Reflecting on Loneliness: Mental Health Awareness Week

This year, The Mental Health Foundation have recognised 9th – 15th May as the week of mental health awareness. This year, the theme explored is the effects of loneliness and isolation.  

Loneliness affects millions of people both in the UK and worldwide. It contributes massively to difficult mental health struggles and was an important factor to the impact on mental health in the last two years, with the effects of the coronavirus pandemic necessitating lockdown procedures and severe restrictions upon seeing friends and family members.  

According to gov.uk between March and June 2020 (the time in which schools were closed), symptoms of depression and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) were found to have increased significantly in both children and young people aged between 7.5 – 12 years old in comparison to before the pandemic (however, the nature of the research makes a definitive link between young people’s mental health and the pandemic harder to establish). Additionally in 2020, young people aged 16 – 24 who live in the most deprived areas of the UK also experienced increases in psychological distress that were 3.4 times larger than those in lesser deprived areas. More information can be found here.  

Since the easing of lockdown restrictions, Paisley YMCA and other youth work services have since opened once again to the public to offer a space in which young people can come together to meet old friends and make new ones. The young people who attend our weekly clubs come from all over Renfrewshire and Glasgow too. In spite of this, they have formed lasting friendships that make them look forward to seeing each other every week. Our Makerspace provides a safe and welcoming environment for our young people to spend valuable time with each other and our youth workers and this kind of interaction is crucial to combat the effects of loneliness.  

A reflection from one of our young people

At one of our clubs this week, our young people talked about the ways technology in particular can help ease feelings of loneliness. It can provide a connection to other young people through online games and social media, which was a huge way for people to stay connected during the pandemic when meeting in person was difficult or impossible.  

However, they discussed the ways in which technology could also make them feel alienated and more disconnected from others as it shouldn’t substitute for connections with people in the real world. Technology is an integral part of many young people’s lives and discussing the effect it can have on mental health and loneliness is a valuable conversation – both the advantages and disadvantages it can bring.  

As we begin to come to terms with the long-term effects of the pandemic and what it means for the future, we must take into account the mental toll as well as the physical. Additionally, we will continue to reach out to young people and offer them as much care as we can through their struggles. Many young people suffer from loneliness and isolation and we provide them with understanding and support through resources such as through our social clubs, youth work and activities, as well as recommending other resources and encouraging a positive and safe space for them to share their thoughts and feelings.  

This week, we reflect on the effect loneliness and isolation can have on our young people and we encourage them to seek help and guidance through mental health resources and youth work designed to help them through this difficult time this week and for the foreseeable future. Together, we can show there is always someone who can help and no one is truly alone.  

Seeking Additional Board Members

Paisley YMCA delivers nationally leading youth work services based on digital technologies which make a real difference to young people – helping both skills and character development.

We’re based in the centre of Paisley, but we also deliver services in local communities.

Our recent AGM led to significant change on the Board as long-standing contributors retired and new people were elected as office bearers (Chair and Vice Chair) and other members joined the Board.

The changes bring to the Board new people and new capacity, but we’re feeling the loss of experience, and we’re looking for others to join us.  We no longer have a Treasurer, and we could really benefit from a Board member with financial management experience.

We also recognise that we’d really be helped by people with HR and properties management experience joining us. 

We find that volunteering to support the work of Paisley YMCA to be rewarding and useful for our own development. 

If you share our values, as outlined below, and you’d like to help Renfrewshire be a better place we’d like you to think about joining us as members, and if you’ve a financial management, HR or properties management background and some time to help and gain from personal development, we’d like you to think about joining the Board.

Back in the day, membership of Paisley YMCA was designed for people of Christian belief, but we’re now a membership organisation based on values, rather than religious belief.

