Jenny McQuilliam: Reflections on Level 3 Award in Mentoring Practice

In this blog Jenny shares her training in Mentoring journey, as someone with no previous experience in this area, but who saw it as an opportunity not to be missed. 

I joined Our Place in May 2021, currently on a Kickstart contract – a scheme run by the Department for Work and Pensions that provides funding to create new jobs for 16-24 year olds. My role is a Digital Content Creator, which involves creating and designing social media posts, helping amplify awareness for our services. Part of the Kickstart program is to learn new skills to equip me for my career development. This has been a huge support for me, as Kelly offered all the fantastic training opportunities Our Place has, letting me sign on to any that I had an interest in. 

As soon as I read the summary for the Level 3 Award in Mentoring Practice, I knew I had to get involved. Firstly, I hugely value making a positive difference, in whatever ways I can. Mentoring Training contains a variety of different, important lessons in sincerely understanding what it means to be a good communicator and listener, to be openminded, inclusive and empathetic. These are qualities important for any person and the course allowed me to reflect on who I am, and how I could grow. 

Despite my joy of writing, I was often left without the language I needed to express difficult experiences and emotions – such as grief, trauma and anxiety. These challenges can make up our foreground and background, specific to our selves, yet affecting a huge number of people, children and adults. Mentoring sessions helped me to understand that we can’t shy away from these realisations. Building on a foundation of trust and care, mentors offer a valuable resource, enabling mentees to understand themselves and their values, to feel assured in addressing the hardships they face. We have to work together to build a community that understands the importance of mental health, and completing the Level 3 Award in Mentoring Practice has provided me with the tools to contribute to that. 

Sessions covered many different subjects, such as the history and theories behind mentoring; session plans and activities for different types of mentees; how to effectively follow Safeguarding procedures. Getting to know the other learners was a privilege. Group activities and discussions provided a great platform to learn other experiences and perspectives in the world of teaching, social care, and many different areas of work and life. I did feel out of my comfort zone at times, especially as I don’t have experience in these areas, but I never felt out of place. The environment the trainers create is inclusive and inviting; whether you’re developing existing skills, or jumping into the world of mentoring as a complete beginner (like me), you will be welcomed and appreciated. 

Though I’m still figuring out the path I want to take, I know that I want to continue work in the third sector and be part of organisations, such as Our Place, that strive to make positive change. Gaining a Level 3 Award in Mentoring Practice will undoubtedly be a valuable part of my skillset, with knowledge that benefits me in both a professional and personal capacity. 

Would you like a Level 3 Award in Mentoring Practice? We’ve got new dates booked for January! The course will be online and spaces are limited – email training@ourplacesupport.org for a registration form. Get in touch if you have any questions, more details can be found on our website

Getting to know Dawn Latham

Dawn was born and brought up in Erdington, and has lived in Sutton Coldfield after she came back from University in Leeds. She has a wealth of experience in charity work and managing community projects, including a Director role for another Community Interest Company (CIC) in Birmingham. Dawn expresses that her “heart has always been in the third sector” and her previous work through the City Council has always been in partnership with third sector organisations. On describing this type of work, Dawn says “it’s always a bit of a challenge, but it’s important.” 

There’s certainly an understated approach to the way Dawn views her work in helping make a caring – and cared for – community, as ‘a bit of a challenge’ has typically proven to mean big barriers, that have been overcome through strength in spirit and commitment. Dawn’s focus is on vulnerable children and families, and knows that supporting them is not an unrealistic vision – “if everybody does their bit, it makes a difference”. 

Children and families in need of support became increasingly apparent to Dawn during her work for Extended Services. It was during this project that Dawn sought space for targeted services; that is, individuals on the peripheries of education, including support services, speech and language therapists, and others who might visit schools for various reasons. As a Cluster Co-ordinator, she was tasked with creating a hub to house these people and potentially deliver other services. In 2006, Dawn was walking across a car park and serendipitously discovered two derelict houses, previously used for charity meetings. In the image below, you can see the first email Dawn sent in setting out to use these buildings for the Hub space.

