Our youth volunteers are worried about what’s next … but they’re really pleased to still be able to be involved with us.
I work in youth engagement for the Canal & River Trust. I spend a lot of my time meeting people and groups to get a sense of what’s going on in the youth sector and the wider world, so that I can figure out how the Trust can play a role in that.
I help make sure that the projects we’re running around the UK are created in partnership with or led by young people themselves. Lots of our projects now have ‘young leaders’, such as youth steering groups and panels, who are involved from the outset in making the decisions.
We try to understand the big trends and challenges affecting young people across the country, from rising youth mental health issues to rising youth unemployment. Lots and lots of young people’s employability hopes and plans have been cut short as a result of the coronavirus pandemic. This is the bigger picture, but it’s really important that we think about local needs and the needs of the specific groups and individuals that we’re working with as well.
Many of our projects have had to be put on hold in the last few months during lockdown, but our young volunteers are still really keen to keep doing things with us. I’m finding alternative ways to keep them engaged and interested while we’re working remotely. They’re helping us develop resources for young people on wellbeing and reducing plastic waste, and they’re getting involved in the Trust’s strategy work too. We’re doing as much planning and development work as we can, so that when the government’s restrictions ease, we can hit the ground running and restart projects.
There’s definitely a sense that our young volunteers are worried about what’s going to happen next. Some have lost out on apprenticeships or traineeships that were due to start, and others haven’t been able to finish their courses and placements, or take their final exams.
Young people are aware of the impact this is having on them. But in the main our volunteers are really pleased to still be able to be involved with us, and still be able to do something. The resources they’re helping to develop will benefit other young people, and that always appeals to them.
As well as my main job, I’m also a mental health first aider for colleagues at the Trust. I saw an advert for the role and immediately wanted to get involved. I’ve done some specific courses on children’s and young people’s mental health in my own time. I thought this role would be beneficial from a personal point of view. It’s always good to equip yourself with this kind of knowledge and these skills.
I went on a two-day training course and got started in 2018. As part of a team of mental health first aiders working at the Trust, I deal with people’s queries as and when they come up, but I also do as much as I can to prevent people from getting to crisis point.
[Looking after our mental health] is such an important thing. Why wouldn’t we talk about it more?
There are periods when I’m busier, such as around Christmas. My manager is very understanding. If somebody needs mental health first aid support, that takes priority. I’m clear with myself that that is where my energies and my attentions need to go for as long as it takes to give that person the support they need.
I’m there to listen mainly. A huge part of the role is knowing where to signpost people, because I don’t necessarily have all of the answers. I check back in on people. It’s always nice to know that I’ve made a bit of a difference.
I feel so passionately that there shouldn’t be this stigma around mental health. It’s such an important thing that why wouldn’t we talk about it more? Anything I can do to make those conversations easier, more frequent and more of a part of everyday life, then I’m really happy to do that. I get as much out of the preventative work as I do the one-to-one support.
I’ve got hobbies to help me wind down after work. I had a very thick layer of dust on my sewing machine, so I’ve got that back out. Through this situation, as awful as it is, people are finding creative solutions and rediscovering things they loved doing, or discovering new things they love. If we can take some positives out of all these challenges, then that’s got to be a good thing.
Here are a few of the best websites on mental health that I often recommend to people.
- Mind has a whole range of information and support options to help you look after your mental health, including a helpline.
- The NHS’s Every Mind Matters campaign has tips and tools to help you cope with certain situations, such as if you’re worrying about coronavirus or you’re struggling with working from home.
- Young Minds is useful if you are looking for ideas on how to support and have conversations with children about mental health.