The Early Action System Change Renfrewshire Project: A Study in Positive Change and Investigation                                                                              

Paisley YMCA were thrilled to have been included in the launch of Dartington Service Design Lab’s Change up! campaign on the 26th October. This online event was part of the Early Action System Change Renfrewshire Project, in which Paisley YMCA and many other youth organisations have been heavily involved, beginning with the first phase which consisted of the Early Action System Change Report which began in July 2020.  

The goal of the Early Action System Change involves Renfrewshire Council, Renfrewshire Health & Social Care Partnership, Dartington Service Design Lab, Engage Renfrewshire and other voluntary Youth sectors undertaking a three-year System Change Initiative (2018-2021). 

The initiative is funded by the National Lottery Community Fund Early Action System Change Fund that aims to identify and explore the roots cause of inequality and improving the emotional well-being of young people by exploring the effects of coercive control in their relationships.  

The Early Action System Change Report showcased research and reflections from over 500 young people and families across Renfrewshire, with individual workshops and information gathered from each voluntary sector. The purpose of these workshops was a focus on young people’s understanding and experience of coercive control in their relationships and their perceptions/experiences with community response or support. The report also sought to identify the most vulnerable groups of young people affected by coercive control in relationships and develop further ideas and solutions with their input.  

Each supporting sector showcased invaluable findings from their respective group of young people, with emphasis placed on their individual experiences and understanding of the nature of coercive control. Examples included RISE women’s group’s powerful open letter to Renfrewshire council; Action for Children’s focus group investigation on the familial relationships of young male offenders; The Linstone 20/20 project running 15 classroom workshops (13-15 years) with 100 young people reflecting on the many aspects of coercive control and how gender roles and expectations play their part; Create Paisley having four sessions over 2 days 17 young people aged 12 – 18 that focused on the effects of bullying, depression, anxiety and the creation of more safe spaces to explore mental health and many more examples from other participating Youth Based organisations. The report can be read in full on Dartington Early Action Page.  

Paisley YMCA sought to focus on understanding the experiences of coercive control amongst those with significant learning needs and achieved this through delivering workshops with 45 young people from Learner Development at West College Scotland.  

The results, categorised by our own Claire McGinley, showed that the young people in our investigation expressed anxiety over losing the relationships they had regarding coercive control as well as some difficulty finding a set definition for what constitutes as coercive control. Many expressed fear their concerns would not be treated seriously by authorities or believed many of these aspects were normal in teenage or young adult relationships.  

Our results also found that while materials for support in cases such as these are suitable for mainstream needs, more needs to be done to accommodate young people with specific learning needs as a vulnerable group. Our investigation came to the conclusion that there must be a concentrated and dedicated effort to support these young people to understand healthy and unhealthy aspects of interpersonal relationships, as well as clearer understanding of government laws concerning coercive control as well as how to report their struggles and feelings to those who will listen and take a proactive approach.  

The report marked the first phase of the Early Action System Change, with the findings and research collected in the report leading into the second phase, the Dartington Service Design Lab’s Change up! campaign on the 26th October. The online conference gathered representatives from the youth organisations represented in the report to further explore and discuss the findings of the report as well as a proactive approach to creating solutions.  

The event was hosted by Scotland Director Designate Catherine Rose Rankin and Scottish Director Kate Tobin for Dartington Service Design Lab and featured many contributors, including Paisley YMCA.  

Tobin stated in her introduction of the event: “Renfrewshire and others in this space have made tremendous moves towards centring young people’s voices that goes beyond just sharing experiences through surveys but working together with young people to meaningfully codesign and coproduce not just what is wanted, but also needed by blending data and evidence and this meaningful participation.”  

The research focus was the mental health of young people, and their experiences of coercive control in relationships. The project showed the results of a survey carried out from 10,000 young people, with 1 in 4 stating that they had experienced relationships with elements of coercive control.  

In his keynote speech, Head of Children and Justice Social Work John Trainer stated that the results went beyond the simple numbers of the survey and focused on the personal stories of young people to form definitive conclusions: 

“We asked those questions because as a professional social worker and working with the board of education, we actually identified that lots of the harm that was happening to young people was coming from families where gender-based violence and coercive control were very big issues. So, we asked some questions to try and surface what that looked like […] This is learned behaviour that starts way back in their early experience in family and young people confirmed that to us.” 

Renfrewshire Council Head of Schools Gordon McKinlay echoed this sentiment further, stating that the personal sharing and contribution of young people in this project should not be taken for granted: 

“It is a real privilege to work within a partnership that takes the views of our young people seriously and commit to making things better as a consequence. […] This afternoon’s event gives us all the opportunity to reflect on the vision and innovation of our young people who are challenging us to improve the services and supports for adolescent mental health and relationships across our services.”  

