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24th August 2020

Learning through lockdown – a Youth Zone CEO’s view

by Gavin Evans, CEO of Future Youth Zone

The last few months have been a rollercoaster of emotions, challenges and learning. It’s too easy to move forwards whilst forgetting to take the time to reflect. Therefore, I wanted to write this blog, my first ever, to remember some of the things that I have learned over the past few months.

As a starting point prior to 23rd March 2020 Future Youth Zone was a vibrant and bustling place dedicated to having a positive impact on the lives of young people. Every week we provided over 1,500 young people with somewhere to go, something to do and someone to talk to. But as we all know everything changed…

During the next few months our dedicated team worked hard to stay in contact with 1,200 young people to ensure they had access to someone to talk to throughout lockdown. We also worked with Barking and Dagenham Council and like-minded community organisations to deliver food parcels and medication to vulnerable residents. I’m immensely proud of what our amazing team of staff and volunteers at Future Youth Zone were able to achieve over the last few months but there are three things I’ll look back on as my own personal learning.

Be Decisive

There are times in football when the ball goes out of play and nobody, not even the players involved, can be completely confident of which person last touched the ball and therefore what decision the referee should make. One thing that helps people to accept whatever decision the referee makes is if it is made quickly and with conviction.

The number and importance of decisions that needed to be made on a daily basis throughout the last few months was at a rate I have never experienced. It seemed like every day I was required to make choices with very little experience or foresight to base them on but at the same time each decision had the potential to have a huge impact on everyone connected to the Youth Zone.

Two things got me through making those decisions. The first was staying true to our organisational values to make choices about how we would move forwards. They helped to guide my thought process, but also offered reassurance that despite not knowing what the end result would be I had stayed true to the values that our team embraces every day. The second was to be decisive. I learned quickly that slow decision-making during times of uncertainty would only seek to create more worry and concern. Providing clarity quickly for our team, young people and other stakeholders proved to be the most effective way of operating. In hindsight not every decision that I made ended up being the right one but, by staying true to our values and being decisive, we were able to keep moving forwards and ultimately ensure we served young people to the best of our ability.

Have a plan

Whilst we were doing what we could for young people and the wider community, our new way of working was not as fast-paced or at the scale the team was accustomed to. It was clear that to create purpose and hope we needed a plan for how we were going to move forwards towards a new normal, or as we called it, ‘Back to the Future’.

I make no apologies for the cheesy title of our plan. From a communications perspective it works internally and externally and provides endless opportunities to satisfy my terrible sense of humour for film based puns. We’ve had t-shirts for young people printed with #BackToTheFuture on the back which have been going down well and I hope will show the community that our doors are open again for young people.

‘Back to the Future’ is owned by everyone. We all spent time deciding on what each part of the plan would look like and what our organisation’s objectives and key results would be. As you would expect the plan changed and evolved along the way but because the final destination and overall purpose remained the same, managing the constant and unexpected changes felt relatively smooth.

Have some fun!

Work should be fun! There is so much to be gained from people being happy and wanting to get up for work every day. I work at my best when I’m happy and, although we were dealing with situations that were unprecedented and at times challenging, it was important not to give up on having fun where we could.

We had a daily 30-minute team meeting via Zoom throughout lockdown. If I’m honest, initially I was a bit worried that the meetings weren’t really focused on work related matters and felt that we could’ve been making better use of the time. However, it became apparent that those 30 minutes together each day were priceless for us to maintain a connection with each other and, despite being physically separated, enabled us all to still feel part of a team. I looked forward to seeing everyone at our Zoom meetings and it has helped me to remember why having fun and being happy at work is so important.

It would be impossible to cover all my learning during lockdown but being decisive, having a plan and having some fun along the way are my top three takeaways. Nothing groundbreaking or nothing new but perhaps a good reminder for me that when things feel complicated and confusing it is best to keep it simple!