No need to hug to share the love

As Youth Work Week draws near, CCYS reflects on the joys and challenges of youth work during a pandemic

Despite going above and beyond with the quality and range of activities they offer, Crawley Community Youth Service (CCYS) have always recognised the most important thing they provide is a safe space for mutual support, friendship and community.

It isn’t too hard to imagine, therefore, how much their services were missed over lockdown. While they knew this would hit young people hard, they have been shocked by some of the situations that have been relayed to them now that clubs are slowly reopening.

CEO Dave Savage is acutely aware that many young people struggled without the safe space of youth club to escape to.

‘For some of them youth club was a lifeline, the only thing keeping them going’. He goes on to explain that having this ripped away left a chasm ready to be filled with insecurities, domestic violence and mental health problems. A number of young people have either been thrown out or left their family home because of confrontation levels and Laura Carter (Senior Youth Leader and Safeguarding Officer) has been in close contact with Social Services as well as providing 1:1 support for young people.

All this means that CCYS were over the moon to be able to reopen in July, despite the increased work involved in doing so safely. Recreating something of the feel of their bustling yet chilled youth clubs has been a huge logistical challenge for youth workers Laura Carter and Billy Lewis, requiring creativity to balance the needs of young people with meeting the new guidelines. Thankfully, the National Youth Association has confirmed youth work as an essential service, meaning the rule of six does not affect them.

Part of the attraction of youth club is its relaxed, free-flowing atmosphere but under the new guidelines everything has to be clearly organised to ensure social distancing. Rather than their normal all-embracing ‘everyone welcome’, numbers have to be limited and monitored.

This works for the Juniors (8-13) who are happy to focus on art and cooking activities in a structured and socially distanced way. These sessions at Dormans Youth Arts Centre have been a success. However CCYS’s other venue in Bewbush was deemed too small, so a walking bus has been organised by Alys Guntley (affectionately known as the crazy walking bus lady) for the Bewbush young people to join the Dormans sessions.

The Seniors (13+) are harder to cater for. For them, youth club is about hanging out together, free from school-style rules.For now, CCYS is offering small groups or 1:1 support, organised informally as and when they are needed. As always, it is about adapting to the needs of young people, something CCYS excels in.

Although initially CCYS resisted Virtual Youth Clubs – feeling there were already too many screens in lockdown – they are now seeing potential benefits of these and are gradually introducing them, particularly for their music groups.

Despite all the challenges, CCYS are happy and relieved to have the young people back and have made a huge effort to communicate that just because it’s different doesn’t mean they care about each other any less, adopting the new slogan: ‘No need to hug to show the love’, turning regulations into a positive by finding other ways to support each other.

This catchphrase will be the focus of a new graffiti project in the autumn, run by Tom Goulden of Priority 154, in which young people can discuss their anxieties around Covid related issues before working on a Covid memorial wall.

‘It is different,’ says Dave, ‘but it’s still positive.’