Dawn first set foot inside what would become the Community Hub in May 2007 and initially “didn’t think it was going to be possible”, as the buildings were highly dilapidated with ceilings that were caving in. But, there was potential in it and Dawn got the ball rolling, pushing through different loops, getting the Steering Group to agree on pursuing this property. On the 1st September 2007, an Action Plan was formed which included studies on feasibility and the development of the space as a multi-agency drop in. At this point, Kelly took over and continued the hard work, “fundraising and resurrecting the building into what it is now”. 

Dawn later enrolled onto the Mentoring training, which wasn’t at the time delivered by Our Place, but through Oasis Training. It was a general program, not specific to a type of mentoring. Dawn has a lot of pride for all the different ways Our Place has grown as an organisation, which includes going on to provide our own CPD accredited Level 3 Award in Mentoring Practice course, that offers specific knowledge in child and adult mentoring. The importance of truly making a difference is of clear significance for Dawn. This is seen through her decision to focus on parent mentoring, as she recognised that some children are not in charge of their own circumstances, and in some situations, change can only come from the parents. Dawn emphatically describes often overlooked aspects of our social landscape; there are generations of parents who didn’t receive good parenting themselves, and then go on to struggle with their own responsibilities as a parent. She says, “I felt I needed to do something to disrupt that”, again acknowledging the community-based need for support, “I can’t singlehandedly make that change, but I can do what is in my power”. 

Dawn has been a parent mentor since and delivers training for the Level 3 Mentoring Practice Award. There is so much to learn from Dawn, and the sessions she delivers resonate for a long time, particularly the information and knowledge she offers on Safeguarding, and the necessity to remember the children who have suffered from abuse and failed by improper Safeguarding practices. Our Place also offer a course in Safeguarding as it is essential for the wellbeing of our mentees, and for anyone who has a role that involves being around children, young people and adults. 

Dawn’s work is focussed on serious matters, including people and areas that don’t often get the attention they need. As a Community Connector for the Early Help Partnership, her roles include asset mapping, to identify and coordinate the available support, and finding the gaps in services, to know who and where needs more resources. 

That being said, there’s a lot of joy in working with Our Place, it’s “passionate people coming together and sharing ideas”, with “every conversation leading to something new”. Dawn is proud to affirm that Our Place are doing exactly what was set out in the original vision for the Hub. Through a strong core and foundation, Our Place have been able to adapt and overcome various moments that could have prevented plans from coming to fruition. When asked where Dawn sees Our Place in a further 10 years time, she describes the future as unimaginable, and the overall hope is that there is no need for our services – the aim, as humble and focussed as she, is “steady growth, meeting the needs of our community, whatever they may be.” 

Our Place Mentoring Scheme – Loss and Change Project

Our Mentoring Scheme received funding from Mind, a national charity that provides advice and support around mental-health, raising awareness and understanding for mental health problems and the importance of taking care of our mental wellbeing. This funding was used to deliver a ‘Loss and Change’ project, which involved our mentors training 20 Key Stage 2 staff across the West Midlands. 

The initial plan was to deliver this through face to face group sessions for children from September onwards. However, the continuing Covid restrictions and following lockdowns meant we were unable to safely visit schools when children were in, and all children restarted remote learning in January. Our team adapted and pivoted our plans to instead train teachers in delivering group sessions for the children who returned to school in March. The training was run remotely so that teachers could be up-skilled in readiness for the return to face to face learning. We are particularly proud of this project’s success because we didn’t compromise our high standard of mentoring and training, but we were still able to maintain the safety of our mentors and school staff. 

The pandemic has upturned everyone’s lives, causing a big amount of change for children to process and adjust to. Mind have said in a recent report that “children and young people particularly struggle with the effects of isolation and quarantine”.  Staff are now equipped to support the children in their care and have committed to delivering our Loss and Change Mentoring Course to children in their school. 

