FARE Scotland supported young people to create innovative ways of coping with the pandemic.
Fare Scotland is a community organisation that provides a variety of services to support young people. They work, as part of this, in eleven secondary schools where staff are embedded in education to work with young people to provide opportunities for them and their families.
When COVID-19 hit last year the students at St. Mungo’s Academy in Glasgow were working on projects to support their mental health and along with the youth work team had to rapidly adapt to new circumstances. The young people wanted to continue with their mental health work and, at home and away from school, they were facing new challenges that they wanted to tackle. Not seeing friends and family stress were main factors affecting wellbeing.
FARE staff, responding to immediate need turned their hand to providing meals, food vouchers and financial support for fuel costs while the young people got to work in the background. FARE, working with local partners, had £30,000 worth of food sent to St Mungo’s Academy for distribution and distributed £350,000 worth of food vouchers in the first two weeks of lockdown. In addition, £30,000 worth of fuel assistance was provided. However, as time went on this assistance added up to over 1.2m meals being distributed to over 15,000 homes. This ensured young people and their families received essential support when many were facing additional financial challenges due to the pandemic. All in, around 100 organisations were involved in this frontline community response highlighting the crucial role of partnership at the grassroots level.
As the first lockdown continued the school’s young people got to work on innovative ways to stay connected and stay well. They began by setting up podcasts sharing stories on things they were struggling with, what was affecting them and how they were coping. The podcasts quickly grew to reflect local community life as young people set up interviews with teachers and others to get their takes on the lockdown. While the focus was on mental health the students wanted to home in on resilience and the positives, what could keep people going and ways to deal with our new and unfolding situation.
Building on the mental health response, young people developed a leaflet with helpful reminders on how to maintain wellbeing, covering the basics such as eating well, sleeping well, and limiting screen time. They wanted to make sure that while routines were up in the air, people were doing the right things to stay well. Soon the young people moved on to develop coping cards that proved useful talking points for interactions with youth workers.
Ever creative, next up was a ‘rant series’ where two or three students got together on a video call to ‘rant’ about what was affecting them. This gave the young people a platform to talk about what was important to them and allowed their voices to be heard at a time when usual communication channels were halted. Everything from exam stress to worries about the future were covered.
The students went on to create a BAME focused series as some young people pointed out that they didn’t feel represented in the output. This series has interviewed a number of people in high profile positions from BAME backgrounds talking about how mental health affects conversations can be quite unique to communities and how our language around the topic needs to reflect that. All of the mental health leaflets produced by the students have been translated into Arabic, French and Polish, the three most spoken languages in the school following English.
Looking to the future FARE staff at St. Mungo’s Academy are aware that young people will continue to face mental health challenges as they return to school and want to keep mental health at the top of the agenda going forward. Supported by FARE, young people at St. Mungo’s Academy drove their own response to the pandemic with creativity and passion. This bodes well for the future as we continue to face the challenges caused by COVID-19.