Youth work is having to take place in supermarkets and cafes – or outside under gazebos and tarpaulins – as those delivering everything from outdoor education to counselling reveal they are struggling to get access to indoor venues, including schools.
A survey carried out by Scotland’s national youth work agency, YouthLink Scotland, paints a picture of youth work organisations up and down the country struggling to find appropriate indoor spaces due to confusion over lockdown restrictions – a situation that it says is unsustainable as the weather becomes colder and the nights darker.
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Scottish government guidance enabled indoor face-to-face youth work to resume from 31 August but, according to YouthLink Scotland, the guidance is being interpreted differently in different areas, and more guidance is needed “urgently” on the use of community centres.
The survey found over 50 per cent of council youth work services have not been able to resume, rising to over 80 per cent for national voluntary organisations like Scouts, and local voluntary youth work projects across the country.
The survey also revealed that over three-quarters of youth work organisations still have no access to any school facilities, while around 95 per cent remain locked out of local leisure centre facilities.
One respondent said: “Safe and supportive conversations with young people on their own who are grieving, and exploring coping strategies, need to be carried out in a safe, nurturing space and not in the public domain of outdoor pitches or fast-food eateries.”
Another respondent highlighted that in their area there was a blanket ban on using all council-owned properties including schools. They said: “Groups are responding by only meeting outside or online but this issue will grow as we approach colder and darker evenings after October half term.”
YouthLink Scotland is calling for national and local leaders to help the sector overcome the barriers to youth work resuming.
It is also warning that a lack of access to facilities threatens to leave young people in Scotland without vital support, at a time when the country is facing a youth mental health crisis.
The calls are backed by Scotland’s Children and Young People’s Commissioner and See Me, the national mental health charity.
Tim Frew, YouthLink Scotland chief executive officer, said: “Youth work spaces are often the fun spaces for young people to be that give them an alternative to being isolated and sitting at home on computers. But a lot of learning takes place as well so young people are missing out on that informal learning just now as well.
“We also have concerns about the one-on-one support or counselling that young people get through youth work. We speak a lot about young people’s mental wellbeing and rising levels of anxiety among young people about what’s happening around them, but it’s difficult to have those conversations over Zoom.”