“It’s very important that we don’t view this participation of young people as something that we have to do, but something that we welcome and that will lead to real co-creation and systemic change in the long term.” 

The event showcased the work of Paisley YMCA in Social Circle project, with the data and sessions we had with our young people contributing greatly to forming the foundation of the study. It featured creative work and research from other exceptional youth organisations such as Create Paisley and The Star Project.  

The breakout rooms also featured important discussions about new methods that could be developed to help young people with their mental health and different ways to communicate their thoughts and feelings. They also allowed the participants to reflect and discuss our roles as youth workers and allies to young people, resulting in both new ideas and suggestions of how we can continue to improve and grow with the goal of educating and encouraging our young people to open up and discuss the trends and troubles in their lives.  

The event was an informative, collaborative and inspiring session that showcased the hard work of those involved as well as the importance and significance of empowering and helping our young people. As we reflect on the EASC project, we are proud to have been a part of an extensive and thorough examination of the complexities of the relationships of our young people with the goal to help, empower and assist them in every opportunity to combat inequality and help them build healthy and fulfilling life connections.  

Welcome to STEM Girls Podcast! 🎧

We’re thrilled to announce one of our most exciting new projects relating to our Makerspace Club programme!

One of our most popular weekly Makerspace club is STEM Girls every Wednesday; a space for young women interested in STEM and the world around us to come together and explore their passions and in the past several months, we have been developing a podcast project specifically for STEM girls.

Each episode will feature a chosen topic regarding STEM and anything in-between with questions relating, in which our STEM girls will give their own perspectives and have valuable discussions with each other.

This project has been a valuable and wonderful addition to making our STEM girls voices heard regarding important world issues and their wisdom and enthusiasm has played a major part in making this project so enjoyable.

An excerpt from one of our STEM girls.

When asked about why they wanted to get involved with the project, our STEM girls stated; “I wanted to get involved because it’s a new opportunity and I want to try new things.”

I think it will be a new experience and it will be nice to do with all the girls.”

“I just like the idea of a podcast in general.”

The first episode of the podcast project will be available to listen soon. For more information, updates, episodes and content regarding this great project, follow the official STEM Girls Podcast twitter @ymca_stemgirls.

Join Us at our Friday Night Drop In! 🎮

Our Friday Night Drop In has remained one of our most popular clubs since re-opening our doors earlier this year. With a consistently high attendance record and a healthy batch of regular and newcomers, this club frequently demonstrates its value every week.

But what gives this club its core appeal and why do so many young people consistently turn up?

YMCA Youth Worker Kieran McPhail states:

“I think given the stresses of the world being turned up to 11 these days with the still looming Coronavirus and the effect it has had on everyday life, a space for the young people to come on a Friday night and catch up with friends that they might not be able to see during the week and play some games, beat some high scores on the arcade machines or just chill out and chat with each other is incredibly valuable.

“It’s a space where they know they can relax and enjoy themselves. I think that’s mainly what draws the young people – a safe place to relax and socialise with some video games if they want to get their game on!”

Our Friday Night Drop In sessions place an emphasis on games and activities such as video games, quizzes and role-playing games. While young people are encouraged to share their favourite games to play with their friends, the club also acts as a space for young people to hang out and talk to friends after a long week.

When asked what he believes attracts the young people to this particular club, Kieran states:

“I think the young people enjoy that time in the space. I personally think this has had such a positive impact on the young people. Somewhere where they can drop the stresses of school and life and just let them be themselves and enjoy the end of their week with their friends!

“I think I’ve also noticed a lot of growing confidence among the young people! All the while coming into the space with great big smiles, bright hellos and witty jokes.”

Tickets for our Friday Night Drop In and all of our other clubs during the week are available from Eventbrite!

Reflecting on Social Circle 💬

As we say goodbye to our weekly Social Circle project, we look back on the various important sessions we had with our young people and the value of this weekly project spanning several months.

Social Circle was a social space for young people to come together and discuss current events, the online world and building relationships with others. In particular, this club aimed to explore and discuss nurturing healthy relationships and how the digital age has changed and reshaped our worldviews with different topics each week.

It also aimed to be a safe environment for our members to discuss their feelings and emotions and share their views about what’s going on in our world. Our sessions intended to be informative, open and honest and most of all, fun!

Each week, our young people tackled social issues such as gaslighting, bullying, acceptance and what makes a relationship good or toxic. They discussed what makes a good friend, how to spot manipulative language and the best course of action to take when someone is being mistreated.

We are thrilled with the results of this project and we hope it will encourage our young people to take what they have learned into the future to be the change they wish to see in the world.

These final parting words from our young people showcase their hope for the future;

“I would like the world to have no bullies.”

