A pilot mentoring scheme for young people aged 11-18 living or attending school in the Sevenoaks district created in 2021. This was initially established in response to the effects of Covid-19 on the mental health of young people, who were given the opportunity to be matched with an adult mentor to discuss any issues they had. The initiative has been so successful it has been extended to allow more young people to reconnect with activities they love, to socialise and to receive help and guidance. Participants can also take part in training courses and access 1-2-1 counselling via the scheme.
To reach, support, reconnect and guide young people aged 11-18 who for a multitude of reasons have become isolated. To enable these young people to develop a sustainable method of engaging with activities, other peers and people and for them to live, learn and grow.
Funding was secured from Kent County Council’s Contain Outbreak Management and Helping Hands Fund and a pilot mentoring scheme was established, partnering with youth service providers and their volunteer adult mentors. The scheme is accessed by the completion of a referral form. It was advertised widely – including via Sevenoaks District Council’s In Shape magazine delivered to all residents, schools, Kent Police, Kent County Council (including social services), Youth Hubs, social prescribing organisations and voluntary and community sector groups. There are adult volunteer mentors assigned to the youth service providers. When a referral comes into Sevenoaks District Council, an officer triages it before sending on to a youth service provider. This provider then matches a volunteer mentor with the young person and manages that relationship. Referrals have originated from parents, guardians, the police, and social services. All young people are offered 1-2-1 counselling as part of the scheme.
This scheme is run and managed by Sevenoaks District Council with our partners: Millwall Community Trust, The Layberry Foundation, House in the Basement in Sevenoaks Town, Bridges Café in Edenbridge, and Right Mind Therapy Practice.
The scheme has been extended twice from its original start in April 2021 and now has funding until the end of March 2023. Given its popularity it is hoped that further funding can be secured to extend it further.
Jenny Godfrey, Community Projects and Funding Officer at Sevenoaks District Council says,
“When a young person becomes isolated the impact on their family can be immense with so many ripple effects. This scheme was established to reach isolated young people that might find the support of an adult mentor from outside of their family beneficial in reconnecting and guiding them. Sometimes, as hard as parents, carers and families try to support their young people it doesn’t have the desired effect. Giving a young person the opportunity to talk to, listen to and connect with a trusted adult outside of their normal circle can spark a change in their view of the world – I like to say ‘show them the horizon’.”
As summarised by Keith Beasley of The Layberry Foundation,
“Our involvement in the scheme has offered opportunities to improve the wellbeing of both the referred young people and their families. We hear their stories, understand any family dynamics and complexities and offer support and guidance. As we work with the young people we look to connect them with activities and other people. One activity we were thrilled to be able to offer was the fly day, held at Redhill Aerodrome. The event was organised by one of our adult volunteer mentors, Sam, an aircraft commander with over 3000 hours and 10 years of flying experience, who along with The Layberry Foundation and ‘Aviation Without Borders’ made this day possible. Two young people on the scheme arrived with their parents and had roughly 25 minutes each individual flying experience with Sam in a light aircraft. The young people thoroughly enjoyed their experience and were presented with certificates for their achievement.”
Another example of how a young person has benefited from this project is “Steve”:
“Steve” engaged with Millwall Community Trust in April 2022 who worked with him for 12 sessions.
The Trust initially liaised with Steve’s parents and learned that he was failing to engage with other agencies, and was not in education, employment or training. Using the power of Steve’s affinity to Millwall they began working with him. John from the Trust recalls:
“Our mentoring sessions entailed getting Steve to Millwall and allowing him to be part of the Millwall community meetings and introducing him to our community trust. This way he could see, experience and be part of our work in the community from holiday camps, over 59s walking football, hospitality works and mentoring our 13-15 year olds on our onsite alternative provision academy.”
Steve says: “Millwall is more than a football club; it is about helping the community and being part of something. I have learned so much and am now enrolling on a CSCS course so I can work in the career I want to do which is construction. Without Millwall’s help this wouldn't have been possible“
Steve is now enrolled on Employability and Money Management Level 2 courses with Millwall Community Trust and transitioning to Kite College for a full-time construction college course.
John Scarborough from the Millwall Trust says: “I believe the use of a professional football club, particularly for those with an interest in football and more so if they have an affinity to the club, can break down barriers to engagement. This has been proven in both the referral cases to the club where each of the young people have an affinity to Millwall but at the time of their referral were fully disengaged from education and intervention support services. From the outset the Trust was able to engage with them and they willingly continue to attend and access Millwall education and mentoring service on a weekly basis. The impact is best communicated by parents and carers of both who immediately said they noticed a change in their child’s behaviour and increased positive outlook on their future aspirations. They have a purpose for the week, and are having their achievements recognised and being celebrated for who they are by a professional football club.”
House in the Basement in Sevenoaks offers a friendly place for anyone aged 11 to 19 to go, hang out and relax with plenty of things going on. Those joining the mentoring scheme take part in the House in the Basement’s regular sessions, activities and day trips. Daren Mountain from the House in the Basement says,
“As a drop-in youth cafe we have been able to signpost those attending our sessions to join the scheme as well as welcome new young people that have joined the mentoring scheme and are also looking to socialise and join in with activities. We seek to provide a friendly, relaxed atmosphere and offer games and activities that the young people can join in with.”
