Sarah Isted reflects on her son Callum’s campaign to provide every primary schoolchild in Scotland with a reusable water bottle
It’s a Friday afternoon and we’re walking down Lothian Road in Edinburgh, having completed our mission to source Pokémon cards. Callum’s hand slips into mine for reassurance. Rush hour is starting and it’s getting noisy.
Callum’s attention is on the traffic – he wants to see sports cars and buses. He doesn’t notice the people who stop to look at him or double-take as he passes. I wonder, again, whether we’ve done the right thing in allowing Callum a public profile at such a young age.
It’s been just over a week since Callum made headlines across the country. At 7 years old, he’s the youngest person to have presented a petition at the Scottish Parliament. His hope is that every primary schoolchild in Scotland can be given a metal reusable water bottle, to replace the single-use plastic bottles some schools regularly give to children.
Callum also hopes that other children will see his campaign “and start their own missions”. Their generation is empowered and savvy to social media. This article was written at his request to encourage other parents to “just say yes!”.
Children have heard ‘no’ a lot over the last couple of years. Callum wanted to buy metal water bottles for every child in his school. When he first suggested walking all 134 miles of the John Muir Way to raise the money, my gut reaction was to say no: it was too long, the hazards would be beyond a 7-year-old, and what would he do if I got injured?
Plus, raising £1,250 for the bottles would require dedicated social media, which would mean exposing Callum far more than we were comfortable with. He assured us that he knew what this meant. We, wrongly, assumed he did not.
We were also worried about the impact on him if his fundraising was unsuccessful. The lockdowns were hard on Callum – could he take more disappointment?
Looking back, I’m ashamed of the barriers we erected. Callum’s first job wasn’t to plan his mission; he had to convince his own adults to sign up! And all our misgivings turned out to be unfounded.
Callum researched walking equipment and what to do in an emergency. He suggested taking a spare phone, so he had one “in case you fall off a hill, Mummy”. He planned public transport routes. The walks were not only a success; they were a great bonding experience for both of us.
Callum remained realistic about his chances of successful fundraising. We helped him see the value of partial success, tracking the number of classes he could buy bottles for, rather than seeing it as all or nothing. In the end he raised £150 over his target!
The social media remained a worry. He has a Facebook page that he ‘manages’ with heavy supervision. Callum’s knowledge of branding and marketing genuinely surprised us. He knows how he wants to be seen online, he reviews every Facebook post before it’s made public, and he deals with criticism very maturely.
The latter skill has been crucial in the last week. He is learning that there are consequences if he missteps, even slightly, in a media interview. Forgetting his words results in tweets declaring he must have ‘pushy parents’ or an affiliation with a political party. We give Callum a very high-level overview of what’s said. This is primarily to cushion any shock he has when he Googles himself in five years’ time.
Callum’s stoic reaction to external criticism is one of the things I’m proudest of. I would never have learned his capacity for this without the campaign. He is a sensitive boy and can get upset if he disappoints someone he cares about. Seeing the way he is able to set boundaries is very reassuring for the future.
To conclude, I’m handing over to Callum for a Q & A.
What was the best part of the John Muir Way?
Running up the big hill in the Strathblane to Kilsyth section and learning about how the blocks on the beaches were used in the second world war.
Do you have a message for children who want to make a change, but may be feeling unconfident or may not know where to start?
Yes, it’s OK if you’re feeling unconfident because you can do it. And you just have to be brave, keep going and do one step at a time. You have to find good, helping adults.
What about parents?
If you want to help with your child’s campaign, then you can. My mum and dad both work and gave up their spare time. It’s important to believe in your children.
What do you want to be when you grow up?
A footballer or a Lego master builder.
What’s your top tip for talking to adults about change?
Adults don’t see things the same way as children. You need to plan what you’re going to say to them and how to make the sentences so they can understand you. If you get that right, lots of adults will help.
What part of your campaign are you proudest of?
Going to parliament and seeing the first minister of Scotland.
What’s next for you?
I’m going to see the boss of the council, and I’m going to keep talking so Nicola Sturgeon doesn’t forget. She’s very busy so I’ll need to remind her.
Sarah and Callum Isted live in Livingston, with his dad, James, sister, Tilly, and pets. On days together as a family, they enjoy getting into the countryside with their puppy or meeting friends in town for food. Callum gives updates on his campaign at facebook.com/callumsbigwalk and hopes other children will be inspired to take action on causes they care about.