The Daniel Spargo-Mabbs Foundation: saving young lives in our son’s name

By - Friday 1st December, 2017

On Tuesday 28th November, Croydon-based charity the Daniel Spargo-Mabbs Foundation marked an extraordinary year of achievement

Photo by Liz Sheppard-Jones, used with permission.

In January 2014, our sixteen-year-old son Dan went to a party and didn’t come home. He’d made what turned out to be a fatal decision to take the drug ecstasy with a group of friends. He died two days later from multiple organ failure.

Dan was funny, kind, clever, quirky and a popular student at Archbishop Tenison’s CE High School in Croydon. He was the very last person on anyone’s radar to come to harm from drugs, but he did. My husband Tim and I felt that if this could happen to someone like Dan, it could happen to anyone, and we were determined to do all we could to prevent that.

So we started a drug and alcohol education charity in Dan’s name from our home in Croydon, the Daniel Spargo-Mabbs Foundation, to try to ensure other young people are equipped with information and understanding of the risks and effects of drugs, and empowered to make safe choices. Drugs are an everyday part of young people’s social environment now. Their misuse has become normalised across all social demographics, and in all communities. On top of this, many schools struggle to provide good drugs education, for very understandable reasons. What this means is that young people face decisions about drugs on an increasingly regular basis as they move through their teenage years, without the information and life skills they need to understand the risks and consequences and to navigate these choices safely.

Dan’s story is at the heart of everything we do

Fiona Spargo-Mabbs at the foundation’s recent event.
Photo by Liz Sheppard-Jones, used with permission.

We work with young people, families, teachers and professionals in schools, colleges and community groups. This work has grown and grown from our base in Croydon, spreading across South West London and increasingly further afield, mainly through word of mouth and recommendation. In just our third year of operating fully, we now have over 130 schools, colleges and community groups on our books, and that number increases weekly. We have developed an evidence-based drug and alcohol education programme for young people, parents and teachers, called Making Safer Choices, based on practice that has been shown to be most effective.

This consists of interactive workshops for students, and resources for drug and alcohol education to be delivered in schools as part of Personal, Social and Health Education (PSHE). Training is offered to teachers, and drug and alcohol awareness workshops to parents and carers. All our material has Daniel’s story at its heart, told by me as his mum wherever I possibly can, which gives it a relevance and reality with which students can identify.

“Thank you for lending us Daniel’s memory”

The DSM Foundation also commissioned a verbatim play by award-winning playwright Mark Wheeller, I Love You Mum – I Promise I Won’t Die, using the words of Dan’s family and friends, in order to communicate these important issues creatively through a different medium. Mark Wheeller has a well-established reputation as a playwright, and his plays are on three of the current GCSE drama syllabuses. The text was published by Bloomsbury in February 2017, and is being studied and performed by young people across the UK. A specially adapted version of the play was toured professionally into schools and colleges between January and March 2017 by StopWatch Theatre Company with huge impact, and will be again from January 2018. The highlight of our last academic year was an incredible evening with a VIP audience at Southwark Cathedral which combined the publishing of the play with the premiere of this production.

Left to right: Oliver Unasing, playwright Mark Wheeller, Alex Shortland and Frances Ruddy.
Photo by the DSM Foundation, used with permission.

On Tuesday evening, 28th November, I hosted an evening to mark our foundation’s achievements during the last year. I also had the pleasure of launching the Friends of the Daniel Spargo-Mabbs Foundation, a new initiative through which supporters will be able to receive information, support our campaigning and also make financial contributions where possible. Fund-raising is vital as we seek to expand our work beyond Croydon and south London, where we started, and become active across the wider region and then nationally.

I would like to thank our speakers: Dr Suja Chacko, chair of trustees, Commander Simon Bray, drugs lead on the National Police Chiefs Council, David Butler, Croydon Council’s Director of Education and Youth Engagement, Lucy Clewley, Head of Year 9 at Radnor House School in Twickenham, Ray Oudkerk, Vice Principal of the BRIT School, Harvey Ludlow, the foundation’s lead youth ambassador, Joe Brown, one of our wonderful ambassadors, Ian Smith, the foundation’s vice chair and playwright Mark Wheeller. In particular, I would like to thank Oliver Unasing, Frances Ruddy and Alex Shortland, three year 11 pupils from Archbishop Tenison’s, for their much-appreciated practical help on the night and their thoughtful spoken contributions.

We have already achieved more than we could have possibly imagined

We have already achieved more than we could have possibly imagined when we started, and yet our work has only just begun. In our first three years, we estimate that we have touched and helped protect the lives of more than 36,000 young people, mostly in south London. We are strengthened by statements such as that of Alice Mitchell, a drama teacher in one of the schools where our materials have been used in drugs education: “Thank you for the words. Thank you for lending us Daniel’s memory. It will live on in our students forever”.

Fiona Spargo-Mabbs

Fiona Spargo-Mabbs

Fiona is director, operations manager and co-founder of the Daniel Spargo-Mabbs Foundation, and Dan’s mum. She has lived and worked in Croydon since marrying Tim in 1991, and her two boys have grown up in the borough. She brings to this role a wide range and depth of experience from many years of working in education at operational and strategic management levels, as an English teacher in adult education, and as a manager having worked within a broader educational context at local authority, regional and national levels. Until taking on this full-time role within the foundation in July 2016 she had been working for Croydon Council for fifteen years, latterly managing English, Maths and Family Learning for Croydon Adult Learning and Training. Until Dan’s death she was the chair of a national network of Family Learning managers across the UK. She has led on the development and management of the work of the foundation from the start, from delivery to students, development of programmes and resources, and coordination with schools, to networking and strategy. Her passionate commitment to doing all that she can to prevent what happened to her son happening to anyone else drives everything that she does.

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