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Wellbeing

Empowering young people to direct their lives

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This week we are in Leicester and Kent to hear how organisations support and empower young people to improve their mental and physical wellbeing, and how they use youth voice to enact positive change.

Hear from Gifted Young Generation (GYG) at The Grand and the Rights and Participation team at Leicester City Council about the work they do, the positive impact they make on young people’s lives, and how they’ve responded the Covid-19 pandemic.

Speaking to Kofi, Vivien and Harrison from GYG at the Grand

How does GYG at The Grand support you?

Kofi: GYG supports me with my creative ideas because it's like a tryout zone. I feel like this place is like my mini guinea pig zone for my life. So I come in here, I have an idea that seems out of this world in my opinion, but I can come in here and I can just try it, and if it goes wrong then the world never has to know. But, if it doesn't go wrong, then cool – I can go show the world of my new out-of-this-world idea that I've developed in a place where I know, I'm not going to get criticised – even if it does go wrong.

Vivien: You don't feel like people are only there to do their job. They actually care about you, and they want to do things to benefit you personally, and they want to hear your problems and they want to help you, and they care about your emotions and your feelings.

Kofi: I can just sit down and think ‘Okay, what am I going to do tomorrow? How am I going to be a better man than I was today? How am I going to eat dinner when I get home?’ It's just a lot of things that if I don't structure it properly my head will just explode, and I just let my emotions get the best of me.

Harrison: It is a family. We support each other, not only do the staff after the young ones, we look after each other. 

How did Covid-19 impact you, and how did The Grand help you overcome that?

Vivien: Personally, I think the way that my voice in GYG was impacted by COVID was actually kind of positive, and I think The Grand just took this whole new way of life so amazingly. We do Zooms all the time, and even though we can't necessarily meet face-to-face; they are always there. They always tell us – if we need support – where we can go, and I think it was amazing. Actually we got the opportunity with one of my friends to actually post out videos on social media about our worries about coronavirus, and our worries about school during the pandemic and stuff like that.

Kofi: COVID was very very draining, like it was very repetitive. GYG helped me maintain my desire in life, and it helped me to keep what I want at my fingertips and kept me consistent.

Harrison: I will literally just walk in and I'll have a chat with any member of staff that's around – I can't believe I'm calling you guys members of the staff 'cuz you're not really like that to me.

I've really struggled, but with the online Zooms that you guys put in place for us, I mean we've done so many fantastic things during COVID. I mean we've got in contact with places like Virginia in the US, South Africa, France, Germany's coming up soon. We're going global – and that is during COVID! So I think not only COVID is taking things away from us, it's also given as well.

Vivien: Stacey, who is like the GYG phone, messages me and says, "Are you okay?" She does that every single week and that I just appreciate that so much.

Kofi: You just get that one person who's like "are you okay?" and it's like "Yes! Thank you!", and you just sit there and you just chat, and it's cool. It's cool. It's a blessing. It really is.

What are you most proud of?

Vivien: I think just being a part of it [GYG] is like being proud.

Harrison: I think my proudest moment is my growth. I can't believe it – not just in terms of vocals or the artistry or anything like that, just as a person. I mean in terms of mental health really, and I think when obviously as you get older, your mental health follows through with you and I think that's the foundation of strength. I think if you can have a strong mental health and wellbeing as well, I think it just allows your outer shell just to go do things, just be happy, be strong and again, I know I keep bringing up The Grand and how important it is, because there should be many places like The Grand across the UK...I think the world – well that's what we're aiming for! 

I don't think if The Grand wasn't here, I don't think I could officially sit here in the grown skin that it's helped me to form and say these answers and be this direct and be this formal as well.

Vivien: I went and talked on the BBC. I've talked to Kent police, I've talked to different countries, I've talked to stars, I've interviewed them, and it's just it's really amazing to look back and see that, actually, this potential has grown because you have been given the experiences and the opportunities to actually use them and I think that that's a huge huge huge thing that has impacted my confidence and leadership skills.

