Posted 03/03/2022

Virtual reality anti-knife crime workshops delivered at Essex schools

Last month, Swan’s Customer Involvement and Community Development (CICD) team continued to roll out a ‘Virtually There’ anti-knife crime programme, hosting sessions for more than 30 young people in Essex schools, Lower Academy in Barstable and Upper Academy in Chalvedon, Basildon, in collaboration with Southend Achieve, Thrive, Flourish (ATF).

‘Virtually There’ is a virtual reality (VR) video that re-enacts a stabbing that happened in Lewisham in 2017. The film has been created by an East-London-based filmmaker and Director of Solaris 2 Media, Leon Oldstrong, whose brother was the victim of the stabbing. Leon has created the film to raise awareness of the dangers of knife crime and to help discourage young people from gang culture and knife crime offences.

The programme was delivered to 15 young people aged 13 to 16 years old from Lower Academy in Barstable and 17 young people aged 15 to 16 years old from Upper Academy in Chalvedon. The Senior Leadership Team at Upper Academy in Chalvedon and six Southend Achieve Thrive and Flourish (ATF) coaches also attended the sessions. The participants were shown the 25-minute virtual reality film, followed by a one-hour Q&A session lead by Leon. One of the sessions was such a success that many students sacrificed their break time to stay and ask more questions.

A 13-year-old pupil of Lower Academy, Alex, commented: “The film was surreal, but very real. I am trying my hardest to not go down this route and stay true to myself. This has opened my eyes and I now know where I can look to for help when needed.”

Stuart Martin, Coach at Southend ATF and ex-prison officer, commented: “I would like to say that all of us at ATF were extremely moved by the film and the impact it made. We also felt that Leon's presence and question and answer session afterwards offered additional value to the session. So much so that we see it as a natural fit with our nine-week behavioural course where we discuss gang culture, county lines, prison etc. We believe the more people that experience this, the better and we would like to begin offering this to select audiences in partnership with Swan Housing Association.”

Sophie Peake, Deputy Safeguarding Lead for Upper Academy, commented: “The event was brilliant, and we felt that students were very engaged. The group of students that took part in the session all seemed extremely invested in what they were watching and discussing, and I feel that was based on the fantastic delivery of the session. Those delivering the sessions seem to have a great connection with students and the delivery was relatable and impactful. The different perspectives that the VR allows you to experience really was something that students related to and reflected on. I also feel something similar aimed at parents and carers would be useful and encourage them to have an active role in supporting their child in today's society.”

If you’d like to find out more about ‘Virtually There’ or Swan’s Customer Involvement and Community Development team’s wider ‘Tackling Life By Knife’ project, please contact the team on