THERE is a hush in the full assembly hall as three girls, dressed simply in white T-shirts and black leggings, take to the stage; one on guitar, another on keyboards, the last with the mic.
It is just after 9.30am on a Wednesday morning, and while the sun is shining in a crisp, blue sky outside promising spring, inside the Dalkeith High auditorium the mood is sombre as 14-year-old Eve Flockhart begins to sing.
She sings of the difficulties of modern life, of feeling alone, but of how, no matter how hard things get, there’s always a way through.
Emotional stuff from a young girl. And in the audience Laura Nolan’s eyes are filled with tears.
Eve and friends Olivia and Lorna, who are on stage, are part of a team representing the Joshua Nolan Foundation in a competition which rewards teens for getting involved in small charities, and learning the meaning of giving.
In a world of iPhones, Instagram, and exam stress, pupils in schools across Scotland are finding that there’s more to life than selfies, emojis and the pursuit of the perfect eyebrow. More, even, than worrying about life after school.
While young entrepreneur programmes are well-established in schools, attempting to teach young people the value of business, the Youth and Philanthropy Initiative, which aims to make them become “responsible citizens”, has only been running for eight years.
In a country which the philanthropists Andrew Carnegie, and more recently Sir Tom Hunter, JK Rowling and Sir Ian Wood – whose son Garreth, owner of the Boozy Cow restaurant chain, funds the YPI – encouraging children to think how they can help others seems obvious.
This year was the second time Dalkeith High has been involved with YPI, and since September third-year have been working in teams, researching and choosing a charity, collating information, making visits, talking to those involved – and then presenting their work to classmates.
The presentations are judged and whittled down and ultimately six teams make it to the final and the chance of winning £3000 for their charity.
“The girls have been amazing,” says Laura. “They have been so interested in what we do, and we’ve supplied them with information and T-shirts. They’ve really taken on board our message about mental health and even if they don’t win the money, they’ve raised so much awareness.”
Laura’s charity, the Joshua Nolan Foundation, was established in memory of her son who took his own life aged just 20 after years of suffering mental health issues and finding a lack of support.
She is determined that young people know where to seek support. The foundation can even fund counselling sessions for children who just can’t afford to wait until an NHS appointment becomes available.
She adds: “We’ve been approached by a number of teams from other schools. It’s been amazing for us to get our message out – and to have it delivered by the age group which we really aim to target.”
The JNF team – Erin Heydon-Dumbleton, Zoe Watson, Eve Flockhart, Lorna Barron (all 14) and 15-year-old Olivia Dickinson – certainly know how to put on a presentation. The song is the icing on the cake.
But they’ve competition. They are up against a number of two girl teams – Ellie Burns and Daisy Morrison representing Simba; Kelsee Hall and Rebecca Cawkwell on behalf of Dalkeith special school Saltersgate; Maeanna Cerchiari and Emma Alexander whose presentation is on behalf of riding for the disabled at Ravelrig in Balerno; Martha-Jane Alexander and Catherine Hogarth supporting the Wednesday Club in Craigmillar.
And then there’s the sole male team of Jamie Roseburgh, Raja Khaliq, Murray Thomson and Finlay Blackie who speak about the wonders of the Midlothian Amateur Boxing Club. Two of them – Murray and Jamie – have hands-on experience as they are the Eastern District Champ at 66kgs and the Scottish Novice Champion at 60kgs respectively. Their presentation packs a punch: the delivery might be that of any teenage boy, but their knowledge and enthusiasm for boxing comes through. The clincher might just be the video of themselves in action in the ring.
All teams impress the judges – which include head Allyson Dobson and her deputy as well as a handful of their fellow pupils. The rest of the third year, who are watching it all intently, also seem engaged enough not to be surreptitiously texting each other.
The judges depart and the tension grows. After a musical interlude by teacher Miss Milne, they return, accompanied by Jane Clifford of the YPI and her large £3000 cheque.The winners are announced. And while Mrs Dobson says the other five charities will get support, the big winner is Midlothian ABC. The boys are dumbfounded. Well, except Murray. “I was really confident we would win,” he grins. “There are a lot of boys in the school who are involved with the club. To be honest without it I don’t know what we’d do . . . probably just roam the streets.”
The other teams, while disappointed not to win, still seem buoyant – and are dedicated to keep working with the charities.
“We wanted to work with a charity which helps people who feel suicidal,” says Erin. “It’s an issue we’re aware of – how many teenagers feel like that – and so the JNF was perfect.”
Kelsee and Rebecca too are keen to help Saltersgate school. “It’s on our school campus and it means helping local people,” says Rebecca.
For the Ravelrig RDA team, there was a personal reason behind the charity choice. Both Maeanna and Emma are involved with looking after horses, but Maeanna has a disabled cousin who suffers from cerebral palsy, autism and other health issues, and now, after the YPI work they’ve done, she hopes she might be able to get him to go riding.
Similarly Catherine’s dad is disabled and she hopes that after finding out about the work the Wednesday Club does in helping give disabled people more independence, she might be able to help him.
One of the best things, says school organiser, RME teacher Jacqueline Millar, is that the initiative, is about just that – getting the pupils to use their own. “No-one tells them what to do, which charity to choose, they have to do it all,” she says. “They have to make the connection. The kids’ response is really quite phenomenal.”