Kofi: You know, I'm a very confident guy. I just go around and I'm loud all over the place ‘blah blah blah blah blah!’ People just look at you and their face is just 'shut up,' right? You know in terms of like, there's a lot of elements of confidence, and one thing that I do like that has been built is me giving support when I'm being that leader. I guess it's built me as a person. It's allowed me to give other people respect and for them to give me respect back. So that's definitely work that GYG has taught me.

Harrison: I think what I'm most proud of is that this– us being given these quite big challenging things, because you would never thought if I said to someone "Oh, I've raised nearly enough £10,000 with other young people to provide counseling services for those who need it in Gravesham," people would be like "Err," so it's quite – it's–you wouldn't think it. So us taking on big responsibilities like that. 

There's endless amounts that we can do, and it's very rare for adults to put belief into young people to light the way for the future. If there are any other groups out there doing this – keep doing it. Please keep pursuing it because it is great, and we need more facilities like this that can do this for young people, to educate – plus we're not only educating ourselves. We're educating the elder generation into what the future's looking like, and that's the most important thing.

Kofi: I will go to school right, and to anybody else who doesn't know who I am, I'm just a Year 11 kid, a 15-year-old just trying to get through school, but my head teacher sees me as someone with a valuable opinion now. He sees me. He sees me as someone who's like "Kofi, you do this make sure this is done. Why? Because I trust you. I see you as the guy that can be the leader." And he knows that because he sees me, he sees me doing all these things that help me build my character, help me build a personality that is different to the generic Year 11 student, and that's why I love this place so much because it helps me to build who I am and who I want to be. It trains me.

What advice would you give to other young people?

Vivien: Be keen, and to know that you want to learn and you want to take criticism and you want to develop yourself, and be keen for those opportunities. Don't just think that "yeah, they're going to come to me," because that's also really important.

Kofi: Talk to leaders. you're not going to get somewhere if you take advice from someone who hasn't even been there themselves.

How do you think society will change as a result of Covid-19?

Harrison: I think our society will change in terms of mental health. I think we've all been impacted by it. I would love to meet one person that hasn't. I know a lot of people unfortunately, who have had to go back to work – back and forwards – and nurseries haven't been open for someone to look after their children. Grandparents obviously haven't been able to visit their grandchildren and children. Parents haven't been– we haven't been seeing other civilisation. We've not been civil 'cuz we've been stuck indoors and I think this will change completely, and hopefully our government will see mental health with a totally different perspective now, 'cuz mental health, again like I've said, it is so important, and I think COVID has just proved that. So thank you COVID! Thank you and not thank you!

Bez and Tyler from Leicester City Council

Bez: My name is Bez. I'm the rights and participation manager for Leicester City Council. COVID-19 changed how we practiced overnight, and we had to move really really quickly online and I think as a local authority that was probably our biggest challenge because we're not good at moving fast, and online wasn't something we did actually as regular practice. 

What were some of the learnings you’ve taken from the last 12 months?

The biggest learning for us is that we can move fast. We can be proactive and responsive. I'd like that mentality and that mindset to continue as we move out of lockdown. We're desperate to get back face-to-face, meet people, see each other in real life, get those relationships reconnected in that way, but I think for some young people online worked.

So as youth workers, we support the wellbeing of young people in many different ways, but I think a more participatory approach as youth workers is that we would work with the young person to identify maybe where they're struggling. So we would support the young people to self care, mindfulness, as well as access that professional help if needed. It's all about the skills that we give young people to support themselves. 

So youth workers did welfare checks and phone calls, and we moved all our face to face work online really quickly. So one of the key indicators for us is to measure the welfare of those that we're working with – it's to meet with them, it's that direct work. It's the relationship that we have with them.

How does Leicester City Council approach youth voice?