The BRIDGES Community Café in the town of Edenbridge successfully ran a pilot Youth Café between May and July 2022. Young people referred onto the scheme for mentoring support volunteered to help with service for the weekly Monday night youth café, serving their peers with drinks and cakes. Mary Perrett from BRIDGES says,
“We decided to make the atmosphere as informal as possible, thus not being “pushy” in requiring the young people to take part in whatever activity had been laid on for that evening, rather allowing the youth to engage if they so wished, and thus taking ownership of their time and enjoyment. In this way, it was a relaxed and enjoyable time but choice was also given and we were very flexible in what the young people did. Some of the young people said openly that they were anxious in coming to our event, but at the end of the scheme, when everyone was asked, they thought it was fantastic! And we did have one complete session around the whole area of mental health wellbeing delivered by another partner, RightMind, which proved a success, in that the young people really seemed to listen and take part and ask questions.”
One of the young volunteers helping to run the Youth Café provided a full report of their time at the Café and included outcomes. It demonstrated that the young people really valued these sessions being held in Edenbridge. A few soundbites from this report are:
- great space
- great service
- able to meet up with friends
- safe space
In the summer of 2021, with the support of Kent County Council and their Reconnect funding we were able to offer free summer activities to young people aged 11 to 18 years. This contributed to an increase in mentoring referrals. We were able to deliver nearly 200 free places to 110 young people – it was a multitude of free activities (15 in total delivered across 59 sessions (excluding those sessions undertaken by the 13 young people with White Oak Leisure Centre passes)) including water polo, artistic swimming, rugby, football, art workshops, cake decorating masterclasses, kayaking. We worked with existing and new providers in the district.
Key positives from the feedback were that the activities were fun, enabled the young people to meet others/new people and to receive support and instruction from an inspirational activity leader. Identified as a key positive by some young people was that the activity was near to where they lived. Others felt the activities helped improve their confidence and allowed them to learn something new.
From the young people:
‘Really fun, really kind leader.’
'It helped me relax and think about myself to control my body and mind.'
'All the activities were great, I made new friends and learnt new skills and had a fun time. I hope I get the opportunity to do some other activities next summer.'
From the parents:
‘I really felt the need to write to say a big THANK YOU for the two sessions my two boys attended this summer! I will be honest it is not an activity I have considered in the past but as it was a free activity I thought why not give it a go! They loved it so much and booked another session. I really liked the fact it was at 6:00pm as it meant the park wasn’t as busy and I could park easily. The instructor Callum was so good with the children and did little games and races with them and the one last night everyone on the session had been before and my youngest fell in the lake! Then fell in the lake again and Callum helped him drain the boat! It was so funny and once this happened it wasn’t long before the eldest fell in - it was so funny! They really needed this after all the Covid restrictions - it has been so nice to see them smile again! I really hope this happens again next summer. My youngest son also had the six-week membership at White Oaks gym and has enjoyed using the gym! So thank you!’
'As a parent I was extremely grateful for my daughter to have the opportunity to take part in the free sessions. They were extremely well run, it gave her new skills and I was able to work knowing she wasn't bored or sat at home with nothing to do. Thank you Sevenoaks Council.'
‘Just wanted to say what a fantastic time my daughter had at the Cascade dance workshop, I really hope you can put more of these on as she would love to attend again and has friends who were unable to make this date but are really keen to give it a go after her talking so positively about the day.’
All young people joining the mentoring scheme are offered six weeks of 1-2-1 counselling provided by RightMind counselling. Tanya Wright from RightMind says: “We have been able to provide 1-2-1 counselling to young people joining the mentoring scheme. To provide this service as locally as possible to the young people we are now offering the counselling sessions in Sevenoaks town, Hartley and Swanley. We have also been involved in the training of the volunteer adult mentors, providing mental health awareness, counselling skills and safeguarding sessions.”
As highlighted by Tanya above, one of the other outcomes from this project is that volunteer adult mentors from varying backgrounds and from different communities with the Sevenoaks district have engaged with the scheme and young people. This has all helped create a more sustainable model of support that with the correct guidance and some funding can continue to evolve.
How is the new approach being sustained?
We were able to secure further funding to extend the pilot. We are in the process of seeking additional funding to extend the scheme beyond the end of March 2023.
The key lessons learnt cover three aspects:
Firstly, it is a time-consuming model to implement, requiring the recruitment, necessary safeguarding checks and induction of volunteer adult mentors before young people can be allocated. Added to this was the initial expectation that the scheme was a pilot ending in March 2022. With the securing of funding only every six months to extend the managing of expectations proved challenging but all partners worked hard on this.
The second key area of learning was the steering group (established at the outset) made up of representatives from all partners have been able to share experiences and outcomes which have helped this scheme to evolve from a pilot to an ongoing project. They have linked young people across to each other where relevant and possible and provided signposting of other support offers to their families. This cross linking in a large geographical area such as Sevenoaks district has proven invaluable. Again it has enabled the young people and their families to find out what else is on offer and where there might be opportunities.
Finally, we have been delighted to receive so many enquiries from other potential partner organisations wishing to join the scheme and help support young people living or attending school in Sevenoaks District. These organisations, groups and clubs have heard about the benefits of the scheme and are looking to get involved. It is hoped that going forward it will be possible to sign them up and extend the offer to young people, meaning that we are closer to a fully sustainable mentoring scheme in our district.