How a youth organization copes with confinement

Youth First is a work mutual for young people in Lewisham, South London. It provides youth work support for Lewisham Council at 15 centres, all of which have been closed due to the coronavirus pandemic.

Here, Mervyn Kaye, Managing Director of Young people firstexplains how the association adapts its support to young people.

“We tried to think about what we normally deliver and do it virtually. We took a push and pull approach so we tried to meet the kids where they are and used WhatsApp, YoutTube and Tik Tok and used Zoom for live interactive elements.

We have implemented challenges such as “bust a move” where a young worker releases a dance move clip every week. We hope that young people will grab it and grab hold of it so that it has a life of its own. We did the same with online exercise classes and group movie viewing using iPlayer. We will be starting virtual youth club sessions next week. A youth worker will moderate a session and do activities like running a debate or quiz or overseeing the production of a podcast.

There is a lot of backup and the legal issues you need to resolve to make it work. From a backup perspective, you can’t control who’s in the room with someone when they’re on Zoom, for example, so you have to be wary of anything that’s inappropriate to be said or written.

We have gone through the list of young people we are in contact with to assess who is vulnerable so that we can hold regular discussions with them on WhatsApp and Zoom. These young people are vulnerable but do not reach the threshold of Social Protection participation. If an educator notices something that worries them during a one-on-one conversation, they will report it; young people understand this.

Staff have been trained on Mental Health first aid so they can identify anyone who might be in trouble. Some are a bit shy about using technology. In the past they have been reluctant to use it because it goes against our DNA and because we want to meet young people in person. They adapt but it is not easy. Staff miss young people and the interaction they have with them.

Staff are also stressed about what this will mean for our summer program as we normally start planning it now and it takes years to plan. I think we will have some kind of summer program, but we don’t know what that might look like. For example, we can’t book trips because we don’t know where we’re going.

I think we will still use social distancing measures at the end of May, but what does that look like for a youth club? It is very difficult to implement. Young people have been brilliant at social distancing, but if we continue the lockdown will we get to a point where fatigue sets in? How long can we sustain these behaviors? »