The Lundy model [of participation] is a way that enables professionals to listen to the voices of children and young people that they work with, and it makes sure that they pay due diligence to their duty under article twelve of the UN Convention of the Rights of the Child. So in Leicester, we've implemented it because we want all children and young people that we work with to know that they have that right, and that we as the professionals working with them want them to secure that right and to be heard, and to know that what they say makes a difference. 

How do you evaluate and monitor the success of a project?

We monitor the success of a project in many different ways. I think participation itself will always give you evidence of success or failure, by the very nature that we're about voice. So those that are working with us will tell us whether it worked or it didn't, and it's about our willingness as professionals to listen to that.

What advice do you have for organisations that might want to start integrating youth voice into their work?

Fundamentally, I think as a participation lead, my biggest learning and biggest advice to other professionals and organisations is to go slow.

For participation to be meaningful, you have to go at the rate of the slowest person in the team, because if you leave people behind, it's not a meaningful approach – it's not going to embed. It's not going to be sustainable. So for me, it's about recognising the strengths and weaknesses of everybody you're asking to be involved, and playing to each of those. 

I think my advice to professionals is to trust the young people that you're working with to recognise that they as experts by experience can bring a lot to the table. I think it's about clear negotiated power-sharing, and me as a professional and other professionals need to be really clear to young people where they can influence and where the power can be truly shared – and have an honest dialogue

about that. It's okay to be honest with young people. I think young people will always respect that more than if their experiences with you are constantly about being let down or feeling lied to. 

And it's okay to have pitfalls – just learn from them. 

And what message would you give to young people?

My message to other young people is that you can make a difference, that your voice matters, and fundamentally that you have a right to have that voice be given a platform and for the adults in your life to listen to you and respond to that.

Why did you get involved in participation work?

Tyler: I got involved in participation projects because I wanted to make a difference. I wanted to do something with my time that was meaningful and had purpose, and I felt like doing something that I was passionate about was the key. 

I feel working around managers, directors and also trusting in the fact that my opinion means something– I feel like that was my biggest challenge, in trusting in what I say and hearing my own voice. So I'd probably say my biggest learning point, as cliche as it sounds, is to not give up and to carry on. 

I feel like in my life, I've done a lot of things that I have ended up giving up on and I feel like I've never been able to see the benefits of continuing and carrying on with something. I feel like the groups have given me what I need to be able to have that motivation to keep up, carry on with something and to see the benefits that come from it all.

How has being involved in participation work helped you?

I believe it has impacted on my mental wellbeing in a positive way. I think that because it's giving me a lot more confidence in myself, in my voice and having that heard. I think it's also impacted on my wellbeing through giving me something to do which is positive and constructive.

Another way that it's impacted me is that I have a support network that is always there to help me out when needed. 

It's given me transferable skills. I feel like – through confidence, through organisation, through talking to managers and directors – I've got skills that I can take on in anything that I do in life. 

How do you feel like you’re making a difference?

I 100% feel like I've made a difference. I feel like it's been one of the main factors that has kept me going in the groups and kept me grinding on with them all.

I've been doing it about 2-3 years now, but my word's having an impact, it's shaping projects and work, and my voice is being seen – and young people's voice being seen – in the projects and work that we're doing, and I think it is so important that it's not just heard or seen but it takes shape. It becomes something. 

What advice would you give to young people that want to get involved in participation projects?

If I could give any advice to young people that want to get involved in more projects like the ones that I'm involved in, ultimately I say just go for it. Take that leap of faith. When I first started I was anxious. I didn't know what to expect. I was really really quiet, and now you can hardly shut me up. I definitely think that young people should be encouraged to get involved because it gives them control over their life. It's empowering. If I hadn't done that, I wouldn't be part of the work that I'm doing right now. I wouldn't be making changes. I wouldn't be getting all the benefits that I do from being part of these groups.

Tell us about the work you’ve done over the past year during the pandemic, and how it impacted you?

