Our work as an organisation is centred around the positive social networks that our different groups for young people, women and men provide. We have had to stop some face to face work and move to delivering our offer online through weekly Zoom sessions which we are currently trialling with our girls group. However, we know through this shift to online delivery that digital poverty is a harsh reality that a number of our members are living in.
Families we work with are trying to cope with five or six people in a small two
bedroom flat, or a small home, with detrimental impact on their mental health and emotional wellbeing. For these, it is unrealistic for both the young people and adults to be able to always go into a quiet corner to be able to participate in sessions and some simply do not have the equipment, Wi-Fi access or data to be able to join digital sessions – putting them at increased risk of social isolation and risk to their mental health.
In addition, whilst we have been supporting our staff and volunteers to run sessions and have purchased Zoom accounts to maintain online engagement, they do not always have the confidence to run sessions through an online platform and experience their own issues at home at being able to deliver sessions in a quiet space in which they can fully concentrate on the group they are working with.
All our members live in areas which are currently subject to heightened restrictions from government and increased social isolation and a detrimental impact on mental health are real issues for the young people we work with. The majority of these young people have not mixed with people outside of their family for six months and have not even ventured out of the house other than to go to the local shop. This has had a significant impact on their self-confidence and desire to try something new and engage with new people.
Mainly due to the extended ‘restrictions’ in the local wards where One Voice Blackburn operates we envisage difficulties for young people particularly to engage in ‘face to face’ operations as they may be limited. Some schools have not operated a full timetable so the young people will have to spend some time at school and some time at home studying. Our staff and volunteers will also have to be prepared to a ‘stop – start; scenario with face to face interactions, and then going back into digital formats. We are noticing that there is some ‘fatigue’ in relation to digital interaction. Therefore greater training and enhancement of services will need to be provided.
Digital and design skills support for our staff and volunteers will help give them the confidence to deliver effective and engaging sessions on Zoom in order to maintain and grow our members’ attendance on sessions. We want to come up with innovative ways to engage audiences which may be both online and face to face – as some of our members come back to face sessions there may still be members who do not want to take that risk therefore it is important for us to create ways to engage with both groups effectively and creatively. Training on virtual engagement for our young people will also give them the confidence to try out attending virtual sessions at home, trialling different backgrounds so that they do not avoid attending sessions because they are embarrassed about their homes, learning that they can attend with video or sound. Older members would also gain the digital skills and confidence to take a lead on running sessions – they are best placed to encourage their peers and younger members to regularly attend sessions, thus increasing the self-esteem and emotional wellbeing of all our groups.