Summer of Hope reawakens children’s rights

For months children and young people have sacrificed some of their most basic human rights to help safeguard the lives of those older and more vulnerable than themselves.

These rights are detailed in the UNCRC and have now been adopted into Scottish Law. They include the right to an education, to play, to see family and friends and to belong to groups.

By being denied these rights, it is obvious that children and young people have felt a range of difficult emotions over the past year and a half – anxiety, isolation and loss. We are only just beginning to understand the long term impact of this on children and young people.

With support from our usual valued funders as well as the Scottish Governments Summer of Play funding and in partnership with the Highland Council we have witnessed a tide of change this summer.

Youth Highland member clubs have been offering a wide range of opportunities, activities and learning programmes to children and young people across the Highlands.

The atmosphere in youth clubs is joyful and filled with energy.

It feels great to be able to work with young people again!

Youth clubs have been innovative in the creation of programmes which have taken place mostly outdoors – increasing young peoples levels of physical activity whilst decreasing the risk of contamination and spread of the virus.

Luckily, so far, the weather has helped and everyone has enjoyed weeks of sunshine.

The voluntary sector is in a good position to positively impact on the local economy and has created positive opportunities and pathways for young workers and local people.  We have supported young workers and freelancers who have spent the past year and a half unemployed, furloughed or carrying out low skilled jobs back into work this summer.

Programmes have been collaborative with local youth clubs bringing in a range of external providers to deliver varied activities and learning programmes for children and  young people.

Active – with games, treasure hunts, sports, circus skills

Exploratory – nature walks, STEM

Creative – arts and crafts, clay work, sculpture, dance, film and music

Aspirational – meeting and working with local role models, coaches and supporting young people to help lead and work towards awards and qualifications.

Apocalyptic! – survival skills, zombie make up

Nourishing – growing projects, daily food provided

Participative – gathering voices, including children and young people in planning and visioning for the future

Sociable – with a focus on ensuring children and young people are supported to gain confidence with friendships, rebuilding positive relationships, working confidently in groups

Already we can see the difference in the children and young people taking part.

When asked to describe the past year and a half young people use words like

‘boring’ ‘disappointing’ ‘isolating’ ‘chaotic’ ‘frustrating’ ‘ lonely’

When asked to describe the summer activities they are using words like

‘exciting’ ‘fun’ ‘learning’

They have identified ‘time to spend with their friends’, learning new things’ and ‘play’ as things they value getting out of the summer sessions and things they missed over the past 17 months.

These responses show the impact that having their rights taken away has had on children and young people and the empowerment they have felt this summer as they have been taken back.

The rights to play, have friends, be part of a group and to have their voices heard have all been exercised in the summer programmes this year. It is important that we support communities to involve everyone to support children and young people to readjust and reshape the future in this period of recovery after the covid pandemic.

Facing up to risk

As Scotland has moved into phase 3 and eases further out of lockdown, we are allowed to deliver face to face youth work again.

It feels great to be able to communicate more fluidly, and to not have to worry about all the technical hick ups that can make it difficult to communicate with young people on line.

At the weekend I sat on a beach eating fish and chips and it felt good to see and hear a group of teenagers having fun spending time together.

Young people certainly have made great sacrifices over the past 4 months to keep everybody safe, and it is only natural that they will want to enjoy long summer days in the company of their long lost pals… catching up, sharing stories, planning ahead and having some fun.

It is quite a privilege for youth workers to be amongst some of the first to be allowed to work with groups of young people again. But with this privilege comes responsibility.

How can we build a new kind of youth work that will meet the needs of young people post lockdown whilst also keeping young people safe?

We have learned that the virus is most virilant and does its worst in areas of deprivation and in the homes of the poorest and already most vulnerable families. It is the young people from these communities that we want to help the most… how can we do it whilst ensuring our youth work does not increase risk?

National Guidance has been developed to help youth workers cautiously maneuver our way through this new terrain.

The guidance states that youth workers should work OUTDOORS in groups of up to 15 individuals. When working with over 12’s young people must continue to SOCIAL DISTANCE. Adults should continue to keep a 2 metre distance from children and young people.

Although we are used to working to a set of professional principles and ethics, youth workers are not renowned for being good at setting or keeping to rules. Our work usually encourages young people to push the boundaries and to test their limits.

So, it is likely that youth workers will find the new rules challenging. It is our turn to feel tested.

I think we can make the guidance work for us if we remember our professional values. These are concerned with not only self determination and empowerment, but underpinned by keeping people safe and learning new things every day.

