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 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’


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! 

Human Work?

I am a bit of a fantasy and apocalypse dreamer!  Reading, watching, thinking, gaming … it always sounds like fun to ‘avoid the hidden danger’ and admire the beauty in abandoned and overgrown buildings and streets, places that you can only imagine were once filled with the hum and thrum of humans going about their business.  Never did I imagine that that very place would become our reality!  That overgrown building – my house, the abandoned streets – my local town and the hidden danger – Covid-19!  Great game in there somewhere!

But what I didn’t consider in all my dreaming is what Youth Work would look like in this weird abandoned world – why would I?!   But that is what I have been forced to think about while dreaming through lockdown.  And its been interesting.  What do you talk about when nothing has happened?  How do you meet new people in a virtual world?  What ‘rules’ do you have to follow today and how does that change what you were doing yesterday?  What is Youth Work now?  To be honest I have no idea what the answer is … and actually I have come to terms with the fact that I don’t have to have the answers alone or at all.  What I do know is that in all this isolation Youth Workers and Young People are coming together, learning how to use technology and skills to adapt to the changing environment.  Although I still haven’t learnt how to spell … I’m only human!

Being part of the Youth Highland team, quite honestly, has changed my life!  I have learned what Youth Work is, how to get the best out of the young people I work with, be creative and imaginative and most importantly found people who are ‘my people’.  Youth Work is about being human, and that is complex!  Its about caring, empathising, challenging, aspiring and dreaming.  It is a privileged job, you are a player in someone’s life, someone who trusts you and needs you to be on their side.  You are non-judgmental and gentle.  You show understanding, even when you don’t understand!  And you are not always right – in fact you are rarely right!  You are an enabler.  It’s a big responsibility.  So because Youth Work is ‘human work’ being thrown into this virtual world is strange!

Being a head and set of shoulders in a small box on a screen with a lot of other small boxes full of heads and shoulders is the strangest way to do Youth Work.  All that body language that we are losing, eye contact, the ability to move around a space, be loud, talk at the same time, laugh and pick up on those small signs from young people that they might need a ‘bit of a chat’ is lost here … or is it?  

There are 3 principles of Youth Work, The BIG 3 as they are known at Youth Highland.  1 – Voluntary Participation.  2 -Start where the young person is and 3 – Learn together.  They have not changed, and don’t need to change.  The BIG 3 are just as relevant during lockdown as they were before and will be after.  This is where Youth Work comes into its own.  Youth Workers CAN change, they CAN adapt, CAN experiment with new ways of working and new technology because we are human.  Youth Work has been through many changes in its history why stop now?  This is the perfect time for Youth Workers and Young people to celebrate in their humanity and change AGAIN and AGAIN and AGAIN ….

We can re-learn to see the wee look in someone’s eye during a group video call that says ‘PM me after pls’, forget the etiquette of video calls that says ‘mute yourself when your not talking’ and talk over each other, joke and laugh at peoples jokes, talk to someone while your on a walk (obviously adhering to the daily rules!) and say someone’s name when you are talking to them instead of looking at them for example. 

Youth Work doesn’t have to change and Youth Workers CAN change, so during isolation cry, dream, imagine, aspire and hope.  We are all human and all do human work.

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 – https://www.facebook.com/ThePlaceYouthClub

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 www.thebuzzproject.org

Email info@thebuzzproject.org

WhatsApp – 07391 003575

Facebook https://www.facebook.com/TheBuzzProject/

Instagram https://www.instagram.com/bronwyn_buzzyouthworker/?hl=en

Twitter https://twitter.com/bronwynthebuzz1

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 – https://www.facebook.com/ThursoYouthClub

Twitter – https://twitter.com/ThursoYouthClub

Instagram – https://www.instagram.com/thursoyouthclub/

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 – https://www.facebook.com/claystudiomerkinch/

Twitter – https://twitter.com/studio_clay

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 – https://www.facebook.com/UllapoolSeaSavers/

Twitter – https://twitter.com/SaversSea

Instagram – https://www.instagram.com/ullapoolseasavers/

Website – https://ullapoolseasavers.com/