It is time to bring an end to bullying. Every single action, word, and encouragement given by young Keiran O'Toole (19) and his team is bravely sending out this message to the world. After being a victim of bullying himself, at one point losing hope in all aspects of his life, Keiran knew he needed to wake up and take action. After recovery, he founded his own company – Rock Clothing– that uses the profits from clothing sales to run vital anti-bullying programs in local schools. Hundreds of children on a daily basis get immense support thanks to his devotion. Last year Keiran was honored with the prestigious Diana Award for his remarkable work.
Keiran, you will hardly ever forget the Diana Award ceremony and the people you met there. Tell us more about this whole experience, how much the Diana Award you received last year means to you and more about the impact it had on what you stand for?
It was a real privilege to have been honored with The Diana Award due to my involvements and dedication to tackling bullying. Princess Diana was a truly remarkable woman, she stood for what she believed and was a voice for those that weren’t heard. I am proud to have been awarded The Diana Award for the amazing work that my organization is doing to support young people and bring an end to bullying. Unfortunately, I didn’t get to meet Prince William and Harry as they were not present, but it was amazing to meet other like-minded young people who are also doing amazing things to drive positive change in their communities.
How to deal with bullying
You have been given an award to recognize your significant engagement in anti-bullying. As a victim of bullying yourself, you stated that one of the key ways to recover from it is to talk to someone. How did you manage to recover having in mind you barely had support sources back then?
My biggest piece of advice to anyone who is experiencing bullying or knows someone who is experiencing bullying is to talk to anyone they trust. It is important to not keep all of your feelings to yourself and hide these negative experiences. I was bullied at secondary school, after un-kept promises of support from people within my school, I began to retain all of my feelings and lost faith in the education system. Over time, my mental and physical health was deteriorating and I began to lose hope in all aspects of my life. It was thanks to the friends around me that kept me positive and reminded me that although life today may be rubbish, tomorrow is a new day. I am fortunate that I have managed to create something from a negative situation, but I urge anyone who is reading this if you’re a victim of bullying, if you’re a bully, if you’re a bystander, an up-stander; speak to someone and look out for our fellow peers.
When you started college, you enrolled in the Portsmouth College Enterprise Academy.What were your main aims at the time,and how much did this help in running your business today?
When I progressed onto college, there were many extra-curricular options that we could take alongside our academic study. I decided to take up the Enterprise Academy as I knew the team facilitating that program. It wasn’t until my lecturer, now an inspiring friend, Ben Dowling, told me that he believed in me and encouraged me to take the leap with starting my own business. My main aims for Rock Clothing were to be an organization that used profits from clothing sales to run vital anti-bullying workshops in local primary and secondary schools. The support I had was crucial, I had never experienced running a business, and I was matched up with a mentor from AT&T who supported me and guided me in all aspects of my venture.
The history of Rock Clothing
In 2016, your company, Rock Clothing, came to life. Who helped you the most in this whole process, and how is the business going today?
I was fortunate enough to have a pool of people around me to support me; I can’t just leave it down to one person. If I had to name one person who has supported me the most throughout the whole process from start to finish, it would be a guy called Damian Harrington, we accidentally met over Twitter and he got so excited by my idea that he has put hours upon hours of his time to support me and the business. Rock Clothing is going very well – we’re extremely delighted to be growing geographically and working with more schools, our clothing range is improving significantly, and we have a very exciting (secret) project that we’re planning.
Rock Clothing has hosted a number of workshops in schools all around Portsmouth. Tell us more about what these workshops look like and what it is that kids like the most while being part of them?
We host many different styles of workshops for schools to take part in, but our most prestigious type of workshop is our unique and original Anti-Bullying Ambassador Training Program that allows young people to be actively engaged in tackling bullying and be at the forefront of social change within their educational establishments. This training program allows schools to create a board of young people who are driving a positive ethos throughout the school and student body whilst promoting a strong anti-bullying message. If any schools are interested in this program, please do contact us.
One of your plans for this year is organizing an anti-bullying conference in Portsmouth and Southampton. Any news or updates on this?
After the success of the Portsmouth Anti-Bullying Conference 2018 and 2019, we are now planning the Portsmouth, Southampton, Isle of Wight and Working Anti-Bullying Conferences 2020. So we’ll be hosting 4 events one after another next year which will see approximately 2,000 young people come together to be the catalysts of change for their communities and schools. These events will be made available for schools to attend, and sign-up will be open shortly.
Speak up and speak out
In your opinion, what is the most important part of recovery after being bullied?
I think the most important part of recovery is to remember that you are an amazing person and can achieve great things. Reminding yourself that tomorrow is a new day and that there is a positive aspect of every day is a good way to keep up good mental health. If you’re feeling down, do something to cheer you up, like talking to a loved one, going out with friends, watching your favorite TV show or even just going for a walk with the dog. It’s things like this that help you remember that not everything is negative.
An advice and encouragement message for the young people who have been victims of bullying would be?
My piece of advice is to make sure you’re not alone, speak up and speak out. Chat to anyone that you feel comfortable with, whether that’s your parents, teachers, friends or even writing it in a diary. As long as you can voice how you feel and your experiences. Just remember – you are amazing!
Photo: Johnny Black
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