The Mentoring Team at Our Place has seen a challenging year. Throughout the pandemic, national restrictions, school closures and overall environment of unpredictability, they have worked tirelessly to continue to deliver the same level of support to children and young people as they would do face-to-face. Mentors deliver one-to-one sessions and group workshops, recent ones including Transition (from primary to secondary school) and Sex and Relationship Education. At the core of mentoring is a commitment to champion the voices and abilities of the mentees, helping them to realise their own strengths and capacity to overcome difficult times in their life.
Mentoring Coordinator Beth Thomas describes the priorities of the team’s response to the pandemic: to continue to support vulnerable children – including those with trauma or struggling with their mental health – to limit disruption to mentoring, and to figure out ways to provide this support remotely. Mentors were then trained in Zoom delivery to ensure that their communication and activities were conducive to a useful and comfortable session. Mentors remained creative and flexible and learnt how to deliver games over Zoom, such as Snap and Snakes and Ladders, to create talking points for ideas around challenges and successes, what mentees have in common with their peers and what makes them unique. Beth describes the initial learning curve as “having lots of balls in the air and hoping to catch them all”. Whilst hope underpins a lot of the work and vision of Our Place, the Mentoring Team adapted, used initiative and came together to offer practical solutions. “After every session, mentors would tailor the next based on the feedback they received” which meant that, despite the new mode of delivery, mentees were able to receive the support they needed in the ways that they enjoyed.
Of course not all children and young people found it possible to engage over Zoom and Beth was aware of some who didn’t have access to the internet or electronic devices. Looking for new ways to engage whilst still meeting individual needs, the team created resource packs, funded by the Early Help Partnership, each having a theme that matched the resources and activities that came with it. The first packs were on ‘Big Emotions and Change’, with later ones on friendship and self-esteem. 45 mentees were sent packs every 3—4 weeks, allowing time for new packs to be made. This was not limited to children involved in the Mentoring Scheme, with an additional 52 packs delivered to the wider community. Our Place linked with Children’s Quarter who created cooking and gardening play packs, a partnership that provided an extra dimension to the resource packs, offering visual and engaging ways of intuitively understanding the pack themes. For example the seeds included in the gardening pack developed ideas around self-esteem, demonstrating the fun and beauty of growth and how, in order for growth to happen, the soil and plant need to be nurtured and cared for. There has been lots of positive feedback from parents, carers, schools and mentees, with 100% of mentees who received the first resource pack wanting the next one.
“X feels a lot more positive and secure within their self and has a better outlook on day to day life”
“The parents have said how grateful and appreciative they have been of it”
“Your team have offered priceless support to some of our most vulnerable children”
A variety of lessons have been learnt throughout this time and, as the Mentoring Coordinator, Beth deserves a huge amount of admiration. She is a pillar of joy and determination within the Mentoring Scheme and does so much in service to her team and the mentees they support, always choosing to talk about the team as a whole rather than herself. Mental wellbeing is a part of all of our lives and should never be overlooked or undervalued, and Beth describes the significance of understanding that the mentor’s mental wellbeing is just as important as the mentees’. Both mentors and mentees need continuity, structure and a safe environment. Informed by their and the organisation’s shared values of empathy and community support, Beth and her team have cultivated a space and Mentoring Service that has listened, understood and risen to the challenges of the pandemic. As Beth affirms, “despite working apart, the team were brought together.”