Community Lockdown Support

Providing IT kit, learning resources and counselling during Covid-19

Aims

These four projects aimed to support young people and their families in areas of economic disadvantage who were struggling with learning at home during the Covid-19 lockdown and beyond. The funding supported three main challenges: a lack of IT equipment at home, the need for quality paper-based educational materials, and mental health issues exacerbated by the lockdown and home-schooling.

METHODOLOGY

IT kit and support from Tubbs  

Eastbourne firm Tubbs Computer Supplies repurposed and set up PCs and laptops to help students continue learning at home during lockdown. Families most in need of IT equipment and online access were identified by voluntary action organisation 3VA working with Willingdon Trees Community Centre and Shinewater Primary School. Many families had no computers at home or were sharing one device among many, with reports of children struggling to share equipment due to emotional issues.

Towner Eastbourne and Craftyannies learning resources

To keep students engaged with learning at home, Towner Eastbourne gallery commissioned a local artist to design engaging activities on the theme of air, earth, water and light for its learning packs. The packs included reusable resources and art-based activities with links to creative writing and/or illustration, and were made available on the gallery’s website. After-school learning provider Craftyannies also provided learning packs aimed at three different age groups – 4 to 8, 9 to 13 and 14 to 18 year-olds – featuring activities such as create your own superhero and comic strip. Team members at Willingdon Trees, Shinewater and a family worker at Waves helped identify families who needed support and delivered the packs.

Mental health counselling from Holding Space

Eastbourne support group Holding Space and Seaford Youth Counselling Service offered counselling support for families experiencing stress, anxiety and mental health issues during lockdown. Emergency support, weekly sessions via phone and Zoom, and routes into longer-term mental health support were provided, along with coping strategies and activities for parents to do with their children at home. 3VA worked with local community partners Willingdon Trees, Shinewater, Make Lunch Club and Waves in Seaford to identify families in need of this support.  

IMPACT

IT kit and support from Tubbs 

Over eight weeks, the project provided 47 computers to 30 families in the Shinewater and Willingdon Trees areas and a further 10 in Seaford and Hailsham East. Volunteers delivering the IT equipment and set-up support reported positive feedback from recipients. The project also identified that its IT partner, Tubbs, had some e-safety issues and worked with it, schools and SLN to resolve these and to develop easy-to-use parental controls advice. This resulted in safer online practices and Tubbs being better prepared for future projects.

Towner Eastbourne and Craftyannies learning resources

Over eight weeks, four activity packs and two materials kits from Towner Eastbourne were delivered bi-weekly to 300 pupils (mainly primary) in Eastbourne, Seaford, Hailsham East, Heathfield and Uckfield area (as well as 10 young carers across East Sussex). The packs were well received by all. Eastbourne Academy’s Teaching and Learning Centre, which supports pupils with emotional learning difficulties, particularly expressed how much it appreciated the learning packs and how relevant they were for its students.

In June and July 2020, Hailsham Foodbank, Hailsham Children’s Centre and family workers in the council estate, as well as Vega Close Children’s Centre, helped distribute 400 Craftyannies’ creative packs around the area, many to children classed as ‘at risk’. The Craftyannies’ learning resources were also well-received; most feedback was anecdotal, although formal feedback was shared by young people who had received the test pack. Children centre and family workers commented on the positive effect of the packs, particularly on the 14 to 18 age group.

Mental health counselling from Holding Space

In Eastbourne, 19 parents engaged with Holding Space, mostly those with children in Years 7 and 9 at Shinewater and Parklands Schools and Eastbourne Academy. School referrals were particularly successful, as many parents lacked the confidence to self-refer. Of the 19 referrals, eight took up the offer from Holding Space, receiving six one-to-one, hour-long sessions, although some parents had more sessions a week due to their urgent need for support. All participating parents received additional phone support of between 30 and 90 minutes weekly; Zoom sessions, however, were not as popular. Holding Space felt this was due to the lack of a safe and confidential space for parents to discuss things on Zoom. Holding Space also provided parents with coping strategies and activities to do at home with their children.

