A "pop-up" café bringing encouragement and support for young people still coping with the effects of lockdown will be out and about this summer thanks to a coronavirus fund grant.
Wiltshire Youth for Christ has been awarded £8,640 from the Wiltshire Community Foundation’s Coronavirus Response Fund, using £5,000 donated by Police and Crime Commissioner Angus Macpherson through his £50,000 COVID-19 Response Fund.
The community foundation’s fund, which has now raised more than £900,000 and distributed £570,000 to more than 150 groups, has also awarded the group £14,000 over three years as part of its foundation grants programme.
Youth team leader Steve Dewar said the latest grant will be used to fund the staff and volunteers who run the van that converts into the café. The mobile unit, which hosts hundreds of teenagers over school holidays and in term-time visits to youth groups, houses games consoles and video screens as well as catering equipment, games, sports gear, tables and chairs.
“Many young people are bored, fearful, anxious, disappointed, isolated and disenfranchised as a consequence of lockdown, so we are really grateful to the Wiltshire Community Foundation and to the Police and Crime Commissioner,” said Mr Dewar.
The charity UK Youth, which represents 5,500 youth cubs and organisations, predicted in a recent report that young people in lockdown will suffer higher increased loneliness and mental health issues and are at greater risk of being drawn into crime .
The youth team at WYC believe their service is needed now more than ever because young people have so many unanswered questions about the pandemic and its long-term effect on their lives.
Mr Dewar said: “Talking to schools, we are hearing that they are concerned about young people are disconnecting from each other. They are talking on their phones, but they are missing face to face communication. The whole concept of the cafe is to give young people the opportunity to reconnect and also to talk about their fears and their worries, and also to express themselves.”
He said those fears relate to life after the pandemic and the difficulties of emerging from lockdown. “For a lot of young people I meet there is still stress, worry and anxiety about the many unknowns because they are not naturally in their social groups where they can talk about it and ask questions. That anxiety just ends up in their heads or in one-dimensional communications online that don’t give them a vent or a release or an encouragement to work through it,” he said.
For the last two years the cafe has made regular visits to The Green in Devizes and Stallards Park in Trowbridge, but Mr Dewar said the groups has been talking to Wiltshire Council
Community Engagement Managers about other venues around the county. It has a team of part-time workers and is supported by volunteers.
“The café can go anywhere, in the middle of a field or an estate, and it’s about partnership as well,” said Mr Dewar. “It allows for conversations and interaction with the wider community but with young people at the heart of that, so we can get the police, parish councils or community groups there as well and we can knit them together.
“We are open to talking to anyone and help resource what other areas are doing.“
He said the café is an important means of engaging with young people. “It’s going to where young people are at, whether that’s in the communities or in school settings,” he said. “We engage young people on their level, whether that is using technology or just having a chat, and most importantly having face to face contact and not just reliant on a website that they have to visit. Youth workers and other support organisations can meet them and give them face to face encouragement.
“The café is on their patch, so it is in their own environment. It is open and it is welcoming, and it is safe because it is in an open space and everything take place outside, so it is transparent.”
Wiltshire Community Foundation interim co-chief executive Fiona Oliver said: “We are delighted to work in partnership with the Police and Crime Commissioner to support this wonderful project. Young people have been denied face to face contact with friends and good influences like WYC for too long and this tremendous initiative will help reconnect with many of them.”
To find out where and when the café is running go to wiltshire.yfc.co.uk.
To find out about the Police and Crime Commissioner's COVID-19 Response fund visit https://www.wiltshire-pcc.gov.uk/article/6294/COVID-19-Response-Fund