We try the council’s bystander intervention training. What’s it really like?

A training session on Zoom.

Echo editor Elizabeth Atkin was invited to take part in the No Space For Hate campaign’s ‘bystander intervention training’. Here, she details what the session was like…

In November last year, the Echo reported on Waltham Forest Council’s ‘bystander intervention training’ pilot, as part of their No Space For Hate campaign.

Now, sessions are publicly available. Residents can take part in a free course of three, two-and-a- half hour sessions on Zoom – led by social enterprise Communities Inc – to give them the know-how to safely intervene in a situation where someone is the victim of racist, homophobic, transphobic, ableist or other hate-fuelled abuse.

Given the rise in reported hate crimes in Waltham Forest during the pandemic, and the doubling of local hate crime in the last decade, the training arrives at a crucial juncture.

When I was asked by the council to take part, my first thoughts were: kickboxing? Self-defence style classes? The reality is that ‘intervening’ when witnessing a hate crime in action doesn’t have to involve anything physical, or even putting yourself in harm’s way.

LGBTQ+ community activist Ewan – a member of Waltham Forest’s Youth Independent Advisory Group and one of the first people to be involved in the pilot scheme – explains:

“It was a really well organised and structured thing, and I have high hopes for it to be quite effective. [We’re] training ourselves to challenge those preconceived notions of not intervening, and thinking of safe ways to intervene in a situation.”

Info for the upcoming training sessions, which you can book below.

“Or if it’s not safe to intervene whilst the incident is happening, comforting the victim afterwards, and helping them get support, calling the police if they need to.”

I attended the second of three sessions, which began with an exploration of our own experiences of needing help. What do we wish had happened? A simple question that elicits the answer: I wish someone had stepped in.

That lead into a detailed discussion of the bystander effect – a psychological theory that says the more people there are around, the less inclined we feel to help. How can that cycle be broken?

We also heard some distressing case studies, past and present – with recent victims of hate crime bravely speaking about their ordeals.

Often, we’d leave the main session to join smaller Zoom ‘breakout rooms’, to discuss among ourselves and then feedback to the wider group. My room was fairly quiet – but it is a very sensitive subject. Another group seemed more vocal.

Towards the end, practical advice is introduced: See (witness, remember details, keep an eye on things), Report (essentially, call the police) and Support. Ideas for direct action were floated, and both styles of intervention are covered in detail in the final session.

Overall, I found the session to be insightful and emboldening. I certainly feel more confident about what to do in this type of situation.

And as Ewan – who has also sadly been a victim – reiterates, if nothing else, it’s often about being a comforting presence in an awful, lonely situation.

“More than anything, it’s checking up on someone… letting the victim know that there is someone there who cares.

“Because [the abuse] happens – and then you’re just alone.”

For information on how to become a No Space for Hate Ambassador, visit Waltham Forest Council’s No Space For Hate.