It is obvious to most the impact that Coronavirus has had on millions of lives, not just in the UK, but across the entire World. Many businesses have had to temporarily close, individuals unable to get to work, children having to be ‘home-schooled’ by their parents, many of whom are already stressed and under pressure.
As a nation we have never experienced anything like this and everyone’s mental health is being tested. While we all try to adjust to the changes this has brought to our own families, we must not overlook the thousands of charities that need to continue operating under this ‘new normal’ that so many speak of.
Somerset based charity, PROMISEworks, deliver inspirational mentoring for Somerset's most vulnerable, disaffected and disadvantaged young people between the ages of 5 and 25.
PROMISEworks volunteers work as mentors, ordinarily spending a couple of hours each fortnight engaging with their mentee – taking part in activities, talking and most importantly, listening. Often, mentors are the only stable adult relationship a young person has in their life.
Since the start of lockdown in March and due to strict social distancing restrictions, PROMISEworks has had to rapidly rethink the way it operates. Of course, contact has been maintained online, but fortnightly face to face meetings have now become weekly skype or Facetime calls, texts messages and phone calls. But these inspirational mentors have taken things a step further, ensuring the vital relationships they have built are maintained as much as they can be.
We have spoken to the charity to hear about a few ways that they have adapted to this new way of “talking”.
One mentor tells us how she has been maintaining contact with her mentee and has recreated their favourite Costa experience, by buying them the ingredients to make their own version of their favourite hot drink.
Other mentors have taken it upon themselves to send cards and hand-written notes with encouraging messages like, ‘You Are Stronger Than You Know’, just to remind their young person that they are still there for them.
“A young man of few words” was how this mentor described the 18-year-old lad he was matched with. Over the course of their relationship communication had always been brief in between their fortnightly face-to-face meetings and he was rarely chatty when they did meet, preferring to be tinkering with cars, or eating cake. Since lockdown, new ways of keeping their friendship interesting have had to be explored. The mentor set the young lad the task of compiling some online quiz questions that they could do together. The mentor quickly realised that all of the questions were about places they had been and things that they had done together, further highlighting how important their seemingly mundane meetings had been to this young man over the previous 15 months.
A 10-year-old girl mentee was proving difficult for her mentor to engage with. The PROMISEworks mentor had to quickly learn how to communicate by Messenger, FaceTime etc, but was getting almost no response. PROMISEworks sent the girl craft kits and plenty of books to read. But the girl recognised herself that she was becoming lazy, with playing computer games occupying much of her day. Then, following a suggestion from a case-holder, the mentor asked her a quick question – “Name a song with a colour in the title?” Wow, the response came back immediately - Yellow Submarine, Lady in Red, Black & Gold, Tears of Gold. They then moved onto songs with numbers and they were off, the young girl was engaged! They continued to have more conversations - songs about food, sweets, for dancing to, songs from the year of our births – leading perfectly on to plans for her birthday celebrations next month! The lines of communication were open again and the girl began telling her mentor quite a lot about herself through the songs she was choosing – sadly, most of which had very unhappy lyrics!
Many young people are finding the excuse for increased gaming time suits them well. One lad facetimes his mentor but continues to play games online. When his mentor asked if he was ignoring her, he said, “no, I just like you being in the room with me!”
PROMISEworks sits alongside children and young people who are dealing with life struggles. The mentors help by listening, encouraging, and most importantly having fun. They are looking forward to being able to walk and talk with their young people in the sunshine.
If you are interested in finding out more about becoming a mentor, please get in touch on www.promiseworks.org.uk