Making Space For Young People – How Paisley YMCA continues help engage young social groups

The Makerspace groups run by Paisley YMCA are social youth clubs run by the youth workers and programme coordinators, with the aim of educating and engaging young people in group activities and unique perspectives to allow them to flex both their creativity and freedom to express themselves. They’ve been a staple of the resources provided by Paisley YMCA and have maintained a consistent streak of engagement and energy from their participants.

But what impact do activities like these have on the young people that attend them and how do they survive during a global pandemic?

Through chatting with Paisley YMCA Youth Programme Coordinator Claire McGinley, she was able to offer us some insight into the impact and benefits these clubs have had and how their way of working has changed following the Covid-19 pandemic.

The Makerspace clubs have been a set of passion projects from Paisley YMCA and have allowed young people to express their creativity and develop their skills in a positive and affirming environment. Claire expands on the impact that these spaces have had in the young attendees, as she tells us: “It’s created connections that they otherwise wouldn’t have had with people out-with their family or immediate circles. They’ve been able to see their friends from clubs and it also gives them protected space to just be themselves. The impact of the clubs are participation and increased confidence.

“Sometimes the young people don’t actually realise that they’re learning something because it’s not a style of formal learning, it’s something that they’re choosing to participate in. It’s informal learning but they’re learning really valuable skills such as coding, design-thinking, programming, all these types of things building their confidence and building their skills.”

Each of the Makerspace clubs now have an online session on Zoom, with free tickets being available online from Makerspace every week. The schedule consists of the Social Circle (a space for young people to have important conversations about relationships and society) on Tuesdays, STEM Girls (a club for young women and girls to get together to talk about STEM and participate in fun quizzes) on Wednesdays, the Friday Night Drop in (a free space for young people to come and relax with fun activities) and Digital Design Club on Saturdays (dedicated to digital projects for our young people to develop and showcase).

When elaborating upon the differences of having the Makerspace clubs move online as opposed to the previous meets in person, Claire explains that they have brought new challenges and different ways of learning to the table:

“It’s two completely different worlds. When we were in person at the Makerspace, it was easier to create those connections with young people, it was easier for the young people to create connections with each other and I think there is a lot to be said about that kind of creative atmosphere and it’s quite inspiring. It was really fast-moving, exciting and easy to just flow.

“And then when we moved online, I didn’t realise how challenging it would be at the beginning. I think the team have done amazingly and I think the young people have been absolutely brilliant, they’re still choosing to show up every single week and participate even when it’s harder and they can’t have conversations in the same way with their friends in that type of environment. It’s definitely been more challenging.”

However, there have also been benefits and learning experiences to this new, unconventional way of club activity: “The great thing about it is that people have not had to travel and we’ve been able to reach more rural communities. People who couldn’t travel have been able to connect from home. But it’s definitely a much more challenging environment on video conferencing.”

The Makerspace Clubs are one of the most distinguishing and valuable resources offered by Paisley YMCA and even with the challenges of a pandemic, they continue to be an exciting and important space for young people to learn and grow in a positive environment. And in spite of the difficulties video conferencing has brought, they still continue to educate and inspire.

For more information about the clubs and how to purchase tickets, please check the Makerspace list of dates and availability.

Beyond Video Conferencing – Panel Two

The second panel featured in Beyond Video Conferencing was hosted by Claire McGinley, representing Paisley YMCA. While the first panel had the primary focus of the challenges and rewards in adapting during the Covid-19 pandemic through the use of tech, the second panel looked ahead to the future of digital youth work and programming. 

The new methods of working with tech brought about by the circumstances of the pandemic invite the question of what can be learned from these experiences and how much of it is here to stay. Are these new methods simply a means to an end or are they full of new opportunities for how we approach youth work?

Colin MacFarlane representing YMCA Scotland believes the latter: “This is not a phase. This is real life from now on in. There is no going back. In terms of digital practice, I’m a big advocate of what goes on at Paisley YMCA and the new inspirational ways of development to serve young people […] It’s moving forward at such a pace that trying to keep up with it is a challenge. 