“I hope that in the future, the world will be a more accepting place for everyone.”

“I would hope that the world could become a place where people aren’t afraid to show who they really are.”

Tickets for our other weekly Makerspace clubs are available from Eventbrite.

What place does Gaslighting have in toxic relationships? Social Circle debates 💬

As our Tuesday night Social Circle sessions continue, we have introduced specific topics concerning relationships and interaction for our young people to discuss and debate with the help of our youth workers.

This week’s session was a discussion between our youth workers and young people on the definition and examples of gaslighting, and how it can indicate a toxic or abusive relationship.

Our youth workers defined gaslighting as a means to manipulate someone into questioning their own reality. It was a term many of our young people were unfamiliar with but learned through giving examples of relationships in which someone could manipulate or twist another person’s words to make them believe what they want them to believe.

One of the most valuable parts of the session came from a word/phrases game, in which a youth worker would read a phrase aloud and the young people would debate on whether the phrase counted as an example of gaslighting.

When prompted with the phrase “What you’re joking about is upsetting me. I’m not okay with it,” our young people stated: “I would say you’re not gaslighting… the way you were saying it sounds like you’re just trying to have a conversation with someone. Like if you sat someone down and tried to give them your feelings in a way to help yourself and them. If someone was joking about something personal and kept going on about it, you would end up being upset and if you react calmly with that, I don’t think it’s gaslighting.”

In response to the phrase “Take a joke!”, they responded, “Not really, because if you only said it once, that could be just you getting defensive. I think a lot of people do this, when they realise they’re in the wrong they start instead of apologising. I think especially if you’re male, then you might start getting defensive instead of trying to open up and say you’re sorry.”

By contrast, our young people said of the phrase “You’re too sensitive!”,: “I think it is gaslighting … See if you say to someone they’re too sensitive but you mean it in a way of trying to help them out, if someone is dealing with something and getting upset a lot and you say to them they’re too sensitive to try to help them, then I guess in that sense it’s not. But see if you say it over and over again, then I get that it can be then. That would qualify.”

Social Circle highlights the importance of having these conversations with young people, as their contributions are both insightful and informative, leading to them having just as much to teach as they do to learn. It also highlights these terms and dynamics so young people can identify them easily, leading them to recognise what makes a relationship healthy or unhealthy.

Tickets for next week’s Social Circle are available from Eventbrite.

The New Dimension to Social Circle

During the pandemic in accordance with government guidelines, many of our clubs were moved to online zoom calls every week as opposed to physically interacting in the space. In spite of this and the challenges it posed, Paisley YMCA were committed to giving their young people a space with our youth workers to enjoy club activity and conversation that many of them look forward to each week through the use of technology.

However, most of our club activity has now moved back to being able to physically meet and interact in the space and it has marked a new phase for one of our most recent club projects.

Social Circle is a Makerspace club launched by Paisley YMCA whilst in lockdown, with it beginning in online zoom sessions similar to the other clubs. Social Circle is devised as a space for young people to come together and discuss important social issues, the online world and building healthy relationships with others. This project was made possible through funding from the Early Action Systems Change Initiative.

With government restrictions now allowing our Makerspace clubs to once again meet in person, this has brought out a new dimension to Social Circle. YMCA Youth Worker Kieran McPhail states:

“As Social Circle came to a close with the online sessions and opened up to in person sessions, we’ve seen much more engaged and conversation driven sessions with lots of ideas, views and even some debate arising throughout.”

Kieran goes on to explain what the young people at Social Circle have been having debates about:

“The in person sessions have had a focus on friendships and how to recognise signs coercive control – or as we have been calling them; good and bad vibes between friends and what those signs are or could mean. There’s a lot of focus being given to the context of what’s being said and done during the sessions.

“The young people are very keen to discuss and dig into the “what, why and how” of the issue of coercive control and healthy relationships!”

Kieran also states the key differences the physical presence has brought to Social Circle compared to its online origins and the value of this club as a space for our young people:

The online sessions were a good platform, don’t get me wrong, a good place to talk and discuss with a heavy focus on just that, talking and discussion. These were very valuable and good sessions. But the in person sessions have a lot of energy and allows for a bit of light with games to break up and ease the heavier topics of discussion.

“I think Social Circle is a place to come and discuss the idea of how a healthy relationship should look and be as well as a space to discuss topics that are affecting the young people, such as the climate crisis, social crisis, anything the young people feel strongly about that they will have to confront as they step into the world as adults or even right now.

“These sessions would be incredibly valuable to keep continuing with, as these topics of discussion do not have enough young voices being heard despite it being young people who will have to pick up the pieces and stand up to and against the issues they want to speak out about and discuss.”

Tickets for Social Circle and all of our other clubs during the week are available from Eventbrite!