Youth Work – Moving Past Lockdown

Its National Youth Work week and this year Youth Work has a lot to celebrate!  Ok, so there’s been this world-wide pandemic going on (and an election apparently), but through it all there’s also been Youth Work. 

I have just attended Scotland’s National Youth Work Conference hosted by YouthLink Scotland and although it was yet another digital gathering the faces I could see were enthusiastic, resilient and smiling!  During lockdown Youth Workers were able to stand out in communities and do what Youth Workers do best – listen, support, learn and respond.  The Voluntary Sector in the Highlands has been incredible and continues to be incredible with little or no recognition and in many areas without the emergency response of voluntary youth workers and community volunteers there would have been no available response.

But this year has been more than a virus ridden year to put to the back of the cupboard and forget – much more …

Scotland is leading the way in the UK by incorporating the UNCRC into Scots law – this shows Nationally our commitment to young peoples rights, I am proud to have supported young people to be a part of that process over the last year.  And what a step forward that is to have people in power can be held to account for every decision they make that effects young people.  

The Youth Guarantee may be as a result of covid, but it roots are well developed!  More recognition that in Scotland we have young people are our heart and really do care about what kind of future we leave for them.

Youth Work has been working alongside formal educators much more equally to support young people and has taken huge steps this year to be Nationally recognised to have a big part to play in closing the poverty related attainment gap in Scotland.

“Youth work complements the formal curriculum, creating more flexibility and choice for young people and enabling their development as confident, successful learners.”

– Quote from YouthLink Scotland’s case study report ‘Youth Work’s Contribution to the Scottish Attainment Challenge

National funders are recognising the value in supporting grass roots, community based, partnership work and with that comes an exciting opportunity for Voluntary, Community based Youth Work to grow and develop where it hasn’t been able to.

And that’s just a few of the changes nationally that mean Community Based Youth Work is raising its profile and making a difference.  Locally we have seen amazing work with amazing young people, we’ve mentioned a few in previous blogs so please go and have a read, there really is inspiring work going on.  

There are so many good news stories, but my all-time favourite Youth Work story from underdog to hero is the story of The Place in Alness.  Left homeless and destitute they have turned their story into one of being able to deliver some of the best and most beautiful Youth Work in the Highlands … and arguable in Scotland.  They have been visionary in manoeuvring themselves during, even without covid, the most difficult time they have faced and, when many may have given up, what has happened has meant that young people in their area have been supported, have been volunteering, have had many more opportunities to try new experiences,  but above that have been able to have FUN!  Their story is incredible and it isn’t done – you can read about it and keep up-to-date with what they are up to on their facebook page and website – and I do urge you to!

The Field, The Places new home in Alness looking beautiful!

“The future is bright …. The future is Youth Work”

There have been a whole load of studies done this year and whether it be because of covid or not the evidence shows that mental health is a main concern of a high percentage of young people.  Youth Workers have their work cut out for them, but changes in the way that Youth Work is being viewed by decision makers mean that slowly it is being recognised that the ‘top-down’ nature of the way work with young people has been done in the past needs to be different.  A recognition of the importance of partnership, real evidence-able community engagement and move towards fairer distribution of resources means that Community based Youth Work in the voluntary sector will be able to be seen as leaders and experts in what it is best at.   The future isn’t going to be easy, but lets be honest, the past wasn’t easy either!

It doesn’t take big statements or headlines to make a difference, in fact in many cases quite the opposite.  In my complicated mind, Youth Work works a bit like a sound technician – the show will go on without them but it just won’t be the same.  Youth Work changes lives!

“Youth Work has enabled me to manage with issues in life better”

– Young person, 16yrs

Whatever is going on in the world there will always be young people, and that means that there will always be a need for youth workers to stand up for their rights, walk with them when they need it and shout with them when their voices aren’t loud enough! 

Go Youth Work!   

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.

Introvert or Extrovert – What shade are you?

The following will discuss introvertedness and the feelings some introverts possess about social contact in correlation with the lockdown restrictions and the difficulties created in youth work by this. These accounts also share how lockdown may have lessened the social stresses of introverts. The first account is from a young person while the second is written by a youth worker.  Both share their views and experiences on the matter. 

PART 1 – VOICE OF THE YOUNG

Part of the scientific definition of Adolescence – it is a time “when young people want to spend more time with their friends than their family”.  That is quoted from an article about the effects of social distancing on young people’s lives and social abilities, on the BBC – https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/health-53022369 .  Whoever created this definition has clearly never encountered an introvert.  While those that are more socially inclined are struggling with the current restrictions, the antisocial ones are enjoying the peace and lack of obligation to socialise.  We now have a very good reason to be left alone.  Whilst I cannot speak for all introverts, largely because we don’t speak to each other, it has been pleasant being free of the weight of conversations and other aspects of social contact.