“But we need to remember the fact that it’s about young people that are choosing to participate and looking at our sector in terms of the world of youth work as the inspirational way forward. […] What we need to do now is look at new models of practice, look at Makerspaces, look at Hololink and have them tried and tested and take them on as new models of learning.”

CEO and Co-founder of Hololink, Lucas Nygaard echoed this sentiment as he explained the priority moving forward should be using these new methods to forward the process of actively enriching the lives of young people: “It’s really important that we use this technology in the right way, not to pacify but to empower young people.”

The panel served to showcase the forward thinking nature of UK Youth Workers, considering what the new ways of working in the past year have taught them and how it can be used in the future. It also gave consideration to the ways in which this technology should be used in relation to youth work and how considering the needs and feelings of young people are equally as important as the technological means in which to achieve results. 

The new experiences with technology and ways of working serve as important tools in achieving the ultimate goal of youth work, which is to enrich and empower the lives of young people. 

Beyond Video Conferencing – Panel One

Beyond Video Conferencing was the first online digital conference run by the partnership of Paisley YMCA and Soapbox. The conference was a new and exciting way to connect multiple youth organisations and guests together to enjoy keynotes sessions, breakout activities and networking opportunities throughout the day. 

The conference hosted two panels, both discussing the present and future role of technology in Youth Work. The first panel was hosted by Kayleigh Wainwright, Joint Director of Engagement at UK Youth and featured panellists from various UK youth organisations giving their experiences in working with tech as a necessity during the Covid-19 pandemic. 

The panel elaborated upon how the pandemic has altered the way in which many UK youth workers engage with tech, including providing support to their community. 

Wavemaker is an organisation based in Stoke-onTrent with the goal of improving lives by providing training, advice and guidance for the growing digital world. Benedict McManus, founder and director of Wavemaker, expanded on the role this played during the pandemic:

“Right at the beginning when the lockdown happened, we saw 80% of our pipeline in terms of the work we were due to deliver just stopped, instantaneously. At the same time, a lot of organisations in the region looked to us for an answer.”

One of the challenges that came from the sudden regular reliance on tech as a method of work and communication was a lack of resources for areas with a lower average in tech development and funding, as Benedict explains:

“There’s an expectation or misconception that young adults and kids have access to great tech, great equipment and the infrastructure in which to use. Stoke is way below the national average in terms of the equipment young adults have. […] We had to think about not just throwing resources out there and hoping people would engage. It was about supporting teachers, staff, parents, friends, the local authority in what was available and what was possible.”

He states that the changes the pandemic brought required many youth workers and organisations to prioritise learning the use of unfamiliar tech and lending support to young people through tech as a form of communication: “I think what happened in the past year just forced people to adapt and check their ego at the door.”

However, these actions also required many practitioners and youth workers themselves to learn and adapt to programmes and situations they themselves had previously been unfamiliar with. This would lead to help being needed from Independent Researchers such as Dana Jupp:

“My main goal was to provide support to practitioners who were feeling a bit dropped-in-it. I’ve done a lot of consulting with different workers from across the UK and the EU. I’ve become the agony aunt of digital youth work! […] 

“Basically, the challenges that I came up against were practitioners feeling uncertain and scared about suddenly having to jump into the digital world. There was just a real uncertainty and even though everyone was being forced into it, there was a real lack of confidence. So I’ve been doing a lot of one-to-one work and training in youth work in Scotland.”

According to Youth Worker Dan from Space Youth Services, another challenge was to adapt to new servers that were engaging as well as informative for young people: “The balance between trying to innovate and do new exciting things that are quite tactile and engaging so it goes beyond that traditional video conferencing […] We needed to find something that feels different than just doing a video call. So we moved to discord pretty quick. We adapted pretty quick, we’ve had some successes and we’ve learned quite a lot.”

The panel was an informative show of solidarity and growth between youth workers and organisations, showcasing both the challenges and rewards of adapting to work with tech throughout the pandemic and the great work and team effort required to continue to help young people and each other in the face of adversity.