We’re based on two core principles:

  • that people should treat others as they’d like to be treated themselves, sometimes called the ‘Golden Rule’.  While inspired by Christian teaching, we believe that this is a universal value found in some form in most religions and humanist movements.  We believe that if everyone stopped to consider their actions in this manner, the world would be a better place.  We’re proud that our members include people of different faiths and of none; and
  • that people in need should be helped regardless of who they are.  Again, a universal value, this one derived from the ‘good Samaritan’ parable.  We want to help people in Renfrewshire, particularly young people, have opportunities to learn and develop, and to thrive, whoever they may be.   We’re not just for people of any particular religion, ethnic background, sex or gender, age, sexual orientation or other way of dividing people, we’re for everyone.  (But we’ll remain mostly focussed on supporting young people).

We face some serious challenges and we’re looking for the right people to join us and help.

Our financial position is precarious and while we’re going to be focussed on applying for funds to carry us through, we also need to improve our financial management and reporting to the Board. 

Our HR policies and practices need to be overhauled and modernised. 

We own property which is currently draining resources without contributing to our work, but which could be a massive asset for Paisley. 

We’ve also got strengths.  We deliver sector-leading digital youth work and we’re building our new makerspace facilities right in the heart of Paisley.  We support young people to develop useful skills, and we know that some of the skills most important to young people aren’t technical but related to the ability to confidently interact with peers and with adults in authority. We support young people to think about our core values as they apply to their own lives.  We see young people develop in character and we’re proud to have been a part of their development.  We’ve a capable, knowledgeable staff team. We care about Paisley and the rest of Renfrewshire and its people.  We’re part of local community networks and the national and international YMCA movement. 

If you share our values and would like to support us, by becoming a member, we’d like to welcome you.  You can join from our website.  If, in addition, you’d like to help us based on HR,  property management or financial management experience, and you’d welcome the opportunity to develop your own experience by applying it to a different context, then please get in touch with Craig Green, the Chair, at craig@paisleyymca.scot.

Message from Our Board – Statement from Vice Chair, April 2022

A statement from our newly elected Vice Chair of the Board at Paisley YMCA Karen Murphy:

“I am delighted to have been elected by my peers within the board and wider membership as the Vice Chair of Paisley YMCA. I have several years of experience within the youth work field, as well as a Masters degree in community development and youth work. It was during my university placement that I began working with Paisley YMCA in a voluntary capacity which led me to join the board. Furthermore, in my current role as Volunteer Coordinator, I am developing a nation-wide volunteer programme, which is giving me a wider pool of knowledge and experience to bring to my role with Paisley YMCA.

“The last couple years have been a trying time for Paisley YMCA, as well as the wider youth sector, due to the impact of COVID on our service delivery but also our young people. We are also still recovering from the fire at William Street. We have a lot to rebuild and redevelop. However, I am confident that we can build Paisley YMCA up to again be the national leading organisation within the digital youth work field. We are redeveloping our High Street premises to be another ‘makerspace’, which I know our young people are keen to see . We will not disappoint them.

“It has been emotional to see so many long-standing board members leave us and we hope to properly celebrate their contributions soon. Yet, our AGM has brought in new board members including Gillian, Stuart, and the return of David. All three bring different specialist knowledge which will help the development of Paisley YMCA. We are lucky to still have Alex and Diane on board, as well as Craig leading us in his new role at the helm as Chair. As such, we have an extremely knowledgeable and experienced Board who I know can bring about the changes needed to develop Paisley YMCA into the organisation that we envision: a fellowship of like-minded people. We also have the opportunity to co-opt another 3 board members to help fill in the gaps in our boards’ areas of expertise. This will be a long process; however, we have a great staff team led by Claire to support us in this – and we will also be guided by our young people.

This opportunity to be Vice Chair is really exciting for me personally but also for Paisley YMCA, in that I am the first ever female office bearer for the organsiation. My colleagues on the board and I hope to continue to modernise Paisley YMCA in its practices; but our Christian values and our organisational aims remain the same: to support the communities of Paisley and the surrounding areas to flourish.”

Our New Creative STEM projects this month at Paisley YMCA 🌱

Big things have been happening this month at Paisley YMCA!  

