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Dingwall-based Youth Highland rises to coronavirus challenge as young people show their worth during global health pandemic

By Federica Stefani

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Rhiannon Elder, youth work manager from Youth Highland, Dingwall.
Picture: Callum Mackay
Rhiannon Elder, youth work manager from Youth Highland, Dingwall. Picture: Callum Mackay

THE importance of youth work has been hammered home at a time when young people have seen their lives turned upside down by the Covid-19 pandemic.

With schools closed for months, exams cancelled and activities put on hold, 2020 was a tough year.

Rhiannon Elder, a manager for Youth Highland, in Ross-shire, is well aware of the challenges.

She said: “It’s about enabling a young person to find out who they are, and test boundaries while being safe and being supported. Youth work is a real partnership between adults and young people, and enables them to go on a journey with a trusted adult, explore risks and new opportunities. It’s about learning and development.”

The organisation, based in Dingwall, supports youth clubs all over Ross-shire and the Highlands, and was successful in securing more than £60,000 in funding from the Scottish Government’s Youth Work Education Recovery Fund in November, working in partnership with clubs such as Tain YMCA Youth Café, The Place in Alness and The Clay Studio in Inverness.

Ms Elder said: “The external funders were really supportive, and let us use any existing funding we had available as well as releasing and opening new funding opportunities very quickly, and this enabled emergency response work to happen, as well as allowing continuation of the support to youth work.

“Our aim is to empower those youth organisations to work within their communities, and support the delivery of youth work that makes a difference in people’s lives. We are a small organisations and the Highlands are huge, and youth clubs are very different from each other and have different needs, but we really want to help each youth club do what works best for their community.”

Ullapool Sea Savers Isle Martin trip. The group has been very active in and around the Wester Ross village and gained a national profile.
Ullapool Sea Savers Isle Martin trip. The group has been very active in and around the Wester Ross village and gained a national profile.

Many youth clubs turned to help their local communities in a variety of ways in lockdown, either by organising food parcels for those in need or delivering creative workshops and other activities to overcome social isolation.

“Young people really care about helping the community,” said Ms Elder.

“It became an opportunity for them to be seen and raise their profile within their communities. They were able to be seen in a positive nature, and working together with adults to make a difference.”

For months, youth activities had to shift to virtual platforms before some face-to-face meetings were reintroduced.

Ms Elder recognises the importance of this continuity on young people’s

mental health.

She said: “It became evident to us that we needed to maintain a level of support and relationship for young people digitally, obviously, and we had to experiment with a lot of different types of technology. It really does make a difference to young people, even if sometimes, with everything moving to digital platforms, it can get a bit overwhelming.

“What we were able to do was very much supported by our national agencies, which was great.

Resilience packs
Resilience packs

“As a youth worker I felt a lot more connected nationally, which is something that sometimes in the Highlands we don’t get. But I was able to meet so many people that I wouldn’t have been able to meet otherwise, even from other countries, and this was a great opportunity.”

Despite the pandemic, Ms Elder underlines the importance of youth organisations in the development of the youngest generations through building skills and resilience.

She said: “Youth clubs have always been there, and what I was able to do when I was in a youth club still sticks in my head now above and beyond anything else, and I learned a lot from it.

“It definitely complements formal education and shares the same ethos, and works with young people to enhance their learning, and it’s important to recognise the skills that they’re learning as transferable and how to transfer them, and being able to then put them into practice.

“If a young person wants to get involved, get in touch and see what’s available locally – but if there are no groups in your community at the moment, why don’t you start your own?”

To get involved with one of the youth projects in the Highlands you can get in touch with the organisation at www.youthhighland.org.uk

Related: Field offers coronavirus youth work solution in Easter Ross town

The Place steps up to Covid-19 challenge with activities for children

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