SAS mission

27th June 2003 at 01:00
Campaigning for what you believe in is an important part of citizenship. Yolanda Brooks reports on a resource to get you started

Surfers Against Sewage (SAS) has an eye-catching acronym and a photogenic cause. But it takes more than a snappy name and a few photo opportunities to persuade government and industry to clean up the seas around Britain. Since 1990, these Cornwall-based environmental campaigners have lobbied and shamed national government, local councils and water companies into improving the water quality off Britain's coast.

In 1989, two billion litres of raw sewage were discharged into the sea every day. After years of protests and court cases, three water companies in the UK have installed multi-million pound treatment works to process all water released into the sea and one of the campaigners' early adversaries, South West Water, has closed nearly all of its untreated sewage outlets.

SAShas now produced an education pack to show how a local pressure group of concerned surfers grew into an effective national organisation with 28,000 members.

Sarah Bentley, a qualified art teacher who splits her time between supply teaching and semi-professional surfing, is a co-writer of the pack. She's been a member of SAS for 10 years and came up with the idea for the pack when she joined an SAS roadshow last summer. "Surfing is something that is really cool so kids are really interested in anything to do with it," she says. "And SAS has an amazing story to tell so it's a good way to raise awareness."

The video relates the history of SAS, started by surfers in south-west England who realised that the poor quality of the sea water was giving them stomach upsets and ear, eye and nose infections. They employed scientists and gathered evidence, then lobbied local and national government and the water companies. They hired lawyers and took councils to court; they bought shares in water companies and gave evidence in the House of Lords. They organised photo shoots, taking along inflatable turds and gas masks, and they marched in their wetsuits with surfboards to Westminster and the European Parliament in Strasbourg.

But the Citizenship Education Pack is more than a re-telling of the SAS story. It shows democracy at work and suggests ways for everyone to use their "little bit of power", says Sarah Bentley. "We wanted to show that you don't have to be a person in power to make a difference. We are trying to get kids more pro-active and to get behind a cause they really feel strongly about."

Once they've watched it, potential activists will know how to get organised, how to get the message out, whom to turn to for help, how to raise funds - all practical ideas to help them find solutions to the issues they care about.

The video is supported by lesson plans focusing on an introduction to citizenship, campaigning and debating. A teacher's pack is also provided, and it includes national curriculum links, suggested activities and lesson ideas.

In keeping with the group's streetwise image, the pack has been designed by students from Falmouth College of Art. So be warned, you may need a student to translate the texting-style headlines which appear in the teacher's notes and lessons plans, such as: " The video could be used as a stand-alone resource, but there's enough material in the pack for at least several sessions.

Raising awareness among the public as well as chasing the people in power has always been the group's remit - so why has it taken them so long to produce materials for schools?

"We are a very pro-active campaigning group and we've been trying to hit water companies where it hurts," explains SAS events co-ordinator James Hendy. "But things are moving in the right direction and we can now concentrate more on education."

SAS could have produced a resource full of surfer iconography, hot wave action and righteous dudes riffing about their cause. But instead they've provide an informative resource about empowerment and participation. And their message - that "success isn't just about changing the world, it also means changing yourself" - is as clear as the waters on the Cornish Coast.

The Citizenship Education Pack is sponsored by the Clean Water Initiative and PADI Project Aware. It costs pound;40 from SASTel: 0845 458 3001

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