Youth work: From a distance

Aberdeenshire Council’s Work With Young People team is finding new ways and means to continue to support around 120 young people across Aberdeenshire during this difficult time. Some members of the team, and some of the young people they support, have shared their experiences so far.

Brenda Thorley who’s based in Ellon explained: “My role as a community worker working with young people has not changed with the impact of coronavirus and the lockdown, but the way in which I deliver the work has changed significantly. We are now delivering youth group sessions via tools including Google Meet and I have found that young people are enjoying the continuity of their youth groups as it is a safe place to ask questions and talk about how they feel without being judged, and there is also a social aspect to meeting up.

“We also have a couple of mini projects we are working on that will hopefully keep young people distracted from the reality of the lockdown, assist them in communicating with others and provide a safe place to work through what is happening.

“One group has decided to create a time capsule and our Youth Forum is hoping to share what they feel may be helpful for other young people during the lockdown. I am also setting up our one-to-one work online, offering support to young people who I would usually see on a weekly basis. This can be supporting them with issues such as mental health, friendships, bullying, behaviour and many other issues that young people sometimes struggle to deal with.

“The coronavirus has shown us how much young people value youth work and how important it is in their lives. On receiving the news of the lockdown, the first responses from one of our groups was, ‘Can we still keep our group? Can we meet online or something? Please don’t let it stop.’”

Jake (19) who’s from the Peterhead area and engages with the local youth group shared some of his feelings about lockdown. He said: “Normally I’d go to college. At the minute I can’t do that so I’m doing online lessons through Microsoft Teams – it’s good but not as good as face-to-face contact. You can’t do everything you would normally do in a lesson so we’re struggling with that.

“Not being able to leave the house is really difficult. Usually I’d only be in the house to eat, sleep and catch up with my mum so it’s strange being in the house all the time. I’ve got a lot more time on my hands than I would usually have which was hard for the first couple weeks but now I’m finding more productive ways to spend my time: like going out for a walk, a lot of reading, more research for college work, helping my mum home school my little sister, doing the garden…I never thought I’d say this but I miss my education and I miss my friends and other members of my family.”

In answer to how youth work sessions online are helping young people to cope, the team got lots of good feedback:

• “I can catch up with friends, connecting with people is good.”
• “Catching up with people and it helps relieve the boredom.”
• “It’s helpful to talk about what is happening in corona times and how people are feeling.”

Wendy Jones who works with young people in Banff shared some of the other ways in which youth workers are helping young people to stay afloat. She said: “I organised the delivery of a couple of food parcels, and I have been offering mental health advice and signposting young people to appropriate services. I am also currently helping to organise the delivery of public access laptops to families that require them to support home learning.

“This situation is not easy for anyone but particularly for those young people with multiple barriers to their learning and their families, this can be very stressful.”

Keeping up and learning new hobbies has been an essential survival strategy for many of our young people too. In Inverurie, a group who call themselves Art Clubbing are being supported by artist and art therapist Penny Downes.

Penny commented: “I have worked in Inverurie as a youth worker and community worker for nearly 20 years. I've always offered young people a safe place to be themselves and find a supportive new family of peers and caring staff. I've run many creative groups for young people, where they can share what they are interested in, and we are continuing to meet on video in lockdown. We don't know how long this will continue, but the group are glad to meet up with us weekly and chat and hang out.”

Community Learning and Development Service Manager Philip Boath is full of praise for his staff. He said: “Our Work With Young People teams are providing a lifeline to many of our most vulnerable children and young people across Aberdeenshire. It’s not easy, but they’ve taken on the challenge of going online with great gusto and I’m really proud of their ongoing efforts. Sometimes listening is the most important thing we can do and we have absolutely got our eyes and ears open.”

Chair of Aberdeenshire Council’s Education and Children’s Services Committee, Cllr Gillian Owen added: “While many of us are still getting up to speed with all the latest technology for engaging with our own extended families, this feedback from our youth workers and young people demonstrates how important these little communities we create are to the people who benefit from them. They are very much like extended family, supporting each other through this testing period.

“I’d hope that some of the more positive outcomes of this – remote access for those who may otherwise not be able to engage with groups, and the ease of catching up without the need to travel – may shape the way we do things well into the future. Thank you to everyone out there across the council and beyond who is continuing to try and ensure we support children and young people across Aberdeenshire to thrive.”

For more information about youth services in your area, visit: https://www.girfec-aberdeenshire.org/home/children-and-young-people/get-involved-youth-participation-and-engagement-in-aberdeenshire/

Details of contacts for child or adult protection concerns are available via the online Grampian Assistance Hub: https://www.gcah.org.uk/health-prevention/