Groups strengthen connections with young people during pandemic

In 2018, we launched Evening Standard Dispossessed Fund (ESDF) Save London Lives, which aims to build a better and more robust community response to youth violence in London by encouraging and supporting locally based solutions. Since 2018, we’ve awarded core and project grants to 57 grassroots organisations. The programme was funded through the Evening Standard Dispossessed Fund and supported by Mohn & Westlake, the Dodds family, the Home Office, Citi Foundation, and L&Q Foundation.

Despite the extensive challenges of the pandemic on small organisations and their staff, our partner organisations have continued to deliver, and in some cases to increase, support to young people at risk of being a perpetrator or a victim of youth violence.

Here we celebrate our partners’ creativity in the face of COVID-19 and highlight some of their successes.

Increasing and varying the support provided

Moving to online delivery allowed many organisations to increase the number of young people they support. Numerous local groups and charities pivoted or expanded their services to offer practical support, such as food deliveries or advice on urgent issues like housing.

One such organisation was The Violence Intervention Project (VIP) which works with young people up to the age of 25 who have been, or are at risk of becoming, involved in violent behaviour.

VIP uniquely combines a therapeutic outreach with practical support such as job searches or applying for housing. The practical support enables the team to develop trusting relationships with clients, who in turn feel safe to discuss what is going on in their lives.

Young people need space to talk about issues, even if it is quite criminal stuff, without fear of being reported, or arrested.
Charlie, Founder and CEO of VIP

During lockdown, VIP moved to online platforms and delivered food parcels to 13 families a week. This enabled them to maintain the vital relationships with clients throughout the pandemic.

Deepening relationships

Though their approaches vary — from job training to art installations to sport — building long-term relationships with service users is at the core of each organisation’s work. By building trust, support workers can help young people make choices about their emotional response, behaviour, affiliations, and aspirations.

Many organisations, including Newham All Star Sports Academy (NASSA), were able to strengthen these relationships during, and in part because of, the pandemic.

A sports charity, NASSA was founded by Natasha Hart in 2006. Natasha recognised the need to organise sports activities for young people when a weekly basketball session that she organised with her two sons grew to attract 30 participants.

Originally the aim was to get young people to play sport. Now reducing youth violence is the primary aim. Sessions are held at peak times, such as Friday after school, when young people might otherwise be targeted by gangs. Participants learn about knife crime through NASSA’s partners.

During the pandemic, NASSA had to stop all basketball training. Coaches moved to mentoring young people on an individual basis instead — delivering 100 hours a week of remote mentoring through Facetime and over the phone.

There has been a much deeper connection between the coaches and the young people during this period. This has reaffirmed the value of mentoring and how highly the young people regard the advice and guidance of the NASSA coaches.
NASSA’s Head Coach, Donnie Gabrera

Broadening mental health support

Recognising the increasing need for mental health support, many organisations began adopting a more holistic approach to working with young people — monitoring mental health and offering workshops. Some organisations even opened 24/7 helplines.

The Blue Elephant Theatre, which offers creative opportunities to those who would not otherwise access the arts, was one such organisation. They created a project to support the emotional and social well-being of school-aged children during school closures. ‘Lunch Time Laughs’ and ‘Afternoon Giggles’ provided drama games to allow children to interact with each other. Parents and teachers reported that the sessions provided a valuable outlet and helped children better engage with other Zoom lessons.

The findings at the second interim stage of the programme highlight the role community-based organisations have had during such a challenging time. As we progress to the final year of the programme, we can reflect on these community leaders in a positive light and recognise how, as small organisations, they acted to strengthen relationships with young people and build a strong community response. We look forward to continuing to assist the Save London Lives grantees over the next 12 months in a range of capacity building, networking, and support activities.