Leading youth work charity UK Youth is calling for greater investment in the youth work sector after receiving a huge number of applications for its new fund.
Earlier this year UK Youth, working in partnership with the Julia and Hans Rausing Trust, launched Thriving Minds, an ambitious £10m fund for projects that improve mental health support and provision for young people through youth work. Projects will be supported for three years, both with funds and a tailored package of extra support including workshops, training and growing communities of best practice. Although the Thriving Minds fund has already been generously boosted by an additional £1m from the Westminster Foundation, UK Youth still appealing for urgent financial support to meet the growing need.
The UK Youth Thriving Minds fund is only open to charities or not-for-profit organisations in the UK with an annual income of less than £500,000, whose primary purpose is supporting children and young people aged 8-25. Despite this targeted approach, in just three weeks the fund received more than 1,000 applications worth over £30m a year. UK Youth believes the numbers show the scale of the challenge facing both youth mental health and the youth work sector and believe this will rise as the effects of the cost-of-living crisis kick in.
Ndidi Okezie, Chief Executive of UK Youth said: “The Julia and Hans Rausing Trust has made this possible, investing millions in a fund that will improve support for young people over the next three years. We are delighted to have already secured an additional £1m from Westminster Foundation. Together we will fund 100 projects, many of which will include full-time youth worker posts able to support thousands of young people.”
The demand has totally out stripped our funding, even with the generous support from Julia and Hans Rausing and the Westminster Foundation, nearly one thousand youth organisations and the thousands of young people they support will not get the help they need. With a youth support system already on its knees post pandemic we know these figures are only going to rise as we face the biggest cost of living crisis in a generation.’
Applicants were asked to outline the mental health challenges facing the young people they work with, giving insights into the drivers of poor mental health in local communities. Over two thirds of applicants sited poverty as a significant and detrimental contributor to the mental health of the young people they are working with. Low income is causing a raise in stress and a significant number of youth organisations mentioned that they are now providing food. In some cases, youth clubs have started their own unofficial foodbanks, sending young people home with supplies. As well as supporting their family, this also gives the young person a sense of being able to help with family problems. Other youth organisations are serving up full meals for the young people they work with which, especially out of term time, is their only cooked meal.
Ndidi Okezie, Chief Executive of UK Youth said: “We established Thriving Minds in response to the growing numbers of young people struggling with their mental health post pandemic knowing that youth workers are ideally placed to help. The need is now greater than ever. We know with the right support, youth workers can spot the signs that a young person is experiencing difficulties and can support them to open up, talk through what they are going through and seek help if they need it. Young people are already feeling the effect; stress levels are raising at home and often the only person they feel safe sharing their concerns with is their youth worker.
In July 2020, the prevalence of mental health problems in 5-22 year olds went up to one in six, up from one in nine in 2017. This comes at a time when support for young people is suffering. Children are waiting up to three years for access to mental health care in some parts of the UK. In the last decade more than 4,500 youth work jobs and 760 youth centres have closed, as over £1bn funding has been cut from the sector. A recent report by UK Youth and Young Minds found that 87 per cent of ‘trusted adults’ – often youth workers – working with under 25s in the community, frequently support young people with their mental health but feel underequipped to do so
UK Youth has also seen and recognised the incredible strain Youth Workers themselves have been under, not only wanting to support struggling young people but also dealing with their own mental health issues. The Thriving Minds fund also seeks to address this, providing support and training for the benefit of Youth workers as well as the young people they serve. While the pandemic has had a huge impact on young people’s mental health, analysis from the UK Youth Thriving Minds grant applications shows that the drivers of poor mental health go beyond the unique circumstances of the last two years. Funding is desperately needed to help hundreds of projects that will improve the mental health support available to young people in their community.
UK Youth are urgently seeking more partners to support and grow Thriving Minds. UK Youth supports successful applicants, via their grant model to effectively implement and maximise the impact of their often to small community-based projects that can get overlooked but which make a huge difference to the young people they serve.
One application came from Sandwell Youth in Action, a small charity based in Smethwick just outside Birmingham. It is a local organisation of young people who work to support disadvantaged young people from Birmingham and Sandwell. They applied for £30,000 to run a programme to support youth mental health problems that will include a drop-in centre, dedicated support workers for young people with mental health problems and sessions that will tackle and break down the stigma that surrounds mental health.
Morris Walsh, Co-ordinator at Sandwell Youth in Action, said: “Many of the young people we support are extremely worried about money and are very stressed out. It sometimes feels like money is the only thing that young people can think about, it stops them focusing on anything else. They worry about credit card debts, store cards and catalogue debts, bank and payday loans, loans from friends and families, overdrafts, water and sewage bills, rent arrears, gas and electricity. Many of the young people in financial difficulty are having feelings of hopelessness, which cause great distress. For some young people, these feeling become overwhelming and lead to a mental health crisis like psychosis or suicidal thoughts
20Twenty Productions CIC is a not-for-profit organisation based in March, Cambridgeshire, that improves social mobility for young people by building confidence, essential skills for life and one or more creative skill sets. It does this through music, art, theatre and other creative endeavours, and by empowering young people to gain qualifications and access real-world opportunities in the creative industry. They applied to the Thriving Minds fund for £43,000 to support, among other projects, their after-hours cafe, access to counselling, and work in schools with children struggling with anxiety.
Katherine Nightingale, Chief Executive of 20Twenty Productions CIC, said: “Depression, anxiety, attention deficit disorders, and other conditions are worryingly common among young people in our community. More than a third we engage report mental health issues. Many are socially isolated, have few positive relationships, and show challenging, sometimes violent behaviour including increased risk-taking, self-harm, suicidal thoughts.
“COVID-19 has intensified these issues. We believe the full extent of harm the pandemic is having on youth mental health is yet to be fully realised but we are already seeing an extraordinary volume of young people approaching us saying they feel unhappy, desolate, anxious and scared. They are telling us that they are struggling with their mental health and urgently need our help. Local child and adolescent mental health services are vastly oversubscribed and often young people cannot access professional treatment, turning to us instead because we act quickly and sensitively.”
Successful applications to Thriving Minds will be announced in June. For more information visit www.ukyouth.org/thriving-minds