A Blackpool schoolgirl today told how she survived years of torment at the hands of bullies who targeted her, even smashing the windows of her home, because her dad was disabled.
Tonisha Drew, 14, who now helps other victims of bullying at her school Highfield Humanities College, was among 300 pupils aged from 7-18 at a special Anti-Bullying Ambassadors event held at the Winter Gardens in Blackpool.
And she told how the horrific abuse started when she was just eight years old.
The bullying began at Hawes Side Academy because of he role helping to care for her dad David, who has physical and mental disabilities.
“They saw me as an outsider because of it,” said Tonisha, who lives in South Shore.
“At one point a group of girls smashed the windows of our house and said it was my dad’s fault and then we had toilet rolls thrown over the fence at Halloween. It was really frightening at the time.
“My dad would panic, and I would then get stressed because he was stressed so I would keep things to myself.
“It also happened through Facebook and Twitter and even some of my friends began to turn against me because they heard what the bullies were saying.
“It made me feel very isolated and I could not escape it. I was not sleeping or eating properly and I ended up having a breakdown because I could not cope.”
Tonisha was supported through her ordeal by one of the teachers at her school, who acted as a peer mentor, and the problem eased towards the end of her time at Hawes Side.
So when she heard about the anti-bullying ambassador scheme in her penultimate year or primary school she jumped at the chance to help others and completed two sets of training.
Tonisha has continued in the role at her high school where she is one of 12 pupils who are ambassadors or training to be ambassadors.
“I know how difficult it is for people to speak out if they are being bullied so I wanted to help,” she added.
“I see pupils, who although they do not say ‘I’m being bullied’ I can tell they are by the way they are acting.
“I don’t say to them ‘are you being bullied’? but I ask them if they need any help and I have a one-to-one chat with them.
“It can really make a difference and that’s a nice feeling. Helping them also made me feel a lot better about my own bullying situation.
“I think we are on top of the problem at Highfield. We’ve done assemblies about bullying and there’s an understanding between the ambassadors and pupils.”
It was organised by the Diana Award charity to look at how youngsters can be empowered to beat the bullies, including by training young people like Tonisha as ambassadors.
During the event, two Blackpool schools, Park Community Academy and St Bernadette’s Catholic Primary School, reached the final of a Dragons Den style competition to come up with innovative solutions to tackling bullying. Although judges chose a scheme by pupils at Deepdale Primary School in Preston as the winner they were so impressed they awarded all three schools £200 each to develop their ideas.
Three youngsters from Park Community Academy told ‘Dragons’ including Brtiain’s Got Talent finalist Charlie from pop/rap duo Bars and Melody and Neil Jack, Blackpool Council’s chief executive, about their Worry Box.
Pupils with worries about issues including bullying write their name onto a slip of paper and post it into the box. They then receive help from peer mentors.
The school plans to use its £200 to help other schools roll out the Worry Box scheme.
St Bernadette’s pupils told the judges about their Friendship Bench. If someone is feeling isolated they sit on the bench and their classmates will then make a special effort to talk to them and involve them in games.
Anti-bullying ambassadors and teachers will speak to them if appropriate.
During the event, run in partnership with Facebook and Blackpool Council, pupils also took part in a Q&A session about bullying with panellists including another two Britain’s Got Talent finalists, Lucy Kay, and Leondre, who is the other half of Bars and Melody.
There were also drama and music workshops run by Eastenders and Waterloo Road stars James Forde and Max Bowden and Irish band FreshRe, with youngsters putting on mini-shows in the afternoon.
Tessy Ojo, chief executive of the Diana Award, said: “We know how important it is to empower and give confidence to young people through tools and training, helping them to tackle bullying in their school.
“The Anti-Bullying Ambassador Programme is designed to do just that.”
Kincraig Primary School, Waterloo Primary Academy and Revoe Learning Academy were among the eight other local schools attending the event.