I Am Me is a grassroots community organisation which was started up by Carol Burt after watching a TV programme called Don’t Hate Us. The programme was about a young vulnerable adult called Gemma Hayter who was murdered by people that she thought were her friends. The programme was aired during Hate Crime Awareness week and was designed to raise awareness of disability hate crime and mate crime (recognised as one of the most under reported crimes in the UK).

After viewing this programme, Carol was left feeling both angry and emotionally overwhelmed, as she was shocked by many of the findings which the show concluded to. Amongst such findings, Carol was most shocked to see that 97% of disability hate-crime cases were left unreported – essentially meaning that almost all of Scotland’s disabled community were suffering in silence.

This shocking research forced Carol to spring into action, as she wanted to make a positive change in her community. Carol struck up a partnership with PC Ewan Smith of Police Scotland and David Wallace of PACE Theatre, with the former helping to raise awareness and the latter brought on board to create a hard-hitting drama to deliver to schools across Renfrewshire.

I Am Me ScotlandAs Carol works full time and has a young family to support, she dedicated her evenings and weekends to the I Am Me project, setting up a small committee with six community volunteers in April 2013 and immediately applying for funding to pay for the drama.

Thanks to some local research and the help of a steering group consisting of both young and disabled people, I Am Me’s production was created. The drama tells the story of a young adult with a learning disability and autism and highlights how seemingly small incidents such as anti-social behaviour and graffiti can quickly escalate to a serious incident. The drama also highlights how an individual can become socially isolated and how incidents not only affect the individual, but also the wider community.

The production was originally designed for delivery across high schools in Renfrewshire, but I Am Me were asked to perform at the Scottish Parliament, Adult Protection Conference and Police Training College. In addition to this, I Am Me were asked to make an adaptation suitable for primary schools. The drama has been booked to tour Argyll & Bute, West Dunbartonshire and East Renfrewshire as well as other areas and events across Scotland (including the Mental Health Arts and Film Festival).

Since going live in September 2013, the hard hitting production has been delivered to over 3000 people (including 1700 high school pupils). The primary school version is currently touring 49 primary schools and three additional support needs schools, with an estimated audience of 5000 people.

With the demand for live performances being so high, the I Am Me project decided to seek further funding to develop a DVD and training resource, which can be used by schools, staff groups, disability groups and Police Scotland training. Plans to complete the DVD production are scheduled for December 2014.

In addition to raising awareness of disability hate crime through powerful drama, I Am Me also set up an initiative called Keep Safe to encourage disabled people to report incidents to the police. Based on the Safe Places scheme in Surrey, Keep Safe works with a network of local businesses to help ensure that disabled, elderly and vulnerable people can participate in community life without fear of harassment and abuse. The Keep Safe scheme has been so successful in Renfrewshire that there have been requests to roll it out across the whole of Scotland.

It is clear to see that I Am Me and Keep Safe have had a positive impact on the community around them – and this is not just through their successful efforts to raise awareness about disability hate crime and to provide a safer living environment.

They have also built community spirit through involving schoolchildren by providing poster-designing and poem-writing campaigns to support their project. In addition to this, they also worked with a group of visually impaired and learning disabled service users to design the I Am Me/Keep Safe logo and business packs.

This combination of raising awareness for the disabled community whilst also protecting them and building community spirit in the process are the reasons why I Am Me have been shortlisted for the Community Organisation for Disability award at the National Diversity Awards 2014.