As part of the wider #BeeWell programme, The Politics Project were commissioned to deliver Digital Dialogue sessions bringing together local leaders and local schools across Greater Manchester to discuss key themes that had arisen from the #BeeWell data. Prior to the sessions, students were supported with four hours of preparatory workshops to help them to explore the data and prepare presentations that they shared as part of the workshops. This is the second year the Digital Dialogue: #BeeWell programme has been delivered . Read last year’s summary blog here: Reflections on Digital Dialogue: #BeeWell – By The Politics Project – #BeeWell (beewellprogramme.org).
In some of the schools, whole year groups engaged in these workshops. A smaller group of young people then presented their thoughts to local leaders in the dialogue sessions. We estimate that over 300 young people were involved in the programme in some way.
This blog explores the key themes that emerged most frequently in the 2023 dialogue sessions. At the end of this blog, you can access a full summary on all themes covered, too!
1. Physical activity
Physical activity, sports and sports facilities came up in every single Digital Dialogue session. Physical activity was either identified by students as an area of improvement in of itself, or was part of the solution to improve outcomes around mental health, loneliness, connectedness to others, and physical health.
There were suggestions in several sessions to encourage schools to open their facilities in the evening, weekends and during the holidays.
Students wanted a greater variety of physical activities to be made available. Three different schools suggested having and maintaining a school garden as a good example of a non-sport physical activity. Other suggested activities were dancing, using gym equipment and running clubs.
Access to green spaces and parks came up as having an important impact on young people taking part in physical activities. Young people who live near parks are more likely to use them, so being able to easily access green spaces is key. Some female students said they don’t use parks to exercise as they feel unsafe in parks alone. Sometimes they were not well maintained, with broken equipment or lots of litter. They felt better lighting, more litter picking, supervision/police presence would improve this. Some students also felt unwelcome in parks, feeling that adults felt they were ‘up to no good’.
2. Good places to go
Students in several sessions talked about the need for youth clubs and facilities aimed at their age group, including to take part in physical activity as above. They felt that though younger children were catered for, there wasn’t enough for them. They also felt that the opportunities that did exist were not well publicised.
Accessing youth clubs was also a key theme. Many were located in central locations, which children had to travel to. Young people sometimes felt unsafe travelling there. One student said they used to go to a youth club but stopped going after they had a bad experience waiting for a bus to go home afterwards, where they were intimidated by a group of teenage boys. One group of students spoke about how a school bus that used to take students home from after school clubs was stopped, and this led to less young people taking part in those clubs.
3. Healthy eating
Many young people highlighted that their students are not eating the recommended number of servings of fruit and vegetables each day. Many felt that despite some recent initiatives around healthy eating, they still noticed a lack of fruit or vegetables in their school lunch rooms.
Students suggested better and more prominent displays of fruit and vegetables at lunch time to encourage people to eat them. They also felt young people would benefit from being educated on the importance of eating healthily and how to do so in a cost effective way – in assemblies, PSHE or PE lessons. They also suggested growing food at school to help not only with healthy eating but to improve physical health.
Not getting enough sleep to concentrate throughout the day was discussed by several schools, as poor sleep impacts academic performance and physical and mental health. Anxiety, drinking energy drinks and low levels of physical activity were blamed for poor sleep, but by far the biggest culprit identified was young people using screens/a mobile phone at the end of the day.
Students wanted to see young people informed on how to have better sleep habits, and publicise the negative effects of a poor night’s sleep. Promotional posters could also encourage regular sleeping patterns, giving advice like having a quiet dark room, removing electronics, having a schedule and avoiding caffeine. There was also a suggestion that schools introduce a section in student homework diaries to track sleep.
5. Communicating opportunities
Linking several different areas of concern was how activities, opportunities and events are communicated to young people. Many students described how they didn’t know about opportunities that exist around physical exercise, mental health support, cultural activities and local youth groups until they did their research for the sessions.
They suggested representatives coming into schools to speak directly to students about these opportunities, or using social media in a better way to inform young people.
Read even more on the discussions from this year’s sessions in this document: The Politics Project: #BeeWell Digital Dialogues summary.