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Animation premieres to tackle child exploitation

Mr Shapeshifter

An innovative animation, specifically designed to safeguard children in West Yorkshire from exploitation and abuse, is due to premiere at the National Science and Media Museum in Bradford.

Funded by the West Yorkshire Police and Crime Commissioner (PCC) Mark Burns-Williamson through £36,000 of grant money, it sees its first official screening on Monday 21 January 2019.

Called ‘Mister Shapeshifter’, it uses a modern ‘fairy tale’ to depict how some adults’ can abuse children’s trust and highlights ways in which they can protect themselves. Click here to view the animation(external link). (USE PASSWORD: MSS2019)

It is based on the acclaimed GW Theatre Company(external link) stage production written by Mike Harris, which has been touring into schools since 2015. Its huge success has led to the development of the animation, produced in collaboration with BAFTA award winning and Marsden based Fettle Animation(external link).

The resource is intended to reach as wide an audience as possible and will be available online for anyone to use, supported by a free to access package of training material and activities found at www.mrshapeshifter.com(external link)

It is designed to help teachers, parents, community groups and organisations alike to discuss these complex issues and deliver a consistent message to children of primary school age across the county.

West Yorkshire Police and Crime Commissioner (PCC), Mark Burns-Williamson said:

“Online safety and child exploitation are themes which I have been personally committed to addressing and remain key priorities of my Police and Crime Plan(external link).

“Having previously provided financial support to the Mister Shapeshifter theatre performances, I immediately recognised the wider potential it held.

“This led to me injecting a significant amount of grant money, as part of the West Yorkshire Child Sexual Exploitation Innovation Project, to help make the animation a reality.

“Originally set up in 2015 in consultation with the 5 West Yorkshire Directors of Children’s Services, the animation is essentially a legacy of that partnership approach.

“Following several months of specialist work to adapt the play into an online version, we have now arrived at a product that will make a real difference to people’s lives.

“I have personally seen the positive influences that education can have in raising awareness, whilst changing attitudes and behaviours.

“It is crucial that young people have a clear knowledge of the signs of child exploitation or abuse and how they are able to flag it to the authorities or parents when or where it occurs.

“I am certain that this innovative animation will go a long way to achieving this, whilst driving home the consequences of such activities to others.”

Assistant Head Teacher at Bankside Primary School in Leeds, Kauser Jan, has given her seal of approval.(external link) Children from the school are among those attending the launch and have had a sneak preview. Click here to see their reactions(external link).

The Children’s Commissioner for England, Anne Longfield is a key speaker at the high profile event in Bradford, which can be followed using the hashtag #MrShapeshifter. She says:

“This is a really important project which I am sure will make a difference to the lives of some vulnerable children.

“Sadly, we know that around two thirds of victims of child sexual abuse do not feel able to tell anyone what is happening, so resources like Mister Shapeshifter can really help to create conditions in which children feel secure enough to tell someone they trust if they are being abused.”

Dave Jones, Creative Director of the GW Theatre Company, says it is a huge coup for the region and believes it will help to tackle these important issues, both locally and nationwide:

“This animation will carry powerful messages and information to thousands of children, parents, carers and families. If something doesn’t feel right then it very probably isn’t. Tell someone and keep repeating yourself until you are heard.

“By raising and embedding these and other issues in all communities, West Yorkshire is defining a new safeguarding standard, both locally and nationally ”

Cllr Megan Swift, is Cabinet Member for Children and Young People’s Services at Calderdale Council, which is commissioning the animation on behalf of the region, said:

“Many children in Calderdale saw the original Mr Shapeshifter play and I was impressed with how its important message was delivered sensitively and appropriately to the young age group.

“I’m pleased that this great production will soon be available to a wider audience through this new animation.” 

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