Creativity Through Covid-19
Ahmed is a Project Officer and Trainer for our Leadership & Enterprise (L&E) programme, supporting friendship groups in the London boroughs of Southwark and Lambeth. He shares his reflections on 2020, the impact of Covid-19 on his life, his role, and how we adapted and innovated in response to new challenges.
Innovation and adaptability are two words that definitely stand out from 2020. When all of our in-person delivery had to be cancelled because of Covid-19, we knew we had to find other ways to continue supporting young people. We held a number of focus groups through Whatsapp to try and get a sense of what support they wanted from Leap during this time.
The initial response to online engagement from young people was not very positive – they were pretty clear that online sessions were not what they wanted. In an online space, we found it difficult to maintain the ‘fun’ element that we have in the room. So we went back to the drawing board, asking ourselves ‘how can we make Leap’s training fun and engaging for young people in a digital setting?’ Then, I was put on furlough.
While I was away, my manager Gabin was left to hold the programme. He was instrumental in rolling out our Facilitator Development Programme – another arm of L&E which is designed to support practitioners aged between 19-30 to deliver Leap training. This was rolled out to over 100 people from Lambeth, Southwark and across London between June and the end of August.
I returned from furlough with a much more ambitious and motivated mindset. I started working with South Side Young Leaders academy, delivering weekly online training to groups of boys as young as 8. I had no experience working with this age group, so I was presented with the dual challenge of how to simplify our curriculum and deliver it digitally. This was one of the most challenges piece of work I had ever delivered, not just because of the age group, but because of the complications of working online. It’s easier when working with adults who have their own spaces to work in, but many of the young people we are working with share bedrooms, or are working in a communal space with lots of distractions preventing them from engaging fully. Then there were the technological complications – with Wifi cutting out, no webcams, broken microphones etc. Despite the challenges, I have taken a lot of learning from this experience, and we continue to work with the academy into 2021.
Since Covid hit, we realised that group work is not where it’s at for young people at the moment (particularly for L&E which focuses its work on friendship groups, which presents many challenges in an online space). Instead, we have expanded our 1:1 work with young people, developing a new curriculum for online delivery which explores friendship groups, relationships, networks, and what these give you and what you give to them.
Since September, I have been working closely with two young men who were referred to us through Divert. Seeing their journey and the progress they have made within themselves and in their relationship with conflict has been really positive and rewarding for me. It has reminded me how deeply connected my work is to my own purpose in life - which is to support individuals to bring about positive change. I am excited to roll the new 1:1 curriculum out more widely in 2021.
One thing that has really helped me through the ups and downs of the past year is having the mindset that 'this too shall pass. I remind myself that tomorrow will bring new highlights as well as challenges, which we must not resist. Resistance to what 'is' can often cause internal turmoil and continued suffering.
In November, we started a new programme with the City of London Academy, who supported young people who were excluded from school. There had been several incidents of violence from this group of young people, so Leap was approached by the council to provide conflict management support. We began delivering face to face training in the school in November, working every week with 20 young people split into two groups of ten. Within the first day of engagement the young people were on board, willing to engage, to share and be vulnerable, and working with us to support themselves and each other. We were able to build such great relationships and were starting to see real change in those young people, who expressed to us how much the work was helping them. Then, due to circumstances beyond our control, the delivery had to come to an abrupt end with a new set of Covid restrictions. This was a massive disappointment to both us and them. However, in the absence of face to face group work, I will continue to offer 1:1 online support to these young people.
We must submit to the realities that life presents, while innovatively adapting our approach. That is what we have done at Leap through Leadership and Enterprise, and we will continue to innovate and adapt in order to bring about progressive and sustainable change, even when new challenges are thrown our way.
Expanding our work across London to reach more young people and to support them with the skills to manage personal and inter-personal conflict is a fundraising priority for 2021. If you would like to learn how you can support as an individual or as trust and foundation, visit Make a Difference page