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Undertones of hope: reflections on how young people at risk of youth violence experienced our national lockdown

Undertones of hope: reflections on how young people at risk of youth violence experienced our national lockdown

by TJ Dairo, youth worker and StreetDoctors programme coordinator

Nationwide lockdown. A time where an overruling uncertainty plagued society. A time where being told to ‘stay indoors’ or ‘work from home’ for some of us, felt a bit like a life sentence behind bars. A time where the word ‘unprecedented’ was heard more times than ever before.

I think we can all agree, the past seven months have been challenging for the vast majority of us. Society is battling with thousands of job losses, thousands more on furlough, widespread panic, restrictions from seeing and spending time with loved ones, increases in mental health-related issues. However, although we all faced the same lockdown restrictions, the impact of lockdown and what happened behind closed doors was incredibly diverse, especially across social demographics.

As a youth worker I was aware of the impact on young people from working-class backgrounds

As a youth worker, our line of regular face-to-face engagement was put on hold, so it made me more aware of the impact it was having on young people, especially those from working-class backgrounds. If the people close to me, as well as myself, were going through a challenging time, I couldn’t begin to imagine how young people at risk of youth violence across the UK were battling with it.

So, to gain a clearer understanding of the experiences of the young people we support, StreetDoctors, along with our friends at Redthread and MAC-UK conducted a research report, Living through a lockdown: Reflections and recommendations from young people at risk of serious violence.

The research directly asked young people at risk of youth violence about their experiences while in lockdown. Buried amongst mental health issues, fears of the future, and a lack of support, there are undertones of hope; inspiring elements of the work young people have done in their communities. A contrast with society’s perspective of young people, shedding light on the positive impact lockdown has had, as well as areas we as a community need to act on.

Buried amongst mental health issues, fears of the future, and a lack of support, there are undertones of hope

These young people talk about feeling trapped, not only inside the house but mentally trapped, feelings of isolation, and the mental health related issues surrounding that. Some express being fearful for their studies and how cancelling exams could have a potential effect on their job or college prospects, whilst others spoke about the lack of support from key areas like family, friends, school, and key services.

What was striking and inspiring to me was, despite all this negativity, these young people managed to turn their situation around. They found their own unique way to cope, found a better use of their newfound free time, and found ways to support and help their communities. They turned what felt like a global negative into a personal positive, and that for me, highlights their determination and willingness to want to push through, keep fighting.

We have to be the ones to stand by them and provide consistent support. A colleague once said, “We talk about the issues young people are facing, but, if we aren’t doing anything about it, what’s the point?” Words that have echoed with me ever since.

Our youth have spoken, now it is our duty to listen and act.

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