“What we want is a safe person and a safe place”
Reflections on the Digital Dialogues: #BeeWell, authored by The Politics Project team.
Who are The Politics Project?
We are a not-for-profit, non-partisan, democracy education organisation that specialises in engaging young people in conversations with politicians and decision-makers, we are collaborators on the #BeeWell project hosting the Digital Dialogue sessions.
Digital Dialogue’s Overview:
From 29th June – 15th July, we had the great privilege of facilitating our flagship ‘Digital Dialogue’ sessions across the 10 boroughs of the Greater Manchester Combined Authority. Within these sessions, local leaders and schools were brought together digitally for each school to give a presentation on their key findings and suggested solutions from the #BeeWell data. This was followed by a facilitated discussion on topics raised and how the council representatives could take these ideas forward, or further support the young people to improve wellbeing across the region.
The discussions involved 17 schools, 24 council representatives, 100+ students, and over 15 hours of discussion on the wellbeing of year 8 students in Greater Manchester, and how the local authorities’ decision-makers can help them.
Prior to the sessions, students were supported with four hours of preparatory workshops to help them to explore the data and prepare presentations ahead of the Digital Dialogue discussions.
Many of the schools we worked with engaged the whole of year 8 in the programme and the initial data discussions. Each school then chose a smaller group of young people to present the findings to local leaders in the Digital Dialogue sessions. Approximately 1,000 young people from the Greater Manchester area were involved throughout the entirety of the Digital Dialogue programme.
All of the sessions were incredibly powerful, with valuable insights gained from those most knowledgeable on the mental health and wellbeing of young people, the young people themselves.
Reflections from the sessions:
Whilst each session was unique in its own way, reflecting on the discussions there were some distinct themes that occurred. These included:
The lack of a feeling of belonging, and a heightened sense of loneliness many of the students identified as being partly due to the disrupted transition to secondary school, and lack of interaction with peers. Students also raised issues that had arisen from habits that had been formed in the pandemic, such as too much social media use and not getting enough sleep.
The stress caused by the cost of living crisis was raised with the impact it had on mental health, physical health, and healthy eating. The cost of living is also affecting access to sports facilities and leisure centres along with raised transport costs. Students mentioned the need for second-hand uniform shops to make uniforms more affordable.
Across all the sessions social media was a big topic and discussed at length, seeing it as both a positive and negative experience in their lives. However, many wanted to tackle some of the negative elements, such as online bullying or abuse, the negative effect on self-esteem, and the amount of time that can be spent on it. Solutions suggested included self-imposed time-outs, amplifying the positive side of social media, and continued education and awareness raising on how to stay safe on social media.
Increased anxiety and stress around exams and homework, and a need to perform were all discussed. Some students wanted specific support on tackling mental health, such as increased access to mental health support in school. Others suggested that they would like to see more peer-to-peer support with young people helping each other. Students also suggested that some practical changes, such as exam support, not having homework due in for the next day, and removing public ranking of results would also help.
There was a clear desire for more opportunities to do physical activity, and access to be able to more informal, less competitive sports. There was a lot of interest in cross-school mixing to enable young people to meet other young people their age from other schools.
Having the support of an adult was really important to young people’s wellbeing. Some were interested in strengthening relationships with parents, while others focused on providing opportunities outside of school for young people to have the support of an adult, discussing youth clubs as a possible option. Some students also explored their relationships with teachers and mental health support teams in schools, looking for more opportunities to engage with them.
Access to a safe place they could go with friends outside of school was of clear importance with many feeling that parks were unsafe for young people their age and put them off going to their local park. A minority of young people went to youth clubs, and those who did had positive experiences in attending them. Others were interested in a more “up-to-date” offer with opportunities to play video games with friends.
Many of the councils had a plethora of schemes and subsidies already set up, however not enough of the young people were aware of the opportunities and services available to them that council leaders raised.
Many of the council representatives involved made pledges to follow up on certain topics raised in the sessions such as: Inviting students to speak to the healthy eating and youth services team by Rochdale Council, setting up a meeting with young people and the head of libraries in Bolton, looking into the spread of activities across the borough to identify inequalities in locations by Trafford Council.
We look forward to working alongside the #BeeWell team to follow up on all of the pledges from the sessions and commitments over the next two years of the project to monitor the outcomes and progress made from these powerful conversations.
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