School staff have affirmed the “engaging” and “receptive” nature of the sessions, highlighting the intuitive ways that subjects can be talked about, such as comparing change, in and around ourselves, to the seasons of the year. Games, such as Snakes and Ladders, is another engagement tool, which can open up lots of different avenues for open conversation. Children consider what a snake – what brings them down – or a ladder – what lifts them up – within their own life is, helping them to know who their support network is and visualise the highs and lows of life, and the emotions that come with that. 

“It’s always such a joy to see our training being applied in schools – A great poster created by children of Town Junior School to help them understand how to navigate loss emotions as they experience all the changes and uncertainty that has occurred, particularly over the last year. Schools partnership and working hand in hand, in support of young people is such a privilege as we, journey together towards making positive changes in our community. Love that I get to do the thing that makes my heart sing”

– Debbie Clarke, Our Place Support Trainer

Enabling children to identify the different feelings they are experiencing, and have ways of understanding and communicating them, is increasingly essential. The many different challenges that children and young people are faced with, particularly during the pandemic, can’t be underestimated. A school staff member who took part in the training program said that “all the pupils included have expressed and presented with anxieties at home and school.” This training has provided an opportunity, within schools, to reinforce a supportive and healthy dialogue between staff and pupils – as another member of staff has said, “children have opened up about so many unexpected things”.

The children involved in the program have also shared their thoughts on how they found it:

“I know ways now to cope with the changes”, “I have learned how to deal with my grief”, “it’s ok to feel sad”, “emotions come and go”, “things happen that we cannot control”, “I have learnt how to meditate to calm down”, “I have learnt to use breathing to calm me down”, “that we are never alone”.

Our mentors make it clear that they are not problem-solvers, because you can’t solve grief, loss, or change. Our Mentoring Team, as wonderfully shown by this training and the feedback from it, are focussed on empowerment. That means empowering individuals to understand themselves, have control over the challenges in their life, and know that their voice and their emotions are important.

Mentoring Scheme: Covid Response and Early Help Partnership

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.”

Hope Food and Early Help Partnership Sutton Coldfield

Hope Food is a relatively new charity (set up in May 2021) led by Deb Middleton, having initially started as a part of Hope for Sutton. In March 2020, Hope for Sutton organised support for those isolating during the first national lockdown which included shopping, prescription collecting, befriending calls and delivering food parcels. The community need for food parcels wasn’t restricted to the lockdown as even after it was lifted, volunteers were delivering food parcels to 140 households six days a week. It was made clear that those who were furloughed, unemployed or generally struggling to keep up still needed food support. 

Bound by a shared goal to bring hope and help to the community, Hope Food grew out of Hope for Sutton in order to provide an effective food resource. Ann, a volunteer for Hope Food, describes the work and impact as having snowballed in a short space of time, demonstrating both the need for support in the North Birmingham area and the dedication from Hope volunteers to create accessible and active places to receive food. Links have been established with supermarkets wherein surplus food that would have have gone to landfill now gets used for food parcels. Food parcels contain fresh vegetables and long-life cupboard items, and families can pick up supplementary food and drink bags. Hope maximises their food sources and outreach by supporting other food banks, and by delivering perishable foods that need to be eaten quickly to local hostels. You can find Hope Food at their pop up food banks in Mere Green, Falcon Lodge or Erdington. 

Our Place reached out to Hope after realising the brilliant work that they were doing and they have since become an active part of the Early Help Partnership. This has involved encouraging the families they support to access the food and fuel grant. Hope also collaborate with YMCA Erdington, United Reform Church, Sutton Coldfield Baptist Church and Stockland Green Methodist Church, creating an organised network of people and places to provide their essential work. 

