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17 Mar 2021 | 11:11

Cormac Whelan, Programme Manager for the Positive Youth Foundation’s Healthy Futures programme, describes how he and his team have continued to provide services during the pandemic, when only a quarter of young people were getting their recommended levels of exercise. 

PYF’s Healthy Futures strand offers regular health sessions in the form of physical activity, information and guidance, social action, volunteering and mentoring, with the purpose of directing young people towards positive, healthy and well-informed life choices. Our Healthy Futures programmes fulfil a significant role, particularly for ‘unseen’ health inequalities within Coventry and, with repeated lockdowns over the past 12 months, several of these health issues have been exacerbated, specifically with young people who were already feeling vulnerable. 

Sport and physical activity have always been central to our health programmes, providing weekly sessions for hundreds of young people, but with Covid-19 restrictions and multiple lockdowns we have been unable to engage young people through our open access sessions. This lack of face-to-face engagement has meant that as a team of youth workers and community coaches who have spent their careers mastering the art of relationship building through the medium of sport, we have had to evolve into online 'techies'.

Funding from the West Midlands Violence Reduction Unit and Levelling the Playing Field was granted to improve the physical activity levels of young people living in the Hillfields area of Coventry and provide mentoring support to those who are vulnerable. Now this might come as no surprise, but the nature of community sport sessions is to get young people physically active and doing this over a laptop or mobile phone comes with its challenges.  It is a testament to the long-term relationships our team has built with young people that they have managed to sustain engagement in sports and physical activity sessions as we migrated to online platforms. 

Throughout the lockdown, just over three quarters of young people (76%) said they missed their daily routine and only a quarter were getting the recommended level of exercise (30 minutes a day). Exercise session were moved to online platforms so that young people could still feel the benefits of exercise and physical activity not only on their bodies but also their minds. Creating a weekly timetable of online sessions and personal fitness challenges has helped young people have more focus for their day, knowing they have something to engage in outside of schoolwork.

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Throughout the lockdown period, a significant number of young people have reported a decrease in their mental health and wellbeing. Struggling with the stresses of school and family life has led to isolation, fear, loneliness, and uncertainty for too many.

Since August 2020 our National Lottery Reaching Communities funding has supported young people to run multi-platform social action campaigns, encouraging their peers to reflect positively on themselves, reach out, re-engage and create their own positive bubbles. These social action campaigns included young people creating videos, speaking openly and honestly about their individual struggles though lockdown. Young people set up podcasts, taking part in round-table discussions on difficult topics such as healthy relationships, domestic violence and Covid-19 safety messages that relate to young people in their day-to-day lives.

Positive Youth Foundation

During these unprecedented times of Covid-19, young people have shown great resilience and an increased awareness of their own emotional wellbeing, as well as a desire to support their friends, families and communities. It has given young people the space to express their thoughts and feelings, also allowing our staff to identify those who may need additional mentoring and one-to-one support. 

Adapting our services has allowed us to continue supporting those who have needed it most during the pandemic. It has put us in a strong place to guide young people into healthier and more positive life choices. Physical activity and social environments are vital to the development of a healthy child and we are currently preparing much needed sport and healthy lifestyle programmes across the city, ready for the coming spring and summer months (restrictions permitting!). 

For any young people struggling with the demands of life or finding things particularly hard during the pandemic, please reach out and engage with us. You can find us on Instagram (@pyfcoventry), Twitter (@positiveyouth96), TikTok (@positiveyouthfoundation), YouTube (Positive Youth Foundation) and our website (positiveyouthfoundation.org).