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The past 12-18 months has been a difficult time for everyone, but it’s children and young people, particularly those from disadvantaged backgrounds that have been disproportionately impacted.
We have seen the impact first hand in Manchester. Isolation from friends, family, school, health services and other support networks has led to a worrying rise in young people considered ‘vulnerable’ or in need of additional support – many who were not in this category before.
The challenges facing our young people are broad and complex, ranging from issues relating to employment prospects, loss of education, family finances, loneliness to the impact of bereavement or other traumatic events experienced during the pandemic – and all are having an impact on children’s mental health and wellbeing.
A recent survey undertaken by mental health charity ‘Young Minds’ highlights this, revealing 67% of young people believe that the pandemic will have a long-term negative effect on their mental health.
I also worry that the impact of the pandemic on young people’s emotional health and wellbeing will be felt for a longtime to come. It’s why I believe so powerfully that youth services up and down the country such as those provided across the OnSide Network of Youth Zones, are so important – as together we are committed to being there for all young people who need support in the long term.
We officially opened HideOut Youth Zone in Gorton – Manchester, at the end of September 2020. It was the height of the pandemic and children and young people were crying out for social interaction, having experienced months of not being able to get out of the house to meet peers and simply have fun.
Since then I am incredibly proud that we have supported 1250 young people – providing invaluable support and a listening ear to children at a time when they needed it the most.
Mental Health is a big priority for us. To help support increasing need from young people we have trained all staff and volunteers as Mental Health First Aiders. This means any young person needing support with issues relating to their emotional health and wellbeing, whether that be anxiety, depression or loneliness always has someone to talk to that can advise them, or signpost them to other partner support services to ensure they get the holistic support needed.
The ‘Nature’ theme of this year’s Mental Health Awareness Week is incredibly timely. Many of the young people we support have had to isolate for lengthy periods of time without access to a garden or outdoor space.
We are extremely lucky that our building backs onto a local park which has given us a great opportunity to run sessions outdoors. In addition, we have also created a small garden area which forms part of the Youth Zone’s outdoor recreation area. Young people have been learning to grow their own produce fruit, vegetables, and flowers – reconnecting them with nature, the outdoors and also their peers in a safe and meaningful way.
This project inspired a regular group of young people who have now launched their own gardening club (GrowOut) and have supported local intergenerational projects with local groups, planting bulbs for Spring and revitalising community flower beds and park planters, while making a positive contribution to their local neighborhoods.
In recent weeks, we have also partnered with local organisations Debdale Nature Trail and Hulme Community Garden Centre who have generously provided new seeds, bulbs and plants for the garden. Volunteers from other partner organisations have also offered to support young people to develop their understanding of the benefits of nature and horticulture further.
Our members tell us they are having fun, making new friends, getting out of the house and that it has had a positive impact on their mental health by promoting calm and helping de-stress.
I was a little surprised by how popular these activities have been! In fact, following consultation with our members, we now plan to expand and create an urban sensory garden in a space originally earmarked as a skate park, so that we can offer more young people the therapeutic benefits of nature and fresh air for the long term. I welcome any partners that would like to help us make this a reality.
This week, and all year round, Youth Zones will continue to play a critical role in supporting young people’s mental health, development, personal and social growth. As we emerge from the pandemic we commit to being part of the solution so that our young people in Manchester can continue to recover and ultimately thrive.
Adam Farricker, Chief Executive, Hideout