Coronavirus grant helps get young people back to school

A YOUTH charity working to help young people from troubled families get back to school has been boosted by a coronavirus fund grant.

The Youth Adventure Trust, which works with almost 200 teenagers in Swindon, has been given £6,000 from the Wiltshire Community foundation’s Coronavirus Response and Recovery Fund to help it restart its activity programme. The money has been donated to the community foundation from Police and Crime Commissioner Angus Macpherson’s Coronavirus Fund.

Louise Balaam, the trust’s director of fundraising, said the activity days in October will all be part of the process of helping the young people get back to normality. It works with teenagers from difficult family backgrounds who have been struggling at school, including many who have been excluded and also young carers who are looking after poorly parents.

She said: “We are so grateful for this grant because these activity days will help get these young people back outdoors. We want to get them participating in group activities and have some positive social interactions away from school.

“We want them to continue their journey with us because we know what an impact we are making on their lives and we feel like they need us more than ever right now.”

The group has already had a £5,000 grant to set up one-to-one online mentoring sessions with the youngsters most at risk during lockdown.

The new challenge is to tackle anxieties about Covid, catching up with schoolwork and getting back into a school day routine.

“We do have concerns the young people might not want to go because of their anxieties,” said Mrs Balaam. “Many of the young people we are working with have had their routines go completely out of the window since March. They haven’t done any schoolwork, they have been staying up until 3 or 4am and staying in bed until 2pm so we need to get them back into a school routine.”

The group has come up with Back To School Bingo, a card that has a series of milestones such as setting an alarm and getting bags ready, to be ticked off. Each young person who fills their card in will get a prize.

“Back To School Bingo is about breaking their return down into little steps, helping them get some kind of routine back in their lives and trying to make that first day not quite so scary,” said Mrs Balaam.

“There are still a lot of fears about Covid. They have been told for so long that it isn’t safe to be with other young people and now they are being told to go back. We have some young people who had been excluded from school before lockdown and they are going to be starting at a new school with all of these measures in place. There are always underlying issues about they have been excluded but they have had very little support since March because social services and the schools themselves just haven’t been able to.”

The charity has also set up cluster groups to pair up young people from the same school. “Then they have someone to talk to about their worries and there will be a friendly face when they get to school,” Mrs Balaam said.

The trust’s annual residential activity weeks had to be cancelled during the lockdown but Mrs Balaam said they hope to resume them next year. “The activity days during the half-term will give them something they can look forward to and something constructive they can do with their time.

“We want to ease them back into normal life, albeit in a Covid secure way.”

Find out more about the YAT here.

Wiltshire Community Foundation interim co-chief executive Fiona Oliver said: “We are very thankful to Mr Macpherson for this funding and are pleased it will be helping this brilliant group to support so many young people when they need help the most.”

Donate to the Wiltshire and Swindon Coronavirus Response Fund here or apply for a grant here.

Pictured: Young people at a previous Youth Adventure Trust activity day