The peace and tranquility of a walk in the times of social distancing and isolation

However, when the current restrictions are lifted it is likely that there will be a great tide of social obligation and expectation.  And this may cause antisocial people a great amount of stress as we are expected to see person after person and talk seemingly for decades.  While lockdown will remain an issue for some time eventually it will subside back into the general avoidance of socialisation except for when we can’t think of a good excuse.

Written by ‘Unknown Young Person’

PART 2 – VOICE OF THE OLD(ER)

There are a lot of people across the world at the moment who are craving social contact, missing gathering together, celebrating, making noise, laughing loud and generally making merry!  Lockdown is hard on those people, forcing them to live in their own company, use digital tech to meet up with friends and family and having to stay 2m apart even when they do go out for daily exercise or weekly hunting trips to the supermarket.  There are adverts on TV showing an alternative way of communicating to physical-social meetings but always mentioning that it is not quite as good as the real thing.  From the young to the old people all over the place miss other people.  They are not all extroverts but in general extroverts make up a majority of this group. 

There are another group of people.  This group can be found, if you are quiet and don’t scare them off, in small groups of friends, playing computer games, reading and enjoying their own company.  They get anxious when they know they have to attend a social event and sometimes go to extreme measures to avoid the stress of it.  Sometimes the anxiety starts days, weeks or months before they have to attend a gathering and the pressure of being around people who talk about looking forward to going ‘out’ can be crippling when you just want to curl up and sleep through it.  This group of people in general have found lockdown a relief from those stresses.  Introverts (again I generalise), seem to have found lockdown easier than their extroverted brothers and sisters, and in some cases a relief. 

My outer introvert feels most comfortable participating in calm alone tasks – like this, a tile making session at The Clay Studio back in summer 2019.

I am an extroverted-introvert (yeah, go figure!).  The confusion that this combination of personality traits causes me is mind boggling, really it is!  I feel the crippling anxiety during the run up to a big night out or meal for at least a week in advance.  I don’t sleep, get angry and my mind frantically works to find me a reason not to go (a good one so I don’t look silly … again).  On the occasions that I don’t manage to get out of it and have to turn up, my inner extrovert appears and I am full of life, loud, confident, happy and leave saying to everyone “Can’t wait until next time!”.  Just so you know the same happens next time!  Lockdown for me personally has been a welcome relief from social situations.  I love it and have never felt so calm and in touch with myself.

Ok, here comes the Youth Work bit I promise ….   

I have felt ‘sick’ for days before going to a residential, before running a session with Young People I have never met (even sometimes with young people I have met) and before attending meetings with more than 2 people!  Those are the times I really need my extrovert, but where has she gone?  How do you get back in touch with the extrovert after lockdown?  How do we support young people to do this? (answers on a postcard …)    

Possibly one of the last photographed sightings of my inner-extrovert at Fledgling Evolution in November 2018!

As we move from a time where we have been under the most control, that certainly I have experienced in my life, into a new world I think it is more important than ever to listen to the people around us.  Youth Workers have always listened and responded to the needs of young people, after all the world will be there’s once we have done ruining it.  We should be extra sensitive to the needs of the young people we work with and support them gently to navigate the new world and in turn young people can teach us how to we can work together and better understand their needs and troubles to enable us to provide the highest quality of support possible.  It is a partnership, a symbiotic relationship where we as grown ups (I would dispute this in some cases) sometimes think they need to ‘take the bull by the horns’ and ‘power on’ and ‘take charge’ of things, but actually we need each other and we learn from each other.  It is young people who need a world to suit them and they all need the opportunity to find or re-find their inner extrovert if they want to, so that they can walk confidently into their world. 

So I will hunt down my inner extrovert and force her to show her face every so often because Youth Workers across the globe have a responsibility to shout about the issues that young people face on their behalf, because introvert or not, that is what we do! – I’m just going to take a few deep breaths in a dark corner to relax now!7

Written by Rhiannon, Youth Worker

These 2 statements were written by a youth worker and a young person independently and we were both surprised to find when we shared them with each other how similar they are.  So in conclusion, we think that during lockdown and in the months ahead coming out of lockdown it will be more important than ever to remember that we are more similar that different.  People, young and old and of all races and ethnicities will have the same feelings of apprehension, anxiety and hope.  Whether you fall into the extrovert or introvert shade or indeed somewhere in the endless shades of grey in between, this is a time to care, support and understand each other and above all be yourself! 

#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 jacquie.steel@youthhihgland.org.uk, follow us on Facebook or Twitter or visit our website at www.youthhighland.org.uk