Hope are proud of the open and inviting space they create; you don’t need a referral, vouchers, or proof of need, you can simply turn up and access free food and the comfortable, friendly environment that comes with it. The impact Hope has had in the community cannot be understated, as individuals have said that they couldn’t have survived throughout these difficult, unpredictable and often scary times without them. This is a quote from one of the visitors at Hope’s pop up food bank event in Mere Green, illuminating their work and the emotional and practical impact that they have:

“I had a wonderful time with Deb and Lynn. I’m grateful I found Hope on Facebook, not only for the goodies, but also for the calming and supportive environment there.  I left for home feeling peaceful and warm inside and I wanted to thank you and all the volunteers for that.  I believe that is what volunteering is meant to be, taking time to listen to people and making them feel human again, unburdening and forgetting all troubles for a bit.  Life is difficult at the moment, but please say thank you to all the team for their work.”

Beacon Family Services and Early Help Partnership Sutton Coldfield

Beacon Family Services helps children, their parents, carers, and teachers to develop and build strong connections and healthy relationships. Feelings surrounding safety and security are explored and reinforced through play-based therapies and training that are child-led and tailored to individuals’ needs and interests.

Beacon offers ‘Theraplay’, an accredited therapy that supports parents, caregivers or teachers to meet the needs of their children in a fun and accessible way. This can be to support their social and mental health generally but also extends to more specific support. For example, building confident communication in a child with autism, or offering a safe and responsive environment for children who have experienced trauma to communicate their feelings. 

As part of the Early Help Sutton Coldfield Panel, Beacon were able to provide virtual Theraplay (Teletheraplay) sessions for families who were left vulnerable by the social isolation and unfamiliarity of the pandemic and lockdowns. “One in six children has a probable mental health need” and “without access to their local schools and community groups, many parents felt alone with their child.” With the support of Beacon Family Services, through the Early Help Partnership, parents and children had a reliable resource offering the professional mental health support they needed. The positive impact that this work has on individuals is made clear by the response from parents. One parent offered their personal reflection on a session they were a part of, saying:

“We better understand each other, I’m more aware of the triggers behind certain behaviour and how to respond to it. It helps to have the reassurance from interacting with other adults and families that parenting isn’t entirely straightforward and that’s the case for everybody and, ultimately, all we can do is our best. In lockdown, this has also been the only interaction our children have had with other children or with any link to school etc so it’s been really valuable in that respect too. Saves us from all feeling entirely isolated from the outside world.”

A team of volunteer knitters made every child a unique beacon beanie that represented a beacon of hope. This beanie of hope was there for children to hold onto throughout the new challenges that these recent times have brought up, to remind them that they will see their friends, teachers and other people important to them again. Beacon is also carrying out a project with the UP Creative Community to provide play materials for families. Paving the way for families to regain safety, calmness and fun in their lives are key aims for the support that Beacon provides. Early Help helps to facilitate this by connecting different community groups with one another, ensuring that they are in the best position to support families in whatever ways they need.

The UP Creative Community and Early Help Partnership Sutton Coldfield

The UP Creative Community is a grassroots organisation with the aims of encouraging wellbeing through creative collaboration, providing a safe place for anyone to learn new skills or develop existing ones, and sharing knowledge of textile waste management and commitment to caring for our environment. UP grew from a sewing group of mums meeting after the school run to a network of volunteers, artists and partner organisations. This spirit – of creating a community built on an ambition for positive social change and support for one another – lends itself to UP’s involvement in the Early Help Partnership Sutton Coldfield (EHPSC). Early Help is a new city-wide approach, connecting families with local community services. In connecting organisations across Sutton Coldfield, promoting collaborative work and active communication, Early Help aims to ensure every family has easy access to the support that they need, when they need it. 

UP got involved with Early Help during their work responding to the demands of the pandemic, providing key workers with three layer face coverings and uniform bags to wash their scrubs in. UP asked EHPSC for small funding to support this outreach; as a result UP was able to insert metal nose clips in masks for glasses-wearers and pay for the petrol of volunteers who were distributing protective supplies to hospitals and food banks. 

EHPSC also enabled Helen and UP to engage with local organisations. “Listen[ing] to their beneficiaries’ needs and react[ing] creatively to make resources for the isolated children in Sutton” helped develop the work of UP into a more coordinated, network-led approach. It also meant that questions of purchasing and consumption could spark a necessary conversation about what is needed and what is not. Helen maintains a passion and seriousness in continuing that conversation “to expand consciousness and maybe even bulk buying as a partnership”.

