Blackburn Youth Zone was featured on ITV’s Tonight programme, highlighting the impact of COVID-19 on young people.
Throughout the pandemic, young people’s voices have been lost with the focus elsewhere. Tonight spoke with young people across the country, including members and staff from Blackburn Youth Zone.
Youth Zones across the OnSide network have dramatically re-shaped their offer during lockdown, enabling them to support young people at a time they needed them most. Creating a virtual Youth Zone at Home, our youth workers engaged with tens of thousands of young people across he UK through engaging social media content, virtual sessions using video technology such a Zoom, remote one-to-one support and being involved in community schemes providing food and hygiene packages.
The programme followed Blackburn Youth Zone’s Head of Operations Leon Crosby as he made home visits and heard about the fantastic support that youth workers had been providing. However, Leon also spoke honestly and openly about the immense strain that young people are under and what is needed to give them the support and guidance they need.
Leon told the programme: “For some of our young people, we may be that last support system when other support systems have failed them. The government has shifted, and rightly so, their attention to support the NHS and the vulnerable and because young people haven’t been identified as being at risk they’ve almost been forgotten about. If we don’t wake up and start listening to young people’s experiences, young people potentially will be suffering for generations.
“It’s had a massive impact, whether that’s been on the household income, a family member’s mental health and because of that young people potentially aren’t getting the support. Some families are going without food, some families are going with the uncertainty of them potentially not returning to employment and that has a massive impact on a young person’s wellbeing. Young people are inside and are seeing all these changes but are not understanding where to go. Sometimes the home environment isn’t conducive, it’s toxic. Whether that might be substance misuse, neglect or abuse in general. Some of our young people are living in those circumstances and there’s very little opportunity to get out of that, especially during COVID-19.”
Leon’s team, like many others across the OnSide Youth Zone network, have spent many hours making home visits and holding doorstep conversations with young people, while also meeting others in the local community.
The cameras spoke to Senior Club members Phoebe, Damian and Matthew about how not being able to access Blackburn Youth Zone has impacted them.
Phoebe said: “Being able to go into a place where you’re not judged and you can be who you’re want to be and (the youth workers) are always guiding you – that’s what I miss, the guidance and support. It’s not the same as a video call, I miss speaking face to face.”
Damian said: “You’ve got a lot of things going through your mind like how much you miss family. Depression kicks in. Every day its touches and gets worse until you want to hibernate in your own room and cry.”
“I miss speaking to the youth workers,” added Matthew. “When I’m feeling down, they come over and talk to me about it.”
For others, like nine-year-old Paige, the Youth Zone’s digital offer has been a lifeline with life made even more difficult as for the vast majority of lockdown, she has been unable to leave her family home.
Paige said: “It’s been quite annoying because my mum is classed as shielding so I’ve only been out for the last couple of weeks. I just physically wasn’t allowed out, it was annoying not seeing my friends.”
Blackburn Youth Zone has supported 858 young people throughout the crisis.
There has been an increase in demand for Youth Zone’s services due to the pandemic, with young people needing them now more than ever. Concerns relating to mental health, emotional well-being, social isolation, concerns within the home (toxic trio of substance misuse, neglect and abuse) have also been highlighted by members and parents.
Paige added: “The Youth Zone has helped me with my bad days where I don’t want to do anything, it helped me forget about lockdown and gave me something to look forward to. When the youth zone activities are on, I wake up excited.
“Being in lockdown has been hard. My mum is shielding so I have to stay in doors to keep her safe. The online activities have helped me see my friends and stay positive. In particular, the digital mentoring has been really good, me and my mentor have been doing loads of creative activities and she helps me talk about all my highs and lows. I can’t wait to see her in person and she is always friendly and offers me advice. I cant wait for the youth zone to reopen.. I will be there before the staff!”
Blackburn Youth Zone has supported 303 young people through targeted youth support via their ‘Internet Youth Club’ and a average of 555 young people have engaged with the ‘Youth Zone at Home’ programme on social media. The organisation also spoke to 354 young people during May, through phone calls, social media surveys and Zoom youth club sessions, 67% of young people stated they had struggled through the crisis and had benefited from the support BYZ has provided them.
The Youth Zone has worked with local partners such as Blackburn Young People’s Services in the distribution of 10,120 meals to members of the community in need during the Covid-19 crisis.
During Ramadan a community Iftar (opening of the fast) took place where over 70 people from different backgrounds came together to share an Iftar video call in an ambitious project led by Blackburn Youth Zone and supported by the BwD Strategic Youth Alliance. The Big Iftar event, was arranged with the help of the Youth Ambassadors and Community Ambassadors, both projects delivered through the Council’s community cohesion initiative. The Big Iftar event delivered meals to 500 households.
OnSide Youth Zones Chief Executive Kathryn Morley said: “The Tonight programme shone a much-needed light on the devastating effect COVID-19 and the subsequent lockdown has had on young people. We are so proud of the incredible impact Blackburn Youth Zone has made during this time, they have been there for young people – and the wider community – when they have needed them more than ever.
“One of the core values of Youth Zones across the OnSide network is to put young people first. As Leon said so perfectly on the programme, we must listen to them and hear their experiences to help them build the futures they deserve.”
Hannah Allen, Chief Executive of Blackburn Youth Zone, said.
I am particularly proud of the work that our team, volunteers and patrons have provided to the young people of the town. We have carried out 203 welfare calls each week to our most vulnerable young people. 12 of our most vulnerable young people have received 1-2-1 digital mentoring each week delivered by volunteers. 115 young people have benefited from a range of different employability opportunities providing them with vital skills and techniques.”
“The coverage on national television reflects the work that youth groups in Blackburn with Darwen have completed as a partnership, with Blackburn Youth Zone firmly committed to making a difference to young people of the borough. Despite the difficulties arising over the pandemic we have been there for the vulnerable young people and their families.”