15 May 2020

We’re launching a series of blogs from our members of staff who are continuing to work with vulnerable children and young people during the current COVID-19 crisis. Some staff are working directly with young people in our frontline housing services and others are continuing their vital work virtually.

Kicking off the series is Ella, a youth worker who leads our WAVES (Wellbeing, Awareness & Voice for East Surrey) youth group which aims to raise awareness of mental health and provide group support for young people aged 13 to 19. She tells her story, in her own words:

What’s your job and how long have you worked for YMCA East Surrey?
I am WAVES coordinator and I’ve worked for YMCA East Surrey for 6ish years in different roles.

What’s the best thing about your job?
The best thing about my job is getting to work with some very inspiring young people who are passionate about making things better for other young people in their community. I also get to work with a wonderful team of people

How has your job changed under lockdown?
My job has changed a lot during lockdown as we are unable to run our face-to-face group WAVES sessions across East Surrey. Instead, we have moved all our activities online. I create daily videos on mental health and wellbeing topics for WAVES members and also post different activity ideas for young people to take part in at home. We follow the same layout as we would if we were running a normal WAVES session but have just moved everything online. We engage in group chats and play lots of fun games and take part in quizzes. We have also started 1-2-1 calls to support young people and families which have been successful. I am very proud of how we have adapted and how well young people have been contributing and leading activities with WAVES online.

Describe a typical day…
I start every day by creating a short video for WAVES on a different mental health and wellbeing topic or activity for young people to engage with that day and creating resources to go with that video including worksheets and links to other online videos and helpful websites. These are then posted online and sent out to WAVES members.

I then start the 1-2-1 meetings with young people and families who need extra support and someone to chat to. I send out extra activities and resources to these families or refer families to other projects/organisations who can also support them at this time. I am able to direct young people and families to other brilliant YMCA East Surrey programs such as Heads Together counselling and our 1-2-1 mentoring programme which also support young people and families at this time.

Next, I plan the live WAVES session for the day – what games we are going to play and the topic for the group chat. The live WAVES sessions take place every weekday between 3:45 and 5:15 and we engage in group chats, quizzes and different fun games to raise our spirits.

I also spend time reaching out to other community groups and organisations letting them know about our WAVES program and the support we are offering. Some young people from WAVES also take on individual projects around WAVES topics such as creating a positivity video and a monthly newsletter for young people. Keeping in contact with funders and supporters of WAVES is also a big part of what I do ensuring that the work we are doing can continue. Thank you to everyone who has been supporting YMCA East Surrey and this project and helping us continue to deliver a great service for young people.

What are the new challenges that the young people you work with are facing?
One of the biggest challenges is social isolation. All of the young people engaging in the WAVES program have stated at one point or another that they are feeling lonely. They miss seeing friends and extended family and feel that their world has got significantly smaller. Feeling isolated or lonely can have a negative effect on someone’s mental health. As social beings, we need social interaction to stay healthy and positive. Though the WAVES online programme, young people are able to engage with other young people and their friends in a safe and positive environment. They are able to talk about things that are worrying them and engage in activities that keep them busy. This helps to tackle some of the social isolation and loneliness young people are feeling.

Have you had any particularly memorable moments at work since lockdown began?
Yes, there have been lots of memorable moments. As a WAVES group, we have laughed lots and created lots of great activities and projects during this time. One of the most enjoyable things we have done was making the WAVES message of positivity video which we sent out on YMCA East Surrey’s social media channels. It was great to have lots of young people taking part to spread some joy and positivity to others. You can watch the video here

What advice would you give to young people during lockdown?
Keep engaging with others and socialise with friends and family through online mediums. Take time to relax and do things you enjoy at home and reach out if you need support. There are lots of people and projects who can support you if you need.

Thank you to all the young people who have been taking part in WAVES online by contributing with their wonderful activities, messages of positivity and sharing all the wonderful things you have been doing during this lockdown to support others! You are all stars!