Foundation spotlight: Wilmslow Youth
This article is taken from our autumn 2022 edition of Equinox. You can view the full version here.
The famous proverb ‘it takes a village to raise a child’ captures much of what research tells us about how to effectively promote wellbeing amongst young people. Providing them with a community to belong to, where they can find healthy role models and strong friendships, is just as important as ensuring they have easy access to free, professional mental health services.
We are a youth support charity called Wilmslow Youth, and our work began in 2016 by bringing together teenagers, parents, teachers, police, community groups and charities to have one big community conversation to help us understand the self-expressed needs of our local young people.
The reason we wanted to include as many voices as possible in this conversation is that the solution to the mental health crisis affecting our young people isn’t one-dimensional. Support is at its best when it is multi-stranded, with professional therapeutic support being offered alongside wrap-around care, with opportunities to make friends and to be active, adventurous, and enjoy new experiences.
For that reason, our counselling and mentoring services have always been accompanied by our youth café, friendship groups, wellbeing workshops and alternative education programmes – all of which are free for young people to access. We partner with other local community groups and charities to encourage shared thinking and signposting. The idea of all of this is that when a young person comes for one-to-one support, they never finish without something in place to offer ongoing care and community for as long as they need it.
The need for this kind of support is now greater than ever. The effect of the last couple of years on young people has been staggering, with record waiting lists for mental health services, and large numbers of young people struggling with the emotional toll of loss, isolation, uncertainty, and worry. This picture has been well-documented in the media and has certainly been true for the young people right here in our town.
Referrals for our one-to-one support services have doubled in the last two years, the help given to us through the Equilibrium Foundation has made an enormous difference in ensuring we can keep waiting times low. The money has all gone directly to funding an expansion of our mentoring and wellbeing workshops. It’s meant that young people, like one called Millie, who came to us last year, can address difficulties before they reach a point of crisis. The kind of help Millie sought reflects what many other young people are looking for:
“I wanted a like-minded person to understand what I was saying and how I was feeling and to help me understand and do something about my depression. I didn’t want someone who was boring or didn’t seem engaged in my problems; I wanted someone who would help and be interested in me. I had a mentor who I connected with because they seemed really genuine and wanted to help as much as they possibly could” – Millie
We’re also hugely fortunate to have a wonderful community of volunteers who work alongside our staff team to help young people like Millie. Our volunteers ensure that the young people who come through our doors are welcomed warmly, listened to, supported and, importantly, fed some truly excellent food.
One example is two retired volunteers called Peggy and Mary, who help with a number of our groups and projects. To say that they have a magical way with our young people is an enormous understatement. Not only do they rustle up a delicious meal every week for the young people who come to our wellbeing workshops, they also take time to sit and listen to anything our young people need to talk about. They befriend them, ensure they feel welcome and at home, and help them work through life’s challenges by simply listening and empathising. One of the wonderful things about Peggy and Mary is that they are totally and disarmingly themselves – and allow everyone else to be themselves too.
Young people need community, they need healthy friendships, they need adult role models, and they need ‘grandparent’ figures too. These people don’t have to be relatives, they can simply be kind-hearted volunteers who will give their time to sit and listen. Our mission is to do all we can to facilitate this kind of community for as many young people as we are able.