which could actually deliver education for peace within the school curriculum.
The project began, in rooms made available by Woodbrooke College, in 1987. It was established as a joint project of Warwickshire and Staffordshire Monthly Meetings
The project appoints Hilary Stacey as co-ordinator. During the next three years considerable growth takes place. The project worked in a number of schools in the area and the region. Hilary visited Dresden to explore links with Coventry on the development of an A level German pack.
The peer mediation work now so central to the Project began at this time. In 1990 only Kingston Friends Workshop Group (KFWG) was doing this type of work in the UK, based on ideas brought back from Quaker projects in the USA. Hilary visited KFWG, was fired up by what she saw, and brought it back to Dudley. By January – March 1994 work at Jessons Primary School had developed into a peer mediation scheme involving the training of children in three classes of 8-9 year olds in peace-making and mediation.
A major review of the project is undertaken by Warwickshire and Staffordshire Monthly Meetings in 1993, as a result of which the present structure was created, converting the project into one which, although more narrowly focused, had greater scope for expansion.
Linda Pegler succeeded Hilary as project manager on the first of January 1994, having previously served on the Steering Group. The growing demands of administering the Project meant that she became, inevitably, a mainly office-based manager.
The funding provided by Friends and Trusts only covered the core costs of providing an office base and administering the project. Schools therefore needed to be charged for the courses provided in order to pay the workers. It was felt that, in any case, this was right in principle; the project needed to position itself as a high quality and fully professional provider, rather than a charity willing to do something for nothing in order to get a foot in the door. The trouble was that schools had heavily competing demands on their budgets as well as their time, and the system was developed, and remains, whereby the project developed its own bursary fund, in effect charging schools for the work but also helping them find these costs.
Working with adults
As well as direct work with young people, the project was making a considerable contribution to the training of teachers in schools.
Additionally, there was input into training workshops for BA Humanities students, Secondary Heads and Educational Welfare Officers.
In 1995, for example, the annual report lists such events as covering peace activities for primary school children, peer mediation schemes in primary schools, anti-bullying strategies, anger management and negotiation skills and how to organise a teacher training day.
Long standing relationships with schools
Work continued to concentrate on 10 week courses in a variety of schools – some with a long standing relationship to the project, some new – together with some one-off events. In 2004, for example, the Project worked in nine schools where it had worked previously and four new; in 2005 work was done in 16 school.
Alice Meager, Project Director from 2001 – 2009 comments: “QPEP has enormous potential which it has been slow to realise, but if one child in one classroom is able to use his skills in a difficult conflict situation with success, at any time in his life, the Project will be a huge success. Those of us who have been involved, in whatever capacity, do not need to know about individual successes of this kind. We already know the skills are there in the experience of the large numbers of young people and professionals with whom we have worked.”
Goodbyes and Hello
Since 2000, many new workers joined the project but many Friends and others continued a very long standing commitment to the Project, including Win Sutton as Librarian and Carol Marsh as Secretary/Administrator. When Carol finally left the Project in 2006, after 16 years’ service, a link with the early days was lost. Another major turning point followed only two years later, when Alice Meager retired, and the Project moved to Edgbaston with its new Project Manager, Sara Hagel.
A new strategic plan
A strategic plan for 2011 – 2014 with the following aims:
- More primary schools in the West Midlands implement peaceful, inclusive and restorative approaches to conflict resolution at different levels throughout their schools
- More children will be equipped with the skills to manage conflict at different levels
- More adults in schools know about and use inclusive and restorative approaches to conflict resolution and have peacemaker skills
- There is increased awareness of the benefits of restorative approaches to conflict resolution in schools in the West Midlands (within schools themselves, local authorities and other relevant organisations.
Ellis Brooks was appointed in April 2010 as the project’s first permanently employed Peace Education Trainer. Part-time freelance trainers continued to work for the project, and the total number of schools in which the project worked continued to grow. A second permanent worker, Anna Gregory, was appointed in 2011.
The Peace Hub
The project moves from the Edgbaston Meeting House to join a new Quaker initiative ‘The Peace Hub’ on Bull Street, central Birmingham.
Learning for Peace
The resource ‘Learning for Peace’ was developed which saw core activities and pedagogy combined in to a book and an online resource. This resources allows the work to be shared outside of the West Midlands.
The project celebrates its 30th year with a Children’s Peace Summit to which 80 children from across Birmingham came together to take part in workshops exploring inner peace, peace in school, peace on the streets and peace in the world.
The summit was held on International Peace Day and to make the most of the day, a birthday party was thrown to celebrate 30 years of peacemaking in schools in the West Midlands. Friends, project workers, trainers and school colleagues old and new to the project attended.
2017 – New ways of working
Development of new ways of working, such as:
Junior Peacemakers – one-day courses bringing together children from across the region to engage with a variety of topics linked to peace making
Anawim – courses for vulnerable women in collaboration with Anawim, a centre for women in Birmingham
Restorative Whole School Approach – a whole school approach to peace making
Minus violence plus peace and Positive Peace Groups – work initially funded by the Home Office to reduce knife crime with young people at risk of exclusion. One to one and small group work with secondary aged young people.
Effects of COVID-19 pandemic felt
COVID-19 caused national school shutdown, curtailing much of the work. Staff furloughed. Return to working in schools developed new ways of working including:
- Peace Explorers – outdoor learning about peace;
- RESTORE – a resource of activities to support groups of children and young people experiencing times of uncertainty. The activities are organised around the acronym Recognition, Empathy, Safety, Trauma, Opportunities and Engagement.; and
- Up You Go – a course to support the transition from primary to secondary school.
Returning to working with schools – a new beginning
Return to work in schools, with a review of the strategy. Main focus of Peacemakers on increasing the number of schools accessing new Peer Mediation Plus and whole school initiative – Building Peaceful School Communities, growing our work with young people through Positive Peace work, improving marketing, fundraising, and communication.
For a fuller history, please click here to download a printable pdf document.