L-R Ayr United Captain, Nicky Devlin, Sophie Harrison, Rhys Berry, Ann Moulds, Action Scotland Against Stalking
Some of Scotland's top football clubs and stars are being asked to show their support for a national campaign to raise awareness about the dangers of stalking. That's the message coming from South Ayrshire pupils who have been taking part in an ambitious pilot project in partnership with Action Scotland Against Stalking and Ayr United.
In the last three months, primary seven pupils from Annbank, Coylton, Dalmilling, and Newton Primaries have been taking part in the 'Pass the Ball' pilot project. The programme wrapped up on Monday 9th May when 130 girls and boys took part in an all-day, football tournament at the Citadel Leisure Centre in Ayr.
There are plans to roll out the programme across the country and to kick start the campaign, the pupils are looking for support from other professional clubs and have pledged to tweet top football stars at clubs including Celtic, Rangers, Hearts, Hibernian, and Kilmarnock. It's hoped the activity will start the ball rolling and encourage more organisations to actively support the Pass the Ball campaign.
Pass the Ball is designed to try and make children think about their actions from an early age to try and root out problem behaviour in later life. Pupils discussed the potential dangers of posting messages and pictures online. The sporting element of the programme put boys and girls in training sessions with professional footballers, where they were taught the value of team work and mutual respect.
Rhys Berry (11) and Sophie Harrison (11) from Coylton Primary School were the first two pupils to give their support for the campaign.
Rhys said he hoped other clubs would follow Ayr United's lead, "Ayr United is a big local club but it would be great to see other teams in other areas help to spread the message.
"I'll be helping to get in touch with football clubs around the country and hope to see others like Rangers, Celtic, and Kilmarnock retweet their support too."
Sophie said she hoped the campaign would soon find new supporters, "It's been a great project to be part of and working with other schools has been really interesting.
"Some football teams may be rivals but we're hoping that they can put all that to one side and support the pass the ball campaign."
Councillor Ann Galbraith, Chair of the South Ayrshire Multi Agency Partnership (MAP) to tackle violence against women and children, said, "Pass the Ball is an ambitious programme with a positive message, and this next stage is proof that armed with information, young people can help drive change.
"We've had a fantastic response from the pupils and it's great to see them volunteer to contact high profile players directly to ask them to lend their support to this valuable campaign.
"We look forward to working further with Action Scotland Against Stalking in future and hope to see more organisations backing the campaign in the months to come."
Stalking has been very much in the public spotlight in recent weeks. Research from the UK Criminal Justice Survey suggests that 1 in 6 men and women have experienced stalking in the last 12 months. Meanwhile pop star Lily Allen complained publicly about her treatment following a stalking case.
Ann Moulds founder and chair of the Scottish National Stalking Group said, "I'm immensely proud of the way the young people have responded to the Pass the Ball programme.
"The support of Ayr United has been central to the message being taken on board and we hope that other top players will respond to the message from these enthusiastic young people and start spreading the word.
"We're now looking for find new supporters to extend our work across the country as we continue to make the case that stalking should be viewed as completely unacceptable in 2016 and I hope our professional football clubs respond to that call."
Roddy Macdonald, Community Team Leader, Ayr United Football Academy, said he was looking forward to seeing the Pass the Ball go from strength-to-strength, "This project has been a great example of partnership working and our focus has always been on the kids and their personal safety.