Power of Youth Day: Participation in the pandemic

two young people smiling at the camera

Sarah Simons, Participation Coordinator at Brook, talks about her experiences of youth social action during the pandemic as part of Power of Youth Day.

Power of Youth Day is an annual celebration of the contributions children and young people make to society through volunteering and social action. It’s a chance to spotlight the achievements of children and young people in the #iwill movement and beyond – through volunteering, mentoring, peer education, campaigning, and fundraising.

The pandemic coincided with Brook relaunching its participation work, and despite the challenges of not being able to travel, we quickly adapted to online methods of communication to engage with teams and young people across the country. This provided lots of new and exciting ways to hear from young people.

This year has been really tough for everyone, and especially for young people. Brook’s research with NYA last year found that 77% of young people felt more lonely during lockdown, and many young people were locked out of youth provisions. One young person commented:

Mental health issues especially at this time can be really hard, starting to lose interest in things you loved before, not wanting to go out and socialise, distancing and take yourself out of conversation.

Young person, 14, Participation Workshop

At Brook we were keen to reach and work with as many young people as we could despite the challenges of lockdown, and so a lot of our engagement went digital. This includes 1-1 work, education and participation focus groups.

The participation team launched a series of online workshops in Spring this year, inviting young people aged 11-24 to take part in education around digital friendships/relationships and to share their thoughts about problems they had been facing this year. We worked with over 60 young people from across England & Wales. Young people attended from areas known to Brook including; London, Wirral, Bristol, Cornwall, Essex, Manchester and parts of Wales, as well as attending from new areas less known to Brook; Worcestershire, Brighton, Norwich, Nottingham and Oxford. One of the professionals we worked with to help advertise the event said:

I met with the young person yesterday and she said it was really good. It’s great for us engaging our young people with others, not just our local area. As we are a small rural community, they don’t get that opportunity too often!

The feedback from the groups has helped the participation team to understand key themes important to young people namely mental health & wellbeing and relationship difficulties. Within the education element of the workshop young people also provided their top tips in relation to online safety which is also being fed into some of the education resources and our trainings for professionals.

Young people also reported enjoying ‘meeting’ others from different areas. Maddie, a young person who attended one of the workshops, said:

It was a real pleasure participating in the group – all of the other participants were so friendly and encouraging and it was heartening to hear about other peoples’ diversity of experiences of the lockdown. I also learned quite a bit from what other people were saying.

We even work with a couple of young Brook Champions living in Paris and we have still been able to consult with them using Zoom. It’s been an amazing time to engage with young people across the country and internationally!

We have been in awe of how young people have adapted to meeting online. Their ‘can do’ attitudes to trying new online platforms and software. Going digital brought some diverse ways of interacting with young people. Many young people felt more comfortable using the ‘chat function’ to share their views, than speaking, and interactive software using mobile phones offered the ability to feedback to the group anonymously. Young people commenting that they found it ‘fun’ to take part in this way. A key challenge is access to technology for young people during the pandemic. We are aware that not everyone has access to digital forms of communication, and these groups need to be prioritised as face-to-face work resumes.

As a founding signatory for the #PowerOfYouth Charter we wanted to ensure we continue to meet the commitments as outlined within our pledge despite the challenges of this year. At a time when many young people have been locked out of services, young people have shown us that they want to still participate, and to see positive outcomes from their actions now more than ever.

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