UP have linked with a variety of community partners to support their service delivery. This includes Cherished, creating ‘no more worry’ dolls, sloth sewing kits, period purses, rainbow cross stitch, mentor journal covers and cover up face masks. This work supports girls in the community, using sewing and fashion as an engagement tool. Helen has also collaborated with Our Place’s Mentoring scheme, using a sloth sewing kit design and ‘unboxing hope explosion boxes’ as a fun way to encourage mental wellbeing and manage anxieties by understanding that it’s ok to ‘slow down and just be’ sometimes. Working with Beacon Family Services, UP have also made over 100 lighthouse-shaped beanbags from repurposed fabrics, to remind young people that they carry a beacon of light and have the power to stand up to their challenges and traumas.

The idea “that collective power is stronger and that joint collaboration means everyone can play to their strengths” was the inspiration behind the Early Help logo. Helen describes the triangle as a strong shape, with each side dependent on the next. The triangle purposefully points to the sky, with the grounding element at the bottom, expressing the ability to rise from a solid foundation. During an often uncertain and unsteady time, the necessity of supporting and lifting each other up became increasingly apparent to journey through lockdowns and all other challenges the pandemic brought. Hope underpinned this journey: holding onto and shining a light on it – as represented through the beams of light in the logo – are key pillars of Early Help’s foundation. Early Help, and the organisations that form it, are putting forward a strong message that they are here to renew hope through easy and timely access to whatever support a family may need.

Director of Finance Recruitment

Our Place Support are currently seeking an individual to join our Board of Directors. We welcome applications from anyone that has a passion for supporting local communities and, in particular, those that have skills, experience or qualifications that meet the requirements of the role of Director of Finance detailed below.

Our Place Support have a strong, supportive and committed team. Becoming a Director at Our Place Support provides individuals with the opportunity to contribute to bringing positive change to the lives of individuals, families and our community as a whole.

Director roles are voluntary positions and as a Director for Our Place Support individuals are asked to commit to attending all board meetings and any relevant sub meetings. This equates to an average of 3 hours per month. There will also be a need to communicate with the team in between meetings and to gather information to present to the Board in relation to your area of responsibility. Our Director Role Description can be downloaded here: Director Role Description 2021

We are keen to receive applications from individuals who would be able to fulfil the below role:

Director of Finance

The successful candidate will take a strategic lead on the financial position of Our Place Support. This will include:

  • Providing quarterly financial updates to the Board of Directors.
  • Having oversight of Accounts Receivable and Bank Account
  • Leading on budget creation and management.
  • Preparing financial information for our accountants to produce annual accounts.
  • Taking an active role in business development plans to contribute from a financial perspective.

Application Process

Applicants must meet the following eligibility criteria:

    • Over age 18.
    • Be willing to undertake an enhanced DBS check
    • To not have been convicted of an offence involving deception or dishonesty.
    • To not have been convicted of any offences against children, young people or vulnerable adults
    • To not be an undischarged bankrupt.
    • To not be under a disqualification order under the Company Directors’ Disqualification Act
    • To not have been previouslyremoved from the  trusteeship of a charity, by a Court or the Charity Commission.

For an informal discussion about becoming a Director, please contact Kelly Round on 0121  354 40 80 or email kelly.round@ourplacesupport.org

Getting to know Barry: Advice Service Volunteer

Our Place are celebrating Volunteers Week. This week is all about expressing our gratitude towards the individuals that contribute their time and experience into making the organisation what it is.

Barry has been a part of the Our Place team for close to 10 years, with an eclectic background including teaching, working for an organisation that supports people with learning difficulties, working in a prison, and running a pub for 16 years with his wife.

He set up a job club with his friend that aimed to offer employment advice to the community, and was then introduced to Kelly, becoming a member of the Advice Cafe. This was not long after the financial crash of 2011, when there was a real need for support and for a place where people could seek friendly advice.

