Blog May 2020

Implications of Covid-19 for youth work

Mark McGeachie, Head of Partnerships and Sustainability at Youth Scotland, writes a guest blog on the implications of the pandemic for youth work.

There are many words which have been used to describe the situation we are living through; pandemic, unprecedented, crisis, to name but a few. Yet, none seem to really capture the enormity of the situation or the range of emotions we are all experiencing. Each day brings new challenges; more news of the devastating effects the coronavirus pandemic is having on our communities; more hopes dashed, fears and anxieties realised.

An underlying cause of all of these emotions is uncertainty – uncertainty of when it will be over and when we can get back to normal, and also what ‘normal’ will actually be like in the aftermath. There are also heart-warming and inspiring stories of our shared capacity for love, kindness and the desire to overcome and help one another. At Youth Scotland, we are seeing and hearing of examples across this spectrum of emotion every day.

Our role is to support youth groups delivering community-based youth work across the country, together helping young people to realise their potential. We are supported in our endeavours by The Robertson Trust and many other compassionate and empowering funders who believe that the future should not only be protected for future generations, but improved upon.

Youth work by its very nature is based on relationships. Relationships between young people and youth workers, as trusted adults in their lives; young people and their friends; and young people and their communities. The overwhelming majority of youth work delivery is based on face-to-face contact which enables these relationships to start, to grow, to be challenged and to be nurtured. While absolutely necessary to protect our health, the abrupt end to this face-to-face contact has been a massive challenge for young people and those that work to support them. The question was and remains: how do we deliver community-based youth work when our communities are in lockdown?

There is a horrible irony that the need for youth work is perhaps never greater than during moments like these when life is uncertain and scary. Not being able to see their friends, go to schools and youth groups means that many young people are living in growing isolation and loneliness. Sadly, much research now shows that this can have profoundly damaging effects on young people’s mental health and wellbeing.

During this crisis, we are working hard to enable and support youth groups to be able to continue working with young people. We have been really inspired and excited by the new ideas and ways of working which people are coming up with to reach and support young people. We are incredibly proud to support and be part of a network that is rising to this challenge.

We are also humbled that our funders have continued to back us and our work. One of the best examples has been how the Trust, along with The Gannochy Trust and STV Children’s Appeal allowed us to re-purpose existing funds to provide a rapid response Action Fund, which has since been added to by the Ponton House Trust. This has enabled youth groups to purchase essential equipment from laptops to iPads to phones and data top-ups to allow them to stay in contact with young people and deliver activities and opportunities online. We have seen groups using the funds to:

  • deliver their regular youth group activity via Zoom or other online software and have ‘youth clubs at home’, meaning that young people are still part of their youth group
  • purchase activity materials, such as arts and crafts, games or mindfulness activities and delivering these to young people at home to enable them to take part in ‘online youth groups’ and even do more with their families
  • create ‘care packs’ for young people and purchase personal hygiene products or other items intended to support their wellbeing that are not included in wider community welfare support.

We know from feedback that this is having a very real benefit in enabling young people to stay connected with their youth workers and friends, providing much needed reassurance and social contact. This is a short-term solution, but one that we hope will have long-term positive impact on the lives of young people we work with.

The Youth Scotland Action Fund is but one of the ways we are enabling youth groups to continue to deliver youth work throughout this period and mitigate the risks of loneliness and isolation. We are:

  • Reassuring young people and youth groups by promoting essential information to manage their health and wellbeing during this period.
  • Creating new tools, resources and training to enable youth workers to re-scope their provision to embrace digital delivery opportunities. Afterall, digital youth work is still youth work, just using different tools!
  • Resourcing, developing and upskilling workers in the ‘downtime’ so they are ready to relaunch their youth groups once this crisis is over with improved and more sustainable provision.

There is undoubtedly an immediate need to support young people which we will continue to address. However, we are really mindful that the impact of this virus on young people and our communities will long outlast this period of initial crisis – the long-term effects on mental health and wellbeing is expected to be significant, and that has its own, real life repercussions. We know that community-based youth work has an essential role in helping young people to face whatever challenges still lie ahead. It is therefore vital that youth work is able to continue in some form while our communities are in lockdown. Nurturing the relationships young people rely on is essential to this endeavour. It will help ensure we are ready and able to meet young people’s needs as soon as the lockdown and physical distancing measures are eased.

If you are reading this and think that you or your organisation could help us and youth work both now and the future, please get in touch.

"There is a horrible irony that the need for youth work is perhaps never greater than during moments like these when life is uncertain and scary."