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12 Mar 2021 | 17:17

London Youth is a charity which last year worked with over 27,000 young people through a variety of opportunities, including sport and physical activity programmes aimed at achieving wider social outcomes such as confidence and resilience. As part of our #AdaptSupportRespond initiative, we spoke to Sports Development Manager, John Jones, about how the charity - which supports a large network of community youth organisations - has adapted its provision during lockdown, and aims to respond to the challenges that lie ahead.

Q: Hi John, thanks for answering our questions. How have your groups adapted provision to support their communities and user groups, and what have you and they learned from previous lockdowns?

A: One of the main learnings to come out of the previous lockdowns is that while Covid-19 has affected everyone, the impact isn’t equal, so it is crucial to provide support specific to each of our member’s needs. From this learning, during the third lockdown we took a step back to get an understanding of the position of each of the community youth organisations on our sport programmes.

From responses gathered via a total of 103 phone conversations with youth workers across London, we now know that 45% moved sessions online, 26% of which had started as in-person delivery; 11% continued face to face via the National Youth Agency parameters, and 8% who started in-person would like to pause and resume in-person. Finally, 36% were planning to start in-person and that remains their preference. 

London Youth

In adapting our provision, our approach was to listen to our members and provide support and flexibility to meet their needs. We found that relationships not transactions were important; prioritising tailored personal communications with youth workers, and ensuring each interaction is about wellbeing as much as it is about programmatic delivery.

In the first lockdown, we established a sports specific WhatsApp community of over 160 youth workers from across London, which continues to be active as a space where challenges are shared and solutions are found together. We brought back and improved our RED January challenge and we are piloting an approach with UK Wallball to provide 50 young people and their families receiving food parcels a kit to be active together.

Finally we have broadened our training offer to meet the skills demand youth workers have identified as important to them, including themed workshops for those on our sports programme as well as connecting people to our wider organisational training offer.   

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What outcomes will your programmes help to deliver over the next few months, to how many of your pre-Covid user groups, and why is it especially important that they are sustained during this period? What outcomes were not delivered through the lockdown and what was the impact of this?    

We know that 41% of the 117 community youth organisations (across 29 London boroughs) on our current sport programmes are engaging with our team for the first time, all bound together by our collective goal to intentionally use sport and physical activity to do three things:

  • Counter-act the increased risk of inactivity and support young people’s physical and mental wellbeing, including introducing digital hybrid approaches.
  • Develop, or at the very least maintain peer relationships to sustain social capital at risk of eroding due to another lengthy period of social isolation.
  • Be part of a united community, that together forms the resilient safety net needed to survive now and that lays the foundations to rebuild for the future.

One of our member organisations reported during lockdown: 'Young people have lost social integration and are completely inactive without us. We are keeping them engaged and we need to retain them and keep them part of the community.' And yet we know that despite all the creativity and agility of our members, the disproportionate effects of Covid-19 have widened the gaps of inequality and increased barriers to access that our programmes aim to reduce.

Because of this, there will be outcome areas that suffer such as teamwork, and the chance to form meaningful relationships beyond young people’s immediate peer circle. We know it has also been difficult to stay positive, be optimistic for the future and have clear personal goals that are felt to be achievable. Plus there has not been much of a chance to grow and develop key leadership skills, and put theory into practice.   

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What impact did the lockdown have on your sustainability?  

Both our outdoor education centres, Hindleap Warren and Woodrow High House, have largely remained closed since the pandemic began, equating to over 16,000 children and young people who have lost the chance to challenge themselves outdoors this year, and develop key life skills at the swimming pools and leisure facilities.    

Our members have suffered significantly by the effects of the pandemic. Our Running on Reserves report released in June 2020 found that almost a third of organisations feared having to shut their doors within the next six months. It shows a loss of skilled workforce with nearly half of staff furloughed staff, and the impact on mental health with three quarters of respondents saying that the mental health of young people had been negatively affected. 

Looking ahead, sport and physical activity in the next decade will not achieve wider societal outcomes without trusted and skilled youth workers to deliver the change, impact and support needed. This is why we, along with the #BackYouth campaign and the national youth sector, continue to strongly support the need for the £500million Youth Investment Fund. This funding is urgently needed, and we believe its delivery should be a priority for the Government.

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What role can your organisation, and the wider Sport for Development sector play in the nation's recovery from Covid-19? How will you respond to new realities and heightened social challenges born out of the pandemic?  

During the pandemic, London Youth membership has grown to 637 youth organisations, an increase of 40% from the previous year. This is a clear indication that grassroots community organisations want and need a support system that understands them, helps them to adapt and survive, and champions good youth work as an essential service for young people. We do not underestimate this responsibility. We remain as committed to tackling societal inequalities as much now as we did 130 years ago and welcome the chance to work with the Coalition and partners.   

Examples of how we are responding include our recently-launched Good For Girls programme which will help community youth organisations to become mental health hubs, specifically focusing on Black, Asian and ethnically diverse girls and young women.

We have our partnership with Burberry (who are working with Marcus Rashford) to get much needed unrestricted grants to community youth organisations for the next two years, as well helping alleviate hunger and enabling young people living in poverty to catch up on their education. Finally there is our ComingofAge campaign which ensures young people's voices and lived experiences are seen and heard as this generation of young people is being disproportionately impacted by the pandemic.

Read more at londonyouth.org.