Like everyone, isolation has really taken its toll, and throughout COVID it would have been very, very easy to just sit in my room, not doing anything. It gave room for me to say, "well, things ain't where I want them to be right now, but they will, I can see progression." It gave me a chance to escape my mind and stop thinking so much, and just put my effort and energy into something else for a while.

I feel like we were really proactive towards the start in getting things done really quickly. We started quaranteens and quarantweens, which got recognition on radio and we have won a National award because of it. The idea in all the projects that we started was to bring people together so people can have fun, people can enjoy themselves, people can socialize – make friends. I feel like we did that quite successfully.

What advice would you give to professionals or organisations that want to start embedding youth voice into their work?

If I could give any advice to professionals on talking to young people and listening to young people. If they've not, definitely refer to the Lundy model. It had a lot of work with young people to start with. It's very much based on young people's voices and opinions, and I just think it really sets a template and a basis for how professionals– how anyone should listen, especially to young people. 

It's not just being a fact of listening or being heard, it's more than that. It's the environment that you're in, the space that you give that young person, and most importantly, the influence that the young person then gives off. 

I feel it is so important for young people to be involved with decision-makers and involved actively in those decisions because it's our lives. It's our lives and I feel like it should be built around young people's voices. We're the ones living it. We're the ones with the lived experiences.

Gifted Young Generation

Gifted Young Generation (GYG) is The Grand Healthy Living Centre’s youth service and is designed to help young people to develop skills for their futures, create friendships and support young people’s mental health and wellbeing.

Started 13 years ago, GYG is based in Gravesend town centre, and provides activities for a diverse demographic of young people every single evening of the week. Those activities include youth clubs across the borough, activities in schools, singing workshops, cooking classes and they even have a podcast run by the young people. 

All of their programmes are fully directed by youth voice, which helps to shape every aspect of the service. Young people create, develop and inspire with their ideas and dedication to the projects within GYG, and they are frequently asked to speak with agencies around the world – including the United Nations and UK Parliament.

Mental health and wellbeing is at the heart of everything they do. GYG provides essential services such as a one-to-one counselling service, peer support groups and fostering friendships throughout the variety of groups and workshops they run.

GYG is funded by Kent County Council, The Kuflink Foundation and via partnership projects with organisations such as The Royal Opera House Bridge, Whitstable Biennale, Kent Sport, Kent Police and Kent Police Crime Commissioner.

Leicester City Council

Leicester City Council strives to provide robust participation structures across all their teams and is always cognizant of their duty to adhere to Article 12 of the UN Convention of the Rights of the Child. Article 12 assures that all children who are capable of their own view be afforded the right to express those views freely in all matters that affect them.

Given the wide-reaching impact the local authority can have on a young person’s life, the council has developed a centralised team with one manager who is responsible for aligning policy and training with delivery.

Bez Martin, who features in the video, is the lead for participation across social care and education, supporting a team of youth workers and advocates. She also holds responsibility for the development of policy and a training programme that sits alongside that.

Leicester City Council’s dedication to youth voice puts a lot of control directly in the hands of young people. On an individual level, young people are able to shape and contribute to their care plans, and make decisions about the services they receive. However, their role even extends to the organisation level, helping with staff recruitment and providing input into the training programmes and tools used by the team.

Bez was quick to admit that councils aren’t always the fasting moving organisations, but they surprised themselves with the speed in which they adjusted to Covid-19. Pivoting online delivery, they started the ‘Quaranteens’ social media campaign to support care experienced young people during lockdown. This led to their Care Experienced Consultants winning a Best Project 2020 award from National Care Leavers Benchmarking Forum.

More recently, Leicester City Council was bestowed a Children and Young People Now award in the category of recruitment and professional development. This was for the development of they participation training film and programme 'Was Not Heard'.

If this episode has inspired you to find out how you could support young people's wellbeing through embedding youth voice into your work, the following websites and resources might be useful!

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