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Story added: 13th May 2021

Stuart Bailey and Richard Graham, our Positive Futures Officers, tell us how their programme is making a difference

On Mental Health Awareness Week, we caught up with the Foundation’s Stuart Bailey and Richard Graham to hear how their programme Positive Futures is there to support vulnerable young people.

“At least once a week, there’ll be someone who – following a workshop – will feel empowered to disclose their issues to us,” says Richard Graham, one half of the Foundation’s Positive Futures team.

“This can range from someone telling us about their work worries at school through to revealing that they’ve had thoughts about self-harm.”

In these difficult times of a global pandemic, Richard – and his colleague Stuart Bailey – are currently delivering to over 300 students a week across Norfolk.

The programme was set up by the Foundation in September 2019, in partnership with the Premier League, Norfolk County Council, the Professional Footballer’s Association and the Office of the Police and Crime Commissioner for Norfolk, and seeks to support 11 to 14-year-olds helping them to make better lifestyle choices, cope with stresses or anxiety, and put them on a positive path.

Through the ‘Prepare’ strand, weekly mental health workshops are delivered to a selected group of students, while the ‘Protect’ strand has workshops on topics such as drugs, cyber bulling, racism, county lines and conflict resolution.

Building trust

Building up the trust with the students in the programme is key to its success, says Richard Graham. He finds that once one student has been brave enough to open up about something personal or offer an opinion, others soon feel empowered to join in.

“When it comes to mental health, being able to communicate or voice feelings is the most difficult step. They’ll say: ‘I need help with this, but I don’t really understand what is going on in my head, or who to talk about this or what to do.’”

The emotional and powerful content of the topics covered means that a key part of the Positive Futures programme is about providing 1-2-1 or pastoral support.

Support during lockdown

During the height of lockdown with schools closed, delivery of the programme moved online. A number of the schools the programme worked with decided to open up the workshops to all in the school.

But as lockdown progressed, it became clear that it wasn’t just students’ mental health that needed attention, but parents’ too.

“Through our schools, we were told that parents were really feeling the strain over lockdown,” says Stuart. “Parents were telling staff ‘My child’s okay, but I’m really struggling.’”

The team started running additional Positive Futures afternoon sessions for both parents and children. The uptake was great, and the feedback glowing. “Parents told us that they were discussing the themes with their children over dinner,” continues Stuart.

As successful as the online sessions were, as soon as it was safe-to-do-so – and thanks to a comprehensive lateral flow testing programme – the Positive Futures team were back in schools delivering their vital work in-person. This early access to the schools was rare; many other external organisations, charities or support groups are still not delivering in-person sessions.

A unique bond

Why do the team feel that students find it easy to open up to them?

“It normally takes three or four weeks of delivering to them, to develop that trust,” begins Stuart. “It might be that you are saying something that resonates, or you stick up for them. There’s that moment when you just know that the student thinks: ‘Ok, I can trust them’ and a barrier comes down.”

Richard concludes:

“What kids are telling me now, compared to last year, highlights a lot more concern for overall wellbeing. We’re super busy this half term and schools are really seeing the value of our work.

“The positive thing is that everyone seems to be more open about talking about mental health.”

To find out more about the Positive Futures programme, click here.

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