Youth workers need to use this summer as an opportunity to reflect and learn. We should ask ourselves a lot of questions and try out various solutions. We can collaborate, share good practice and talk about our experiences and findings. We need to try hard not to make mistakes, but be open to learning from the ones we make. This will help us get youth work right in the future (it is likely that it will need to change for the long term. We cannot keep doing things the way we always have).

It will take time to plan our sessions properly and assess the risks. This is not new – youth workers are used to assessing risks for summer programmes. Dangerous and adventurous activities usually feature in youth work summer programmes. This year we have a new kind of risk to think about, an invisible but deadly one. We need to make sure it features in all our risk assessments.

We will need to consider the numbers of young people we can manage in a group. If there are more than 15, how can we be creative about splitting that number into smaller ‘bubbles’ and still include everyone who wants to take part?

Young people have not seen each other in a group situation for 4 months – they will be excited. We will be excited. We will need enough staff members and volunteers to manage that excitement.

We’ll need to think about who in the group might be at more risk than others. How do we include older or more vulnerable volunteers in our organisations without putting them at undue risk? How do we ensure children and young people with health conditions in our community feel included and are not left out without putting them at risk?

There will be young people amongst our groups who are nervous about the virus and need to be reassured by our actions. Clear communication during sessions will help them to feel confident and safe and lessen anxiety as they participate in group activities. We need to actively seek to have conversations with young people about the new risks we all face and include them in coming up with solutions, and leading in the planning of sessions and safety measures. This will ensure they feel empowered and safe in youth work sessions.

I think this summer gives us all an opportunity to show the worth of youth work, and that youth work really can change lives

I hope that by being visible in our communities and present in young peoples lives we can develop stronger relationships with communities and partner organisations as we move into an unknown future. Now more than ever, young people are going to need communities to work together to enable them to have the best opportunity to meet their potential.

Youth work needs to be a key feature in that future.

The Place

The Place is an organisation with a long history of delivering youth work in Alness.

The organisation has faced many challenges and changes in the past year, being evicted from the local youth club facility and having to redefine themselves and create a new vision for the organisation.

Before lockdown youth workers were working with local young people to develop new projects and activity programmes.

The place has a strong management committee with trustees bringing a range of experience and skills.

Youth work activities are delivered by a team of 6 youth workers, including some who started their relationship with the organisations as young people.

During lockdown 2 members of The Place staff have helped to organise and carry out emergency response alongside other local organisations and community members.

Youth highland has supported The Place to check their constitution and policies to ensure they could deliver emergency community response.

During lockdown members of the girl’s group have been involved in planning and delivering a lockdown outreach project. They chose and packed items to go out in goody bags for local teenagers and organised delivery. Each bag contained small treats including hygiene products and an information sheet which gave info and guidance on self care and emotional wellbeing during lockdown.

The Place will continue to face challenges after lockdown. There are many questions to be considered about youth work – how can youth workers continue to support young people with social and emotional wellbeing whilst promoting and enforcing physical distancing?

Ironically, the lack of a youth centre may be a blessing for The Place who are now considering ways that they can continue to offer support using outreach, street work and outdoor learning to engage with local young people.

Listening to the needs of local young people and involving them in developing a new vision for The Place will be at the heart of The Places work in coming months.

We look forward to supporting the organisation plan and deliver best possible outcomes for the towns young people in collaboration with the wider Voluntary Youth Network.

Find out more about what The Place has been up to by following their Facebook page –

The Buzz Project

The Buzz Project based in Studio 2 on Fort Williams High Street has been delivering opportunities through youth work since 2014.

The project has developed a shop front into an accessible café, arts, performance and training space and is usually open 6 nights a week to young people for open and more specialist youth work sessions. They also have an outreach bus which enables them to take music equipment and youth work to outlying communities to work with young people.

With the arrival of corona virus the club initially continued to offer access to young people with increased hand washing and cleaning procedures, but in mid March just before lockdown was announced they decided to cancel sessions and move to delivering support using digital youth work.

The Buzz project knows that young people have needed consistency and for youth workers to be able to offer support to young people during such a strange time. Maintaining relationships has been their priority over lockdown.

Buzz youth worker Bronwyn is responsible for youth work and is active on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, WhatsApp, Zoom, Skype and Messenger. Young people predominantly use messaging platforms to maintain contact and connection with trusted youth workers. Bronwyn is running twice weekly ‘chit chat’ sessions with young people which enables peer support and social connection.

Throughout lockdown Project Manager Julie has been helping at the Caol Community Cupboard which is providing food and other essential support to people in the community. This initiative has enabled local organisations and volunteers to work together to meet the needs of the community.

