VIK: Supporting young people in the Midlands
Marcia Harvey, VIK worker for the Midlands
I have been working with a group of 10 students who attend St John Wall Roman Catholic School, Birmingham, West Midlands. They are a mixed gender group of students made up of five young women and five young men. The group had been identified by the learning mentor Ms Davis as students who would benefit from taking part in a project such as this. The aim of the project was to raise self-esteem and self-confidence as well as challenging stereotypes that are held about young people who experience mental distress.
The group also wanted to produce a book that could be read by other young people who may have had similar experiences to themselves and to share this work with other schools and people within the wider community.
As a starting point we collected and read poetry, written by world famous writer Benjamin Zephaniah, who was born and grew up in the local area. We did this to inspire young people and make them aware of the potential that poetry and self belief can have on an individual’s life chances.
Young people then identified a range of subjects ranging from bullying and bereavement, to crime and self-harm. They planned each session around the chosen subject and then young people would write from their own or others’ personal experiences of this issue. Some young people produced art work for each subject that we wrote about.
The second week of the project brought a surprise: three members of the group had gone away and written poems and short stories at home and brought them to share with the group. This set a precedent in that almost every week someone from the group would bring along work that they had written at home to share with the wider group. We praised and complimented young people for the hard work that they had and built into the programme a sharing session during the last fifteen minutes of the session.
The project has helped young people to gain a better understanding of emotional health and wellbeing. They are aware that mental health can impact on people from all walks of life and it is not exclusive to specific communities, cultures or groups of people within society.
Young people have been inspired to write as a way of discussing issues that they find difficult to talk about with others. They are aware of who they can contact to access help and support should the need arise.
Maureen Davis, learning mentor co-ordinator, said: “The school has been very impressed with the standard of work that young people have produced. Something really positive came out of the sessions. One of the young people who has very poor school attendance did not miss a single session. Young people have definitely gained self-confidence and their social skills have improved as a result of taking part in this project.”
We intend to have a book launch at the local central library and promote the work that the young people have been involved in.