On the 21st April 2015 young people from the Gurnos in Merthyr dressed up as zebras to highlight stories of how they felt unsafe and to propose practical changes that would improve their lives, including a new zebra crossing. The Gurnos Zebras Action was organised by young people from Bishop Hedley school and Forsythia Youth Project, and was attended by powerful decision-makers, including the Police Commissioner, Chief Inspector, Parliamentary Candidate and a representative of the local Assembly Member.
The young people are participating in a research project and youth leadership programme run by Citizens Cymru Wales and Cardiff University, aimed at helping them listen to their communities, find important issues, and then to turn them into local campaigns. After months of listening and planning, the young people called on the visiting dignitaries to support their request for:
1. Adequate lighting on the path beside Prince Charles hospital; 2. A zebra crossing on the Heads of the Valleys road, opposite the hospital; 3. The closure of a dangerous subway under the same road.
These issues emerged from dozens of face-to-face conversations with other young people, interviews by Cardiff University staff, digital mapping of safety concerns, and a neighbourhood walk to pinpoint local problems. All of the participants had personal stories to tell about how they had felt unsafe in the area, and how their three-point plan would make them feel safer. They took Rt Hon Alun Michael (the Police & Crime Commissioner), Chief Inspector David Peart (South Wales Police), Gerald Jones (Labour candidate for Merthyr Tydfil), Chris Binding (Office of Huw Lewis AM) and local police on a tour of the area, and showed them the problems that caused feelings of being unsafe. These included a dangerous subway which was littered with broken glass, needles and other drug paraphernalia, a poorly-lit path used by young people, and the need for a pedestrian crossing across a busy road.
Patrycja Stulczewska, 12, of Forsythia Youth Project and a leader on the campaign, said:
“I am really happy about tonight’s Gurnos Zebras Action. I am proud of myself and of the local community for speaking out to these important people. And it seemed like they really listened and want to help.”
Caitlin Matthews, 12, of Forsythia Youth Project and a leader on the campaign, said:
“This is the first time I have spoken up in public. I took this step because we are trying to improve safety on a path that my friends and I use every day. Young people should always feel safe in their local community, particularly on the route to school or our local youth club. I hope that we see the lighting on these paths improved soon.”
Rt Hon Alun Michael, South Wales Police Commissioner, said:
“At a time when we hear so many negative things about young people, it is good to see young people from Forsythia Youth Project and Bishop Hedley School taking responsibility for identifying problems and coming up with solutions. They are an inspiration. We listened carefully to what they had to say, and will support the next steps of their campaign.”
Having secured the support of their visitors for the campaign, the Gurnos Zebras have now secured a meeting with the Leader of Merthyr Tydfil Borough Council, Cllr Brendan Toomey, who has the power to bring about the changes the young people are looking for.
Patrycja Stulczewska said:
“I can’t wait until we meet the Leader of the Council, Brendan Toomey, who has agreed to meet us soon, because he has the power to help us. We won’t give up until we have made a change.”