The Buzz Project is already considering what it will do as lockdown eases. They know that youth work is needed but recognise it may need to be delivered in a very different way in the future. The projects main desire is to continue to meet the changing needs of young people. 

Bronwyn has said that many opportunities are beginning to come out of lockdown and that youth work delivery may need to change. The Buzz project is planning on creating programmes encouraging young people to explore social skills and relationships and looks forward to working in partnership to deliver best outcomes for young people online and in person.

For more information about The Buzz Project contact them through their social media sites at:

Check out the website


WhatsApp – 07391 003575




Skype & Zoom Bronwyn Buzzyouthworker

Thurso Youth Club

Just two years ago following 100% cuts to their Local Authority grant, Thurso youth club was in an emergency situation and weren’t sure how they would survive after nearly 50 years of providing youth work to children and young people.

Since then committee members and local volunteers have worked hard to develop a new vision for the youth club. The club has been successful in securing support from a range of funders including The Robertson Trust, National Lottery Community Fund, Cashback, Youth Scotland and others.

Early in 2020 two new members of staff were recruited to run the youth club facility and activity programme. The future looked very bright.

The club offered 4 weekly youth work sessions for young people and were planning to increase their offering after Easter. But when schools closed, so did club nights.

Since lockdown youth workers have continued to facilitate online sessions and support to young people to maintain contact.

The youth club has also joined ranks with Thurso community Development Trust and offered emergency response and support to the local community.

The youth club building has proved to be the perfect base for emergency response. With a large catering kitchen and various spaces that can be used for different tasks it allows for social distancing and maximum activity.

Together, staff have offered support, connection and essential provisions to vulnerable local people.

Renewed policies around health and safety and the running of the facility, recruitment of volunteers and distribution of essential information within the community were all immediate responses.

Since then Thurso Community Development Trust and Youth Club workers have taken referrals from the Council Helpline to ensure immediate and appropriate response to local people’s needs.

A team of volunteer cooks with catering experience are now preparing nearly 600 3 course meals a week which are then distributed by volunteers every day to local people.

Wellbeing packs have been prepared and distributed to elderly people, and the youth club are now considering preparing activity packs for children and young people.

Short dated sweeties from tuck shop have been delivered to the doorsteps of youth club members with socially distanced ‘hellos’ and check ins with young people.

Sarah, Community co-ordinator said ‘We have come together as a community and everyone has helped in the response. No one feels over burdened or is carrying too much of the load. This has proved what the community can do when we work together’.

The youth club is beginning to make plans for after lockdown. They hope that the community spirit will continue and know that they are viewed as essential and at the heart of the community with the community in their heart.

If you want to know more about Thurso Youth Club or Thurso Development Trust get in touch via their social media pages:

Facebook –

Twitter –

Instagram –

The Clay Studio

The Clay Studio is an organisation led by Jo Kemp, a practicing artist and youth worker who has run the studio for the past 3 years.

The project is based in what was the MP3 youth club on Grant Street in the middle of Merkinch. Later the building was run by Arts in Merkinch and since their closure has been run as The Clay Studio.

Jo initially set up the project as a volunteer. Now the studio receives small amounts of funding and income which covers running costs for delivery of community based projects and learning programmes.

In recent years Jo and her resident artists have received a range of training and support from Youth Highland, developing skills and confidence to deliver a range of learning programmes to young people.

Last year Jo began delivering Nationally accredited awards to young people as part of the Scottish Attainment Challenge in partnership with Inverness High School. She has successfully supported more than 30 young people to work on awards.

The clay Studio also delivers 1 – 1 and small group sessions to young people with learning support needs.

At the start of lockdown Jo was really worried and unsure how she could maintain contact with her regular users and the wider community in Merkinch. It would be impossible to continue to help groups to create pieces out of clay and use the kiln to fire work.

However, as the weeks have passed The Clay Studio has risen to the challenge and increased their reach to young people.

Jo has created activity packs for her regular users, and supported them using digital technology to create art pieces and creative projects.

Hundreds of arts and crafts activity kits have also been delivered to other VYN organisations and YH member clubs all over the region. Young people have been asked to upload pictures of their creations so The Clay Studio can create an online gallery of work created by young people.

During lockdown Jo has made some good contacts which will enable her to work with more groups of young people in the future. She is looking forward to meeting young people in person when lockdown eases.

The Clay Studio usually works with individuals or small groups. With the right policies in place to ensure people are kept safe, they are looking forward to welcoming small numbers of people back into the studio to continue working on personal creative challenges through arts learning programmes. For more information about The Clay Studio contact Jo via their social media accounts.

