BPP University Law School student helps to deliver important sexual consent workshops and the legal concerns to young people

A BPP University Law School student has hailed the importance of pro bono work – particularly a project she has volunteered for which teaches 11-18-year-olds about sexual consent and the law.

Sarah Fairbairn, 26, is currently juggling her Bar Professional Training Course (BPTC) studies at BPP University Law School in Leeds, alongside three pro bono projects – one of which is called the Schools Consent Project (SCP).

SCP is a UK, voluntary project run by lawyers and trains lawyers-to-be in delivering workshops at secondary schools about topics such as the nature of sexual consent – how to seek, identify, withhold and withdraw it – sexual offences including ‘sexting’, and the legal thresholds associated with them, how to respond if someone tells you they are a victim of sexual abuse, and what options are available for victims of sexual abuse.

“The workshops are interactive, with the aim of getting young people talking openly about sexual consent,” said Sarah, who lives in Kirkstall, Leeds.

“We aim to educate the students about the law, empower them by informing them of their rights and challenge the misconceptions that society frequently expresses [or ‘that elements in society frequently express’] such as the idea that ‘if you are drunk, it is your fault’.

“Seeing teenagers really engage in the workshops and changing their attitude about sexual consent was very rewarding.”

BPP University Law School’s Pro Bono Centre has this year alone sent 25 of its students to SCP to be trained in how to deliver the workshops to young people.

SCP’s training workshops build on the volunteer lawyers’ legal knowledge, adding an understanding of safeguarding and child protection. SCP believes that, although consent is a serious topic, consent workshops do not have to be dull. They are engaging, varied, and each workshop is adapted to the needs, ages and abilities of students. SCP has students engage with scenarios – it gets them considering consent thoughtfully but without an excessively personal focus.

Emma Blackstone, Pro Bono Manager for BPP University Law School in Leeds, said: “BPP University Law School Pro Bono Centre is delighted to be able to support the work of SCP. This is the first year that we have worked with the Project in Leeds and we had a great deal of interest from our students.

“The issue of consent is so important but, for some, it is not an easy subject to discuss. Explaining and talking about difficult issues is a key part of what makes a good lawyer and the SCP gives our students the opportunity to develop this skill while supporting a vital education service for young people in our local community.”

Rebecca Wright, a criminal barrister and SCP trustee who trained the BPP University Law School students, highlighted the critical role that law students can play in educating young people about sexual offences and consent.

“It is crucial that young people are educated about these complex and highly sensitive topics,” Rebecca explained.

“Approaching the subject from a legal perspective can help to reduce some of the embarrassment and also underlines how serious these issues are. Sarah and other BPP University Law School student volunteers are informed, engaging teachers. Feedback from the schools has been excellent.”

Sarah also volunteers for BPP University Law School’s Criminal Appeals Project (CAP) as a Student Director, and the Mock Trials Project which offers secondary school pupils a rare insight into how trials work and gives them the chance to roleplay as a mock juror.

“I’ve performed the role of Defence Counsel twice in an attempted murder mock trial where we called five witnesses and did open and closing speeches, before returning a verdict,” Sarah added.

She now plans to use her pro bono experiences to help with her career goal of becoming a criminal barrister.

“Whatever area of law you want to go into, there is a pro bono project which will help to develop the key skills required and at the same time you can make a real difference to someone’s life. Pro bono is a win-win experience in this regard,” she said.

“All the pro bono options at BPP University Law School result in members of the public getting something positive out of it as well as creating unique opportunities for students who participate in the projects to gain invaluable experience and develop vital skills.

“I have been able to greatly improve my pupillage applications due to the pro bono work I have done this year. For example, whilst delivering SCP workshops I have improved my public speaking ability and demonstrated that I can explain complex law in simple, accessible language to teenagers.”

West Sussex-born Sarah added: “The biggest obstacle with volunteering for any pro bono project is time. The BPTC is a very intensive course and being able to fit in pro bono around my studies requires commitment and some sacrifices to my social life. The highlights have made it worthwhile though.”

For more information about SCP, see the organisation’s video HERE

If you are part of a school or youth group that would like to arrange a SCP workshop, contact Elisha Marsay, the SCP Leeds manager, at: leeds@theschoolsconsentproject.com.

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