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Big Brother Burngreave Mentoring scheme supports boys and young men in North Sheffield

"I thought, what would happen if I could get my son a big brother, somebody that would watch out for him?" says founder Safiya Saeed.

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Still from a documentary about Big Brother Burngreave by Ibrahim Ahmed & Darshan Gajjar.

Big Brother Burngreave is a mentoring scheme "led by the youth, for the youth".

Originally set up on the back of founder Safiya Saeed's concern for the wellbeing of her teenage son, who was 11 at the time, the project uses a buddy system to match up 17 and 18 year olds with 11 to 16 year old for peer support and mentoring during the formative years of their lives.

"I'm a single mum. I didn't have mentors for [my son]. I couldn't send him to the chip shop. I was scared he might get lured into drugs, or threatened," Saeed says.

"I thought, what would happen if I could get my son a big brother, somebody that would watch out for him?"

The buddy system used by Big Brother Burngreave was inspired by a similar scheme in the US, which paired young people up as they came out of rehab. "I came up with the name 'Big Brother', and it worked with 'Burngreave'. So Big Brother Burngreave - BBB."

Starting out with three young youth who Safiya met through a Yorkshire Sports programme called Active Burngreave, BBB has now engaged over 100 young people, using sports as a tool to bring them together, but also covers everything from breaking down mental health stigma to knife crime awareness, training and skills development. For girls and young women, Saeed also runs Sisterhood Projects under the umbrella Reach Up Youth.

Most participants come into the BBB scheme after joining college, which Saeed says can be a worrying time for parents who are concerned about their sons getting pulled into local gangs and postcode wars.

But once they're given responsibility, the leadership and initiative shown by participants is inspirational. "When it comes to a Saturday, the young men look collectively strong, they know exactly what our aims and objectives are, and they just lead the workshops."

The bonds that come out of the scheme are powerful and the effects in communities are long lasting.

Saeed has recently been encouraging the under 16s to write personal responses to the Black Lives Matter movement, which have brought out experiences of racism, difficulties getting a job, and the stereotyping of young black and Asian men in Sheffield.

"They cannot process racism. They don't know where the attack is coming from, because they were born here."

Ultimately, the success of BBB comes down to trust, responsibility and understanding.

"They say, 'We want to be seen - but we don't want to be seen as troublemakers.'"

Three Short Pieces by Big Brother Burngreave Participants

"I struggled going to school as a young black boy. Monkey, Gorilla and Worthless were words thrown at me all the time as the kids downgraded me into thinking I was a nobody. I began to act differently at home and my mother would worry about my mental health each day that I attended my school. They said I was a disease because I was black but I wasn't the type to cry over a little teasing. Yet I started to believe the lies forced into my ears and it still affects me to this day."
Anonymous, 14 years old

"I feel that on a whole our voices as young people are cast aside and ignored by adults with governmental status who have the power as an individual, that we don't, to make huge changes. They are very presumptuous, assuming we are childish and immature kids who can't take on even a small responsibility. We are being shut down and silenced, not having the chance to share ideas of what we think could 'potentially' have the best impact on our own areas. However, we are being outspoken by people who most probably are of a different race/background who do not have the correct knowledge of the community they are trying to change. We need [to] improve and better the area, but most importantly learn how to better ourselves as individuals. We have ideas - we just need a voice to cast them to everyone, to try [to] make a real change that will impact our lives significantly."
Anonymous, 15 years old

"All of these problems still continuously happen through the world. You may not see these problems happen because a lot of people choose to hide the fact that it's true. Everyone should be treated equally no matter what age, race or gender they are. People should be able to say what they want and feel free."
Anonymous, 15 years old

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