Facebook –

Twitter –

Ullapool Sea Savers

The Ullapool Sea Savers is a marine conservation charity set up by kids for kids. Background co-ordination is done by Janis Patterson, an experienced childminder and nature lover, but the ideas, energy, drive and passion for which the Sea Savers have become known comes direct from young people.

The project was initially inspired by the work of the Scottish Wildlife Trust’s Living Seas Project which aims to promote partnership between conservation work and recreation and sustainable healthy seas.

Over the past 2 years Ullapool Sea Savers has provided opportunities for local young people (currently 8, ranging in age from 11 – 15 years) to come together to learn about marine life and protection.

The group has celebrated a number of achievements, including participating in a campaign to amend legislation around kelp dredging, championing various marine species in partnership with the MSP species champions scheme (most recently participating in Kate Forbes becoming otter champion) instigating the layby litter pick scheme, finalists for Nature of Scotland Award 2019, and much, much more.

Lockdown has been difficult and has forced the group to rethink how to deliver group work whilst sticking to social distancing rules.

The group has co-ordinated food deliveries of prawns and scallops – encouraging local people to try new recipes whilst supporting the local fishing industry.

Members have also received activity packs containing Sea Savers t-shirt, resource books and other goodies to keep them busy during lockdown.

Young people have produced short films and interviews which have been shared on their social media groups.

As lockdown eases there are a number of learning projects the young people can get involved with straight away.

The Big Seaweed Search, which the Sea Savers have already been getting involved with, allows individuals or families to work together to contribute to citizen science and learn about the fascinating world of seaweed.

Many group members are all also signed up to the iNaturalist app, which allows children to explore and understand the wildlife on their own doorsteps and learn more about them.

Group work is an important aspect of the Ullapool Sea Savers usual programme and when guidelines allow, the young people will begin to meet together again. They want to get busy cleaning beaches and resuming their new initiative ‘lay by litter picks’. With the correct policies in place to ensure people are kept safe, Ullapool Sea Savers outdoor learning programmes could increase young people’s learning outcomes and enhance formal school learning.

There are a few potential opportunities for Ullapool Sea Savers coming out of lockdown. They have recognised the opportunity to promote learning programmes with other youth groups across the region and how these could be shared using digital technology. We would love to help enable that to happen and to help more young people access similar learning opportunities.

For more information about Ullapool Sea Savers contact Janis through their social media accounts.

Facebook –

Twitter –

Instagram –

Website –

#Invest in Youth Work

Of course, the lockdown and the new social distancing rules have changed the working landscape. There is no doubt that young people need youth work now more than ever and will continue to need us in the recovery period post lockdown.

But youth workers have been faced with a monumental challenge. How can we retain contact with and meet the needs of young people without coming into direct contact, and how can we deliver group work without bringing young people together in a physical space?

Digital Youth Work Guidance, you can download a copy from our website –

Around half of our member clubs continue to deliver some form of youth work. Don’t underestimate how difficult this is. Youth work is traditionally based in physical spaces and relies on delivery of group work in bustling community halls and youth club buildings. Youth workers have had to navigate a previously unknown digital landscape and make important decisions about how to present themselves in it.

The Youth Highland team! Top left – Rhiannon, top right – Jacquie, bottom left – Louise, bottom right – Clair.

Our small team at Youth Highland has had to adapt quickly to enable us to respond to the changing needs of our member clubs and young people.

Jacquie and Clair have worked hard to offer support and guidance to youth workers, helping them to use new methods and adopt appropriate digital policies and procedures to keep young people safe online.

Rhiannon and Louise have continued to deliver our regular youth work projects and learning programmes in online sessions. This has helped us to understand how lockdown is affecting young people, and enabled us to offer support and guidance to young people with a range of challenges and issues.

Young people have expressed different needs and preferences and workers have had to respond in different ways – personal chats, groups chats, video group calls, tiktok, memes, activity based recorded sessions.

All the while it has been crucial to remember we are delivering this service at a time of global crisis, so the need to consider how to record youth work sessions, how to recognise young people in distress and how to respond when there is a concern.

Ironically it seems that isolation has brought the youth work community closer than ever. In a period when we have been stuck in isolation in our own homes we have had more opportunities to learn from other youth workers than ever before.

We are seeing strengthened relationships and increased collaboration within the regional Voluntary Youth Network. A range of National online forums are regularly meeting and sharing good practice. There have even been opportunities to link up with the global youth work community and to learn how youth workers in other countries have responded to isolation before us and delivered youth work during lockdown.

Next week to mark volunteers week I will be writing a number of blog posts. Each one will focus on a member club who is stepping up and providing essential services for young people and their families during this strange and unprecedented time.