In Seaford, extensive conversations to identify those in need of mental health support took place with its local youth counselling service, which was keen and able to deliver the support needed, and was awarded separate Lottery funding at the same time. Between 15 and 20 young people benefited from the service's mental health and wellbeing support.

KEY FINDINGS AND RECOMMENDATIONS

Findings

  • All the project partners enjoyed working collaboratively. They said it helped them make new connections with local organisations (in particular, schools and other community groups); 3VA recruited new volunteers to help deliver packs and IT kit. The projects also offered their partners the chance to pilot ideas, find out what works and what doesn’t, build on that experience and develop as organisations.
  • Direct partnerships with local groups such as Willingdon Trees Community Centre and Shinewater School enabled the projects to quickly identify those families most in need of support to home-educate during lockdown.
  • Young people liked the Towner Eastbourne and Craftyannies’ packs, which provided an alternative to formal school resources, something to engage with at home. Key workers welcomed the packs, saying that it was often hard to organise something that young people wanted to do.
  • Finding organisations to distribute the learning packs wasn’t always easy, as schools and other community groups were closing down for summer.
  • In certain areas, engaging with schools proved difficult. This was perhaps due to the project's short-term nature and Craftyannies not being well known. Whereas in Eastbourne, the project worked with schools it already had links with and with Towner Eastbourne, a well-established gallery.
  • Towner Eastbourne, Craftyannies and community partners hoped for more visual feedback, but little was received. Towner Eastbourne would have liked more opportunity and resources to create more communications and follow-up with families.
  • Online promotion of Holding Space's support, especially its strong Facebook presence, was key in encouraging take-up. Leaflets in the Willingdon Trees centre and delivered with the IT kit, residents’ newsletter and weekly messages to parents on school Facebook pages, all helped raise the project’s profile.
  • There was little formal feedback on the mental health support provided, although Holding Space is planning more follow-ups. Nevertheless, parents told Holding Space what a lifeline the project was, and commented on the long waiting times or lack of support from the council and NHS. While many parents liked the phone support, they were keen to actually meet other parents like them and deal with issues in a dedicated time and space away from home.
  • There were potentially more young people in Seaford in need of counselling but services weren’t able to offer safe recruitment and training for counsellors quickly enough to support higher numbers. The Peace Centre in Peacehaven, which supports young Muslims, was interested in taking part but was unable to deliver given the short timescale available. However, it may help in the future.
  • Even though the numbers participating in the counselling sessions were lower than anticipated, the project has enabled Holding Space, which had previously tried, unsuccessfully,  to reach out to schools, to broker successful relationships. Meetings with schools are continuing beyond the life of the project, with more schools sharing information about Holding Space and encouraging parents to seek help when needed. 

Recommendations

  • Where learning packs were going out directly from the schools, the distribution was affected during holidays. Perhaps having volunteers doing it solely would be better, but there may be resource/time issues.
  • Feedback revealed how important it is to have paper educational packs as well as online resources. Some families have little or no access to IT, and paper resources can be distributed through schools, community groups such as food banks to families directly. 

TALKING POINTS

Why working with community groups through the Innovation Fund is crucial to accessing young people and their families who may not be engaging with school or colleges, especially in emergency situations such as the lockdown.  

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Context

The coronavirus lockdown resulted in home-schooling for most children in the region, highlighting issues of access to IT and learning materials. While an estimated 9% of families in the UK don’t have a laptop, desktop or tablet at home, in local school Shinewater, a survey revealed that figure was nearer 50%. Covid-19 also resulted in an increase in anxiety, stress and other mental health issues in many families, with 60% of adults and over two-thirds of young people in England saying their mental health had got worse during lockdown. (Office of National Statistics).

Duration

March 2020 to July 2020

Partners

Tubbs Computer Supplies, Towner Art Gallery, Craftyannies Home, Holding Space and Seaford Youth Counselling, 3VA

Funding source

Emergency Learning at Home Outreach Fund