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What’s happening at the Youth Zones – back to full open access

15th September 2021 by Kathryn Morley, Chief Executive, OnSide

With the Covid recovery underway, young people are settling back into a more normal school life with day to day routines returning. So what will this next period mean for young people, and how will our Youth Zones be there to support?

Young people have been through a traumatic experience to say the least, so supporting them to fully process what’s happened will help them overcome the long-term effects and positively reconnect with their pre-Covid plans, hopes and aspirations. Just last month, the Children’s Society published a report which worryingly found that 67% of 10-15 year olds believe that the pandemic will have a long-term negative effect on their mental health. It also sadly showed a rise in the number of young people who say they are not happy, from 173,000 (3.8%) in 2009-10 to an estimated 306,000 (6.7%) in 2018-19.

The need for mental health support is something we’re certainly seeing at the Youth Zones as more young people return. Health and wellbeing will continue to be an ongoing priority, be it simply having the listening ear of a youth worker, linking physical and mental health and wellbeing, or more targeted support offered through the Youth Zone and specialist local youth service providers.

The pandemic’s impact on education has also been widely talked about, as has the focus on catching up on lost learning. As we start the new term with an emphasis on getting back up to speed with the curriculum, we need to be mindful of the impact this pressure to catch up could have on young people.

We work with many young people who struggled to engage with school before Covid. We know for some young people that returning to school may be too insurmountable. For those who really don’t enjoy school, Covid provided a reason to break a habit they already struggled to keep.

Youth Zones have historically played an important role in reengaging young people with education. One great example is at The Hive (Wirral) where there has been a highly successful ‘Inspiring Futures’ programme running pre-Covid. The programme works as a go-between for schools and young people, developing integration plans and ways of working to support those who don’t find going school to be a positive experience back into education. Targeted interventions like this are going to be key to reintegrate those young people who are at risk of dropping out of the school system entirely.

Whilst many young people are keen and delighted to get back out there, we also know of young people who have been shielding and have expressed that they don’t yet feel confident to go outside. The impact of this extended period of isolation on this group can’t be underestimated. For those young people, returning to school is a big step, so my hope is that health and wellbeing is a key thread in the education recovery. This unified and connected approach needs to be taken across all aspects of the recovery as we know we deliver more for young people when we work together; complimenting each other’s efforts.

We’ve learnt a lot during the pandemic, we adapted the way we worked and the new good practices we’ve developed will remain. The Youth Zones have fabulous buildings, but more than that they are a collection of amazing youth and activity workers; the teams are our biggest assets by far. As we did during the pandemic, where young people can’t make it to the Youth Zones, the team can go out delivering outreach in the community, another increasingly important part of our work.

The Covid situation continues to unfold, we don’t yet know the true extent of the pandemic’s long-term impact. There’s no doubt that there are going to be difficult times ahead for young people, so now more than ever we need to ensure they have strong support. We are determined to provide that support in communities where we have Youth Zones and hope to bring support to young people in more communities through new Youth Zones.

Young people have shown incredible resilience over the last 18 months, which no doubt will continue into this new phase. One thing we know for sure is that we’ll continue to show up for them, adapting the way we work to ensure they get the support they need, when they need it.