Last week at our STEM clubs, our young people set up our new smart gardens which are currently displayed in our window display at our space at 39 High Street.  

Each of our gardens grows an assortment of yellow tomatoes, lettuces and basil. Assisted by the unique set up of their water tank and UV light to help them along, our gardens will hopefully be blooming soon in the spring with the help of our young people! They can be seen in our space and we can’t wait to see them bloom.  

Another feature that can be viewed in the window of our space is our new 3D printer, which regularly shows the creation of our new prints every week. We have created several small animal mascots already and intend to see which more ambitious prints we can create in the future.  

Our new smart gardens and 3D printer are a part of our continued effort to support young people to explore STEM in a fun, interesting and accessible way. As these projects continue, our young people are looking forward to learning about healthy eating and sustainable gardening, designing and making cool and useful items through the use of technology and building up a valuable skill-set that they can take into their future.

We are looking forward to even more developments in time for summer! Tickets for our STEM clubs are available from Eventbrite.

Follow us on Twitter (@YMCAPaisley), Instagram (@paisleyymca) and Facebook (We Are Paisley YMCA) for more updates and posts about current projects.  

A Space for Science, Technology, Engineering, Art and Mathematics; Reflecting on Science Week 2022 at Paisley YMCA

As we come to the end of UK Science week, we reflect on the importance role science and technology plays in our weekly clubs available for our young people. 

We have a variety of science-based clubs available at our makerspace each week, including STEM Girls on Wednesday and STEM Saturdays, which allows a space for our young people to create and explore STEM experiments and activities.  

With our latest technological additions to our space such as a vinyl cutter and 3D printers, this opens up even more possibilities for seeing what our young people can come up with using technology and household materials to create STEM-based projects that teach them about the imagination that goes into science.  

According to Youth Worker Mary-Jane McNally, this freedom to explore and create is part of why the science element to our clubs is so important to our young people, “The way science is normally portrayed is a very specific type that only appeals to one type of brain. And I feel that’s doing a science a disservice. It’s about repeating and recording and there’s other aspects. If you want to experience a range of things just casually on their own terms [..] It’s nice to be able to want to do something and just do it. School decides on your behalf what you’re doing.  

“They come here and if they want something, within reason, we’ll try to facilitate them getting towards their goals so the range of science can be broader. Some science-based environments are about results; here it’s about discovering things on your one terms instead of solely going through what people have done in the past so you can get something new.” 

At Paisley YMCA, we base the majority of our weekly clubs at the Makerspace from response to the suggestions of our young people. Therefore, the strong scientific element of our clubs comes from our young people’s enthusiasm for STEM/STEAM-based activities. These included the building of structures and project using household items and materials such as pipe cleaners, cardboard, spaghetti and much more throughout the week! While our Future Fridays are a great space for young people to just chill and hang out with their friends, Wednesdays and Saturdays are when the young people come to show us their innovation with our Youth Workers to help them along with their projects and ideas!

However, STEAM activities cover much more than just the S for science; it also stands for Technology, Engineering, Arts and Mathematics which open up far more areas of opportunity for learning. Paisley YMCA are also known for our work in digital technology, an element we hope to expand upon even more with the arrival of our new kit! The young people are also passionate about the arts, as shown by their creations and drawings they present each week at club.

Both the freedom and proactivity of our STEM-based activities at weekly clubs’ showcase is one of the core elements to their enduring popularity with our young people. This is echoed by the young people themselves, as stated by one of our weekly STEM girls; “There’s actually activities we can do here and it’s not someone just talking and throwing information at you for an hour. Here you actually get to do activities and learn things, you’re not just sitting at a table.  

“You don’t have tests here, you do the activity and it makes it more enjoyable and makes you want to do it more.” 

While UK Science week may have come to an end, we intend on keeping our scientific roots growing all year round! And all information and tickets for our weekly clubs are available from Eventbrite.  

Follow us on Twitter (@YMCAPaisley) and Instagram (@paisleyymca) for more updates!  

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.