Now named the Advice Service, Barry has seen it grow from four advisors to 11 and is proud of the ways it has developed. He enjoys the variety of people who walk through the door, never knowing who you are going to help or what they would come in for. He has a lot of respect for the community and values the Advice Service for always trying its best to deal with cases and offer the security and privacy that they need. When they don’t have the answers, they will make sure the individual is correctly signposted to the right place. He says: “we can always get help from each other and we work very well as a team”. The advice service operates collectively to make sure each individual within the team is supported and makes the best choices they can.

Barry is a kind and humble man who, even when asked to talk about himself, prefers to talk about the Advice Service as a whole. He represents the ethos of Our Place: the work he and the advice team do are not in service to themselves, but to the community and to each other. He was primarily drawn to volunteering because you get to help people and learn many different points of view and experiences that you wouldn’t have known otherwise. “It’s good fun being useful to other people”, “you’re committing yourself to something important” and there is a lot of joy in that.

Barry has made many meaningful relationships through his time as an advisor and has a wealth of fun memories. He recalls lots of days of fundraising and team-building. Our Place operates through a lot of hard work and dedication, but fun and laughter is definitely weaved into the organisation too. He is delighted to be a volunteer for Our Place and has complete admiration for the care and help he receives from Kelly, Jo and the team. He absolutely recommends volunteering, as there is always more to learn and more people to know.

Getting to know Amanda: Child Mentor

Our Place are celebrating Volunteers Week. This week is all about expressing our gratitude towards the individuals that contribute their time and experience into making the organisation what it is. 

Amanda joined Our Place as a child mentor during the first national lockdown. There’s a lot of similarities with her own business, as an adult mental health trainer. Her volunteering and work overlap, as they both maintain her strong interests in enabling people to be their best. She has a clear passion and seriousness for helping people understand their mental health and increase their mental fitness. Amanda feels that Our Place does amazing things: the passion in the team shines through for her, and she credits Kelly for being the inspiration that got her involved with mentoring.

When asked about whether she has faced any surprises working as a volunteer mentor, Amanda says “how enjoyable it is!” She notes that the support you receive from Our Place on top of the mentoring role is fantastic. Despite an unpredictable year and the disruptions the pandemic has caused, she feels mentoring over zoom has actually created opportunities. “Lockdown has made me appreciate the possibilities of things”, she says, and has underlined the importance of being able to face situations positively, with a “yes, if…” rather than a “no, because…” attitude. It is not so black and white anymore: previously you would have had to take time out and cancel mentoring sessions if you couldn’t to do it in person, but the mentoring team have adapted to the new normal.

Amanda describes mentoring as creating an environment for someone to come and talk. It’s not about the amount of time you can give to an individual, but about the quality of that time and the safety of the space you provide. There is a lot of self-value to gain from mentoring too, as it gives you the feeling of achieving something good. “Being in that mentoring moment with somebody, it’s not tangible, but you know you are in the right place at the right time.” Not only does mentoring offer an opportunity to empower others and help them figure out who they are and want to be, but the subjects that Amanda talks about with her mentees also causes a lot of reflection and consideration of her own life and parenting.

Amanda was born, grew up, and lives in Lichfield. There’s a sincere and fulfilling connection to the place, with the tip of the cathedral just in view from her home. She has a vision of a mentally healthy city. Her work is oriented around creating a future where individuals feel like they are enough and can grow. For her, being a mentor is a step towards that ambition. She would love to get back to connecting with local businesses, emphasising that there is a great significance in employers appreciating their employees’ mental health. A knowledge of and respect for mental health, if applied in the workplace and schools, will have a reverberating impact.

“We need to start shifting the conversation. Mental health doesn’t mean negative mental health and should be talked about in a positive way. We only think about it when we’re struggling. Poor mental health doesn’t mean mental illness. We have all felt stressed and anxious throughout the pandemic.” We need to think about mental health in a positive way because, as Amanda says, “negativity sticks to us like velcro, positivity is like teflon.” A point she wants everyone to keep with them is to appreciate when you have a good day and not immediately forget about it. There is a lot of hope that, through the work of mentors like Amanda, we will become a society that understands mental health and cares for it like any other physical part of our body.

