Loneliness: Helping our community to engage with solutions

According to research, loneliness is a bigger problem than simply an emotional experience. Loneliness and social isolation are actually harmful to our health: lacking social connections is as much of a risk factor for early death as smoking 15 cigarettes a day, and is worse for us than well-known risk factors such as obesity and physical inactivity.

Talk about it

A few months ago I wrote and performed a poem called ‘Talk About It’ for a BBC radio event on mental health. When I was originally approached to write a poem, I was asked to write about how mental health affects young people. Just the thought of writing and performing a poem on such a serious and sensitive matter made me feel anxious. The feelings reminded me that I would not have been able to perform in front of people and on live radio as little as 5 years ago, due to my anxiety. So I decided to write about…

Off grid mentoring = changed lives

Unlike the Famous Five, our students - accompanied by three leaders and one mini bus packed with basic camping equipment and lashings of quick cook pasta in place of ginger beer - set off for four days in the Brecon Beacons at the end of the summer term. Camping was challenging (as you can see) and you may well be asking yourself: why bother? The simple answer is that investing time and genuine interest in a young person reaps rewards that just aren't present when looking for the quick fix, or only ever relating in a formal mentoring or education setting.

Be who you want to be!

Our society struggles with its message to young people. Schools tell kids to work hard, parents tell them to succeed and get good grades, social media tells them to behave and even look a certain way – I can’t imagine growing up with all of these different ideas flying around for how I should behave and think. These messages aren’t necessarily mutually exclusive but this mix of ideas coming from every direction must be overwhelming. Over the course of 20 years working with young people, I’ve noticed an increased pressure on them since I grew up. Some of this certainly…

Why is alternative education so crucial?

Schools are responding to population growth, but how can we ensure that every pupil receives the best quality of education? We are in the middle of a policy void. An alarming place to be, given that we are talking about something so vital. The most recently set direction of travel was in March 2016 when the then Secretary of State for Education released a white paper entitled 'Educational Excellence Everywhere'. The introduction says 'there still remain too many pockets of educational under-performance – areas where too many young people miss out on the chance to benefit from the best possible education. This is deeply unfair.'

Get disengaged students to love learning again: here’s how

For some young people the big school setting simply doesn't work. It's too overwhelming. Too brutal you might say. Some young people just need a smaller class. A smaller school. Expensive? Yes. Undeniably. But we’re sharing our discoveries with you because they show that it’s possible to dramatically change the future trajectory for disengaged students to get them on course to progress into further education at 16+ rather than being added to the NEET numbers.

Corporate mentoring only engages those who are already motivated

Putting it bluntly, gaining the trust and respect of a young person who seems disinterested in anything other than making trouble is tough. Really tough. A mentor needs to have a certain resilience and determination to stick with it, often working through weeks of flak, or (worse) the rejection of silence, all designed to test whether they really care, before there's light at the end of the tunnel. A mentor deployed from the corporate world, often, is simply not equipped to deal with these demands. Mentors from big city firms have limited time but are GREAT at mentoring students who are high flyers in the making: already achieving and who, with a little nudge will raise their gaze and reach even higher. These students will thrive on the connection with the corporate sector; be driven to study harder, go to university or even seek work experience in their own time in the city.

Mentors have to care!

Over the last twenty years, I have seen the ongoing professionalisation of youth workers leave a tight grip around emotional attachment in mentoring – and while stricter guidelines are undoubtedly necessary for child protection, I have always stood firm in my belief that caring is absolutely essential for effective youth work. Mentors have to care. I can train mentors in health & safety and I can educate them in our company values, but I can’t teach compassion.  When recruiting new mentors, a caring heart and a vision for young people is my number one priority – everything else comes later.…

Building relationship is key when switching young people from failure to success

A few weeks ago Tony, along with his seven other classmates at SW!TCH Expeditions, was causing trouble at school. He could not relate to other students, would often blow up in class and beat up younger students if he didn’t like the way they looked at him. When he was agitated he became a health and safety risk - unable to cope with authority and a law unto himself. His Headteacher was giving him one last chance before the threat of a Pupil Referral Unit (PRU) became reality. Tony was selected as one of the candidates on SW!TCH Expeditions, a programme designed to turn students from persistent trouble-makers into consistent successes.

Reaching isolated young people; growing leaders

I don’t know if it was a sense of loyalty, or ownership – but I remember being keen to stay in the youth group I was involved in as a teenager. While my friends were leaving the club, heading up to join an older group, I stayed behind, eager to help out in any way I could. As I became part of the furniture, I found more and more opportunities to come alongside younger members– much in the same way as others had supported me when I first joined. This growing responsibility brought with it a passion for developing these…

My journey through secondary school

My personal journey through secondary school was tolerable at the best of times. It is no secret that adolescents in secondary school are handed both the taxing responsibility of being required to know exactly what they would like to do as adults and also a mountain of work to achieve that goal. However, despite having been on top of my studies for the most part as well as having a general direction of where I wanted to be in the future, I was still unhappy during my time there. So what was missing? It looks as if what a majority of…

Pastoral support: Short-term, light touch vs long-term, intensive

There's no quick fix for NEET young people. A sustained approach, with commitment and long-term funding is what inspires lasting change and creates game-changers like Robyn and Prince Robyn was coming up to her GCSE year, but didn't really care about school work. Her mentor noticed that her attitude to school was quite negative although she had plenty of time for doing things other than homework! Her mentor expressed her concern and in one of those conversations Robyn was struck by the fact that her mentor seemed to have a strong vision for what she could accomplish through her school work.