NEWS: The Forgivness Project Bristol pilot

In October 2008 Sandra Barefoot from Visible Thinking and Marina Cantacuzino from The Forgiveness Project began to creatively explore the concept of forgiveness with young people with the aim of developing resources for teachers.  A decision was made to use film, music and drama as creative approaches to explore the concept of forgiveness with young people in Bristol.


The identification of schools to approach for this pilot was gained from Visible Thinking’s past relationships with teachers in and around Bristol.

1. The DICE Groups – Diversity and Inclusion Challenges Education

This was a group of refugees and asylum seekers attached to the City Academy School but who were unable to access a full time curriculum as their English language levels were of level 1 and 2 only. The students were aged 12-16, coming from: Somalia, Iran, Afghanistan, and Poland.


The team worked with this group over a period of 3 weeks, half a day each week in June 2009. The group consisted of 12 students, 4 adult volunteers, 3 translators (in Polish, Farsi, and Somali), a teacher and two mothers of the students attending. This was a very different group to a school class and the sessions needed sensitively planning.  No filming was used in the first session, feeling it may be too intrusive and exposing at this initial point. On the first session Mary Foley was invited to come to Bristol to tell her story to the group and this was a very powerful experience for all attending. The story was meticulously translated into 4 languages, which extended the telling to a considerable length. Sandra Barefoot reported: “Yet we were all held in a space of utmost respect and emotion as a community of people sharing an experience together. It was very evident to see the outward emotion of the girls/women and the inward holding of the boys who rarely spoke through most of the session.”

Following session of Music and Story

Music was key to exploring forgiveness with this group as it allowed the students and adults to express inner emotions and feelings without having to put these feelings into words. It was not reliant on verbal expression, which became liberating for the boys and revealed incredible release of emotions. The aim of the session was to explore instruments that connected to them and choose one to play a single, and group composition which related to the emotions of Mary’s story. A wide variety of instruments were used extending from India, Africa, South America, Ireland, and Britain. Many boys reached for the violins; one boy closed his eyes whilst he played for 20 minutes very sensitively along the strings with the bow. Another boy, the youngest, played a very moving piece on the harmonica. He described this as ‘sadness’.


Following role-plays and short forums, students went into groups with translators to look at their stories.  A student from Iran spoke at length of how one must always forgive and support others in realising when they need to forgive others. ‘We have to understand that not everyone in that community is bad or racist. Everyone is different, and yet the same, and all humans need to respect each other.’
It was the sharing of these stories that brought to the fore the reality of their lives in a country where they are so often silenced.
Pictures by pupils in the TFP DICE group

2. John Cabot Academy

In July 2009 the whole team went into residency for two days with Peter Woolf coming to speak on the first morning and staying for half a day to observe and input into morning reflections.  Discussions ensued and questions of drug taking, blame, responsibilities, regret, and forgiveness were raised:

Sessions as seen on plans explored different issues of conflict resolution and forgiveness by drama activities, discussions, mapping, and showing the short film ‘The Room’  (link) (made by prisoners at HMP High Down) to extract further thoughts. It was clear that active sharing of thoughts was key and a good pace of delivery essential.

Both days saw very high levels of focus, engagement, collaboration, creativity and inspiration from students. Teachers openly commented on how they had not seen this before and felt completely inspired by what they had witnessed.

Many teachers, having been witness to Peter Woolf’s talk, came to other sessions as rumours of the impact of the work on the students spread. Students commented on how they felt ‘privileged to be part of this day’, ‘would never forget it’, and ‘all young people should do this’.

Much of the workshop was filmed and teachers were interviewed afterwards as part of a short DVD structured around these interviews as a resource to gain future funding for TFP’s school’s programme.

For teachers wishing to see a copy of the DVD please contact

What teachers and pupils at John Cabot Academy said:

Teacher’s response

“It’s the most engaged they’ve ever been with any speaker …… the Head teacher couldn’t believe that the whole of year 9 had been completely quiet and completely focused for an entire hour listening to Peter Woolf’s story .”

Pupil’s response:

“I found Peter’s story really touching and its quite impressive how he’s totally changed his life and … although everyone knows he’s a criminal, everyone can find a way to forgive him for what he’s done.”

Teacher’s response:

“The residency has allowed students to think about things they don’t normally think about. I think it’s because reflection is a really useful part of learning and as an RE teacher, reflecting and learning from your experience is something that we always use.”

Teacher’s response:

“I was really blown away by the engagement of the students, by their responses, by their willingness to be open and respectful of each other….  The teachers… the students…  everybody was saying how great the workshops were, how excited the students were.  They just loved it. It was a chance for them to explore themselves in a way they wouldn’t normally be able to do.”

Pupil’s response:

“I’ve really enjoyed today and the message I’ll probably take back is that anything is possible.”

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