Each blog will be a big thank you and a recognition of the work of voluntary youth organisations in meeting the needs of young people. Perhaps, even in the current situation we can celebrate the strength of the relationships, the skills and the hard work of some truly incredible community organisations and initiatives which exist across Highland.

#Its time to say thanks

June 1ST – 7TH marks volunteers week. This years theme was going to be ‘Lets Celebrate’. But because we have all found ourselves in the midst of an emergency global pandemic, the theme has been changed.

I enjoy celebrating and have been known to really enjoy a good party. But now doesn’t seem the best time to celebrate. As a mum of 3 children who have had birthdays during lockdown I can definitely say it has been difficult to successfully organise 2020 celebrations.

No gatherings or parties celebrating volunteers will be allowed in 2020 and we will need to mark volunteers week by promoting staying safe and maintaining social distancing rules.

However, this year’s new theme is one I can get behind, and I hope I can persuade others to get fully behind it too. ‘Its Time to say thanks’ is a great theme for the voluntary youth sector in Highland and I hope together we will be able to raise awareness of our work during volunteers week. It is time to recognise the value of volunteering and of community organisations. To recognise the difference this work makes in our Highland communities and to say a big thank you.

Over the last seven years I have been privileged to lead Youth Highland and the voluntary youth sector through some of the toughest times it has ever experienced. A major part of my job is spent supporting voluntary Youth club management committees to seek 100% of their running costs to ensure the survival of community based youth work across the Highlands.

Youth Highland currently supports more than 140 organisations from across the region through the Voluntary Youth Network.

Our membership includes about 50 traditional youth clubs, playschemes and community based groups. These groups work with local volunteers – mums and dads, local community members, young adults, unemployed people.

Volunteers tell us that through helping to run youth clubs they gain new skills and qualifications, feel less isolated, make new friends and build up confidence.

Youth Highland also works closely with specialist organisations who provide support for young people. We have encouraged organisations to use a collaborative approach which supports early intervention and prevention. Organisations active in the Voluntary Youth Network include bereavement and mental health services, disabled organisations, young carers and care experience groups, criminal justice and addiction services.

By using a youth work approach and promoting volunteering, we can support young people facing specific challenges to participate in group work and recognise their lived experiences to positively help other young people. If you would like to know more about the work of Youth Highland and our network of third sector and voluntary youth organisations please sign up to receive our regular newsdrop by contacting, follow us on Facebook or Twitter or visit our website at

#Be Kind for Mental Health Awareness Week

Since the start of the CV-19 lockdown my social media feeds keep telling me that we are all in the same boat but some of us travelling in choppier waters.

We are all living in strange times with heightened anxiety and new and difficult challenges.

This week marks mental health week in the UK. The theme this year is kindness.

Mark Rowland, chief executive of the Mental Health Foundation, said: “We want to use Mental Health Awareness Week to celebrate the thousands of acts of kindness that are so important to our mental health. And we want to start a discussion on the kind of society we want to shape as we emerge from this pandemic.”

Over the past 2 months, thousands of acts of kindness have been undertaken by volunteers across Highland. It has been inspiring to see Youth Highland member clubs stepping up and responding to the needs of their local communities. Although our member clubs usually offer safe spaces and social opportunities to children and young people, they have been able to adapt and offer alternative support in the face of the global pandemic and fast changing community needs.

12 of our member clubs are offering essential emergency support – filling and distributing food parcels for families and activity packs for children and young people, delivering prescriptions and making calls to isolated older people to help keep them safe and feel less alone.

Our clubs are very well placed to offer this support. They are run by local people who are trusted within their local communities. They have strong and established relationships with individuals and families and they know which households might need a bit of extra support in such difficult times.

Many of our member clubs, and other voluntary organisations in Highland are offering support to young people online. This is new territory for many youth workers but has proved essential – ensuring young people maintain contact with trusted adults and are able to share their worries and talk about their hopes for the future.

Last week, YouthLink Scotland launched a campaign to ‘Invest in Youth Work’ stating that they expect an impending youth mental health crisis as a result of months of isolation for Scotland’s young people.

This prospect is very worrying. We must be ready and prepare to offer support and kindness to our children and young people as lockdown is loosened.

We cannot return to the ‘old normal’. We need to embrace and encourage change. Communities have proved that they are strong and resilient and able to make decisions and take control.

We must learn from our experiences during lockdown and encourage and celebrate more kindness as we move from a state of emergency into a period of recovery.

If you would like to know more about the work of Youth Highland and our network of more than 130 third sector and voluntary youth organisations please sign up to receive our regular newsdrop by contacting, follow us on Facebook or Twitter or visit our website at