Bryony explains how asking young people what matters to them, and designing activity together, is making a real difference to mental health.
The effects of lockdown on young people’s health and wellbeing have been significant. My role is to support the students who are facing difficulties in a place they are comfortable.
I was recruited as part of a pilot introducing social prescribing into eight colleges in Greater Manchester. Pastoral staff will be trained to identify young people who would benefit from more in-depth conversations and from supported connection into community activities. The pilot will also map out the activity available to young people through the college and out in the community. Where there are gaps, young people will have access to a commissioning budget to spend on new activity.
For the past few months, I’ve been supporting 140 students at Hopwood Hall College in Rochdale. I work closely with the student enrichment team to build on existing extra-curricular activities and look at how I can support more vulnerable students to access these services. The majority are accessing or waiting for mental health services and may be struggling with the transition to adult services. Some can feel frustrated or disappointed by the system and they care they receive. Sadly, I have come across young people in crisis, but they have still been receptive to the idea of social prescribing and I’m working with them to build their confidence.
Based on what these students have said they would benefit from, I have started two groups, ‘Good Vibes’ (a mental wellbeing group for arts, crafts, games and practising positivity) and a LGBTQ+ group where students can discuss their experiences and make new friends. This has been a good way to get regular contact with the students and build relationships. Students are now dropping in to speak to me quite regularly, which is really positive. I have signed up to the Proud Trust Groups In Schools Alliance – a service provided by Greater Manchester organisation the Proud Trust to support schools and colleges in setting up LGBT+ groups.
One student in my LGBTQ+ group, said: “The group is a safe and calm place to express yourself without being judged. Bryony is amazing to talk about your concerns and worries… helped me improve my confidence and make new friends.”
I’ve also taken over a group called ‘Friendship Corner’ in the ESOL (English for speakers of other languages) department, which has been really rewarding as it supports students in their learning of the English language, helps them make friends, and builds their comfort and confidence to live, study and work in this country.
I’m currently planning to work with the student ambassador to start a ‘knit and natter group’ after we ran a craft-based session to celebrate Time to Talk day to raise awareness and money for Rochdale and District Mind, and mental health generally. I organised the raffle and helped to plan and supervise the activities throughout the day. We had really positive feedback from students who dropped in and I will be contacting them to see if they’d like to come back for more.
I’m also looking at using social prescribing to improve behaviour and motivation within specific groups of students in the college. For example, I have been approached by the maths department who explain that maths anxiety is a big problem for certain students.
The college is a very friendly environment and it’s lovely to be part of a pastoral team that works so closely with students. I’ve had really motivating feedback from staff:
“I feel that the students that have been accessing your sessions have grown in confidence and improved their social skills. By attending the sessions, they have met people that otherwise they would not have come into contact with.”
“It’s given our students opportunity to explore their identities with like-minded people in a safe and supportive environment.”
A priority for me now, is to increase my awareness of the local offer for young people, which will help me to promote these activities to the students I work with. For social prescribing to work in a college environment, I think the link worker needs to have a really clear idea of what is going on in the local area. When I ask students what they’re interested in, the usual answer is “I’m not really sure”, so it’s often easier to share a list of suggestions and let the student decide if there is something they would like more information on.
I can feel the demand for this service already – it is popular amongst students and staff. It’s so rewarding to support students who really need help and have shown so much appreciation. I have already witnessed a change in the confidence and attitude of some of my regular students, and that’s what makes it all worthwhile.
For a really anxious student, attending a group situation is a really big deal. Doing this in a college environment is a good way to build up to working with external agencies and allowing the student to access groups and activities outside of college, which is more sustainable in the long term.
I’m really looking forward to helping more students find enjoyment and get the most out of their time at college.