World Mental Health Day – Youth social action and well-being in lockdown
EmpowHER, a programme to inspire young women and girls to lead change in their communities, has been nominated for a Charity Times Award 2020. Hallie, 16, is a recipient of the Blessed Pier Giorgio Frassati Award and one of the participants in the Preston programme, and here she speaks about the programme, and how the programme’s social action work has changed to respond to the pandemic and lockdown.
I’ve only just turned 16 and I am a young leader and mentor of Preston Impact Youth Group’s EmpowHER programme, which aims to build young women and girls’ self-esteem and wellbeing by proving meaningful social action opportunities. Now in my second year of the programme, I can reflect on my journey. At the start, at age 14, I was nervous, barely able to speak up and fast forward to now I’m… a LOT more confident.
A lot of what I learnt during the process of becoming a young leader was down to self-belief and knowing that I could organise activities for a group of people, of different ages and abilities. I work alongside the girls in the EmpowHER group and I work alongside other members of Preston Impact Youth Group, because we are a team that is united by friendship. Thankfully before lockdown, I began mentoring younger girls who really value having someone to support them who is nearer their age, and to whom they can relate.
With all the uncertainly and fear of the pandemic, it was important that the young girls in the group felt they were still part of the programme and they were connected to one another. Communication was a challenge and we needed to adapt as we mostly relied on face to face meetings. We quickly moved to Zoom and text messages. And then there’s the challenge of the social action itself but we have looked for opportunities to come together and help our communities.
Early on in the lockdown, the local branch of the Salvation Army called to say that they were desperate for food and other items for their foodbanks. The group and I organised an appeal for donations, contacting young people and families on the EmpowHER project and Impact Youth Groups, by phone and WhatsApp to try and get as many goods together as possible. They were overwhelmed by the response.
My group was quick to adapt, visiting three care homes in the area to deliver biscuits and cards they’ve written for the residents. Although we’ve not been able to see the residents in person, it’s been lovely to be able to do something for them to help them through a time where many are feeling isolated. The feeling I got when I saw the real effort that people had made to support the Salvation Army was remarkable.
I knew our group would do a pretty good job at helping out, but I was not expecting to see the amount of bags that I saw when I arrived to drop my donations off. I was completely shocked and felt quite tearful, especially with the current situation of Covid-19 being quite challenging for families. It really showed that not even a global pandemic can stop the Impact Groups from helping the community when it most needed it.
The impact of lockdown on young people, especially school closures and our wellbeing, is clear. This focus on combatting social isolation for us is even sharper than before, and EmpowHER’s mission, to inspire young women and girls to lead change in their communities, has never been more relevant.
In today’s world you need a voice and we’re going to need one in the future, because it’s our future.
The National Lottery Community Fund and the Department of Culture, Media & Sport has invested £25 million seed funding to create the #iwill Fund to support young people to access high quality social action opportunities.