Youth Participation Forum and Mentor Fiona

Our Place are celebrating Volunteers’ Week. This week is all about expressing our gratitude towards the individuals that contribute their time and experience into making the organisation what it is. 

Fiona explains that Our Place have recently set up a Youth Participation Forum, soon to be renamed by the young people whose voices this forum seeks to platform (hopefully to something a little bit more catchy). She expresses how good Our Place are at evaluating their mentoring, checking to see how the mentee is getting on throughout the beginning, middle and end of their journey together. This is because the team are committed to being as useful as possible to the young people they help, making it important that they are effectively listened to. In this sense, Fiona says that the individual is always heard, but Our Place also wanted to look at mentoring as an “umbrella” to make sure that there is an effective holistic approach to and delivery of mentoring.

The Forum had their first session last week and will meet every half-term. There’s five members at the moment, four being current mentees and one being a previous mentee who finished their mentoring. The aim is to spark an active conversation where they can talk about the organisation, what it could do better and what sorts of things would be helpful going forward. Fiona also talks about the opportunity for the mentees to talk about what mentoring means and looks like to them, including showing resources used by the team and asking for their opinions on them. In essence, the forum is about “being a stakeholder in the decision-making”. As Fiona passionately points out, society is often bound by telling children what they must do, without explaining why, or how to do it, or what benefit it has. “We lay out our tools and ask them what works for you?” Mentoring, for Fiona – and it certainly comes across in the mentoring team as a whole – is centred around enabling children to have their own voice. Children having “ownership over their own behaviour and their own thoughts allows them to grow and flourish”. And that is exactly what the Youth Participation Forum seeks to do. Youth mentoring is not a quick fix, nor the wave of a magic wand; it is equipping the individual with the outlook and skills that allow them to go forward, to have authority and to believe in themselves and their own abilities.

Fiona joined Our Place in September 2016, having previously worked as a teaching assistant, referring people to the mentoring scheme. Wanting to commit more time into the emotional side of things, she now has roles as a group leader, one-on-one mentor and trainer.  Delivering autism training is of huge importance to her, because supporting different needs is a passion of hers. “A lot of the time it’s understanding that it’s only small changes” that need to be made to accommodate different learning and behavioural styles. Fiona highlights the support provided by Kelly to see this passion into fruition, and has found her experiences as a mentor and trainer deeply rewarding. A personal favourite memory includes standing up and delivering an assembly to a whole school about autism awareness. It is wonderful to hear because the steps made by trainers like Fiona ushers in an environment where people want to understand difference and want to contribute to a safe and supportive space. Fiona didn’t anticipate the impact that her volunteering roles could have on children, nor that she would be nicknamed “autism lady” following her assembly. And though there are surprises and things often do not go to plan, “letting children have the space to express themselves creates such a big feeling inside them” and being able to share that journey with them is a joy.

Fiona ends on her views of mentoring and mental health, saying mental health work should be a “complementary part of life” rather than a fix. We all have mental health, days where we are down, and we have the power to bring ourselves back up. “We should talk about mental health when we’re doing brilliantly, it’s part of everyday life and shouldn’t be heard only when we’re struggling”.

Our Place Support C.I.C Annual Report

As a Community Interest Company, Our Place Support strive to make a long lasting social impact within our community. We do this through the delivery of our Mentoring, Advice and Support Services which aim to help people make positive changes in their lives.

As many of you will know, Our Place Support hold a public meeting every year to share with our community the impact of our services. As this hasn’t been possible due to Covid-19 restrictions, this year; thanks to funding from ‘One Stop -Carriers for Causes’ we have created an Annual Report to share with you which you will find below.

We are always keen to hear your feedback so please feel free to share your thoughts with us by email to enquiries@ourplacesupport.org  or using our social media platforms where you will find us at @OurPlaceSupport