Pioneering children’s development course sparks St Helens school boy’s burning ambition to be fire fighter


A schoolboy from St Helens is dreaming of being a fire fighter after completing an innovative alternative skills course, giving children an insight into what it’s like to be a life-saving first responder.

James Prescott was among twelve pupils from Allanson Street Primary School, specially selected to take part in Beacon, a project providing safe, fun and unique experiences, to teach young people about teamwork, problem solving, communication and resilience.

Funded by Merseyside Violence Reduction Partnership and delivered by Merseyside Fire and Rescue Service, Beacon works with children who are either struggling with their studies and need some additional support, or with their personal, social and educational development, using a trauma-informed approach to develop independence and leadership skills, encouraging better attendance and performance in class while reducing the number of those excluded from mainstream education.

From hose, apparatus and foam drills, to search and rescue in the dark ‘smoke house’, first aid training, to fire safety at home, over a six-week period (one day per week), James and his fellow pupils took part in a range of ‘child-friendly’ activities similar to those a fire officer may experience during training whilst also learning about road and water safety, exploitation and the difference between healthy and unhealthy relationships.

The course culminates in a ‘pass out’ ceremony where parents and guardians are invited to watch the children demonstrate their practical drills before being presented with certificates highlighting their achievements.

James Prescott receives his certificate on completing the Beacon course

Getting stuck into the practical activities certainly struck a chord with nine-year-old James; with his parents revealing his new-found enthusiasm for fire safety now influencing his chosen career path.

James’s mum, Michelle Prescott said: “Just this week he came home and said, ‘we need to check our fire alarms.’ I said, ‘we need to get them fixed don’t we James?’ He helped us with that one.”

James’s dad, also called James, said: “I think James is going to be a future fire fighter. I’m pretty confident on that.

“It’s amazing that young people have the opportunity to learn how to do these things; first-aid, challenge themselves in different environments like darkness and the smoke house, as well as team building.”

Lynsey Dingsdale, Headteacher at Allanson Street Primary School added: “To hear one of our children wants to be a fire officer is just amazing.

“It’s a brilliant programme. We’ve chosen children who have perhaps struggled with their confidence, children who may have a few, little behaviour issues, who perhaps struggle with their resilience and I’ve noticed they’ve made better friendships amongst themselves, children who normally wouldn’t play alongside one another giving each other pats on the back and encouraging one another.

“They’re so enthusiastic, more confident. It’s life changing for these children. It’s so different and out of their comfort zone. Every child leaves that little bit stronger, that little bit better.”

Merseyside Police Commissioner Emily Spurrell said: “Investing in our young people is vital if we are to prevent them from being affected by serious violence and we can do that by giving them safe, positive opportunities and the chance to try new experiences and gain new skills.

“I’m delighted to hear that James is inspired to become a fire fighter. This is precisely the positive and ambitious mind-set we are committed to creating whilst diverting young people from potentially negative pathways, empowering them with greater self-awareness, constructive coping strategies, confidence and self-esteem to help them reach their full potential in the future.

“James and his fellow pupils at Allanson Street Primary are a credit to Beacon, the school, their families, but most importantly, themselves. Congratulations!”

Director of the MVRP, Superintendent Georgie Garvey added: “James and his classmates are another inspiring example of how early intervention can help us form new relationships with young people, building community resilience through opportunities they might never normally experience.

“Our aim is to keep children safe and away from risky situations in their community. Beacon equips them with the right ideals, renewed confidence and aspirational levels that will put them on the right path to a brighter future.

“By engaging with our young people, through safe and positive learning we can open up dialogue between blue light services and young people before they reach high school, to promote responsible behaviour and educate them on the dangers of common issues we see too often in our communities.”

MFRS Beacon Course Manager, Suzy Tosi-Nile said: “We have been delivering Beacon for twenty-two years, but the last four, solely to primary schools. During that time, we’ve engaged with nearly seven hundred primary school children, supporting them in developing basic skills in teamwork, communication, problem solving & resilience.
“We have inspired many of the children we work with to want to focus at school, growing aspirations to become firefighters or work within a uniformed service, developing many life-skills that enable the children to make positive life choices and to keep themselves safe within their community.