16 January 2017
It’s not unusual for a group of young people, left to their own devices, to sit together in a room, one earphone in, staring at their smartphones and totally ignoring each other in favour of looking at snapchat, or Instagram. They’ll be looking a picture of the girl next to them, taken 10 minutes before, or a video of someone falling over. During sessions we shake things up, get them talking, playing, cooking, making etc but the pull of social media is very strong, and promising discussions are often disrupted, curtailed or killed by a noisy meme.
That can be frustrating but there’s a darker side too: children and young people who can’t escape bullying even outside school or college because it follows them home on their phone; naked pictures shared without the knowledge of the person in them; and the facilitating of jealousy (girls and boys obsessing over whose pictures the person they are dating has liked).
Author and speaker Simon Sinek argues that we should consider treating social media like anything else that is highly addictive and restrict young people’s access to it: “We know that engagement with social media releases a chemical called dopamine; it’s why we count the likes, and look 10 times to see why our Instagram is going slower. Dopamine feels good. It’s the exact same chemical that makes us feel good when we smoke, drink and gamble… We have age restrictions on smoking, drinking and social media, but not on social media and cell phones.”
Lots of people don’t agree (see this millennial’s cutting response). But there’s no doubt that, in getting young people off their phones and into the room (in more than just body), youth workers face a challenge that didn’t exist 10 years ago. We’re trying various strategies to overcome it at the moment: turning off the wifi or getting Hopefuls to ‘earn’ the wifi code by helping with cooking or having a discussion they’ve been avoiding, banning phones at the dinner table. But we’d love to hear your ideas, and what has worked (or failed) for you.
One of the things we like to do at Urban Hope is to give people the opportunity to spend time with and understand the lives of people they wouldn’t otherwise meet. So, we invite adults with different careers and interests to volunteer here so that Urban Hopefuls can hear about a wide spectrum of different ways to live life. We’d like that to go both ways, for adults to have a chance to hear more about the lives of young people growing up in Islington today. So we’ve been inviting Urban Hopefuls to give us a snapshot of what is going on in their lives now. This week we heard from a young woman of 18 who has been part of Urban Hope for a couple of years:
The things I like are drawing, reading, swimming and gaming. I did a college course in construction, painting and decorating but I’m now looking to do a different course in special effects make-up. I’ve got a part time job at McDonalds. I live on my own, and my mum thinks I don’t use my resources well enough but prices have gone up, and I struggle a lot. I think finding work is difficult for people my age – people are less likely to hire us because we don’t have much experience.
Teenagers get a bad rap. A lot of teenagers drop out of school because they think it’s not for them. I had a horrible time in secondary school, I was bullied and nothing was done about it. I know a lot of teenagers who carry knives because they feel unsafe, and they’re not told what to do in difficult situations. Adults and the older generation think we have so much because we have computers and stuff but I feel really isolated.
I worry that I’m not going to do well and get where I want to get. In the past when I was worried I used to self harm but I haven’t done that for a while so I’m proud of that. I matured quite fast because of crap that happened in my life. When I was younger my mum didn’t know any other mothers so there were no other kids around, I was mostly around adults.
I find it hard to talk to people and make friends and not be weird. I’ve been cheated on in almost every relationship I’ve been in. Hopefully in five years I’ll be settled down with a nice job, and living in the countryside. I’d like to be able to have a partner who I can talk to, who can help me and I can help them; someone who you can have a laugh and a joke with but who can sit down and have a serious conversation too. I have depression and anxiety, and for me being happy is when I’m around people who understand and won’t judge me.
12 August 2016
Matthew (above, centre) is 15 and has been coming regularly to Urban Hope since January, after a friend brought him along to try it out. He came on his first residential trip with us a couple of weeks ago. This is what he said about it:
"I heard about the residential, and I didn’t have anything else to do so I thought I’d try it. I was expecting it to be a bit boring; I thought it would rain and that would mess things up, and that the activities wouldn’t be that much fun. But it was actually really fun. The best bit was having space away from home, and it was all stuff I could do. I enjoyed walking in the woods and exploring. Banana boating was something new, I’d like to do more of that. I played sardines for the first time, and that was fun too. The house was old and a bit creepy, and that made it exciting.
I’d been to the countryside once before but to a different part. You get experiences that you don’t get round here, like being out in the quiet and dark and exploring places you haven’t been before. We haven’t got woods round here, and it was so quiet and so dark at night, and it made you notice how busy and noisy life is here.
I’d never been stayed away somewhere with friends, so that was good too. There was lots of jokes. It was better without wifi because if there’d been more wifi, we’d all have been in and playing on our phones and when it was time for the activities we’d have been sighing and stuff. I had data on my phone so I could have been on it the whole time but I didn’t want to be because there was experiences to have.
27 June 2016
The Urban Hope team hasn’t been blogging much of late. Partly, that's because it has just been business as usual but really there is nothing usual about the business of youth work. Since our last blog post we have seen young people dealing with exam stress, falling out with friends, falling in love, struggling with bullying, finding themselves homeless, finding a sport they love, having severe health problems, following their dream and achieving success, being excluded from school, getting into trouble with the police, getting into trouble with parents, moving to new schools, learning new skills, making new friends. It’s all familiar and unfamiliar at the same time because every young person is different.
And here are a few of the things we’ve done with Urban Hopefuls in that time:
- Cooked dozens of meals and sat together around a table to eat them
- Entered a competition
- Gone on two residentials
- Designed t-shirts
- Attended meetings with schools and social services
- Hosted a party for residents of a local sheltered housing facility
- Played hours and hours of table tennis, pool, table football, dobble, uno…
- Formed a (small!) running club
- Washed up a lot of pots and pans
- Held a six-week sketching project
- Talked about elections, relationships, social media, food, friendships
- Had a dance-off
- Held a casting session
- Run a boxercise session
- Made badges, keyrings, magnets, papier maché letters, cakes and brownies.
- Been to the theatre
And the summer has only just begun, so watch this space…
3 February 2016
The journey from childhood into adolescence and then into adulthood can be a very bumpy ride. It is one long transition, and the point of Urban Hope is to accompany young people through that transition. There are particular ‘pressure points’, one of which is the move from primary to secondary school. Over the past few months, many Urban Hopefuls have had a very difficult time adjusting to life in their new schools. They struggle with leaving their friends and a familiar environment to go to a much bigger pool with new rules (that are much more strictly enforced) and the nature of the relationship with teachers is totally different. Alongside this they are trying to build new friendships and find their own identity in a unfamiliar setting.
They deal with this in different ways some talk about it, some cry a lot, others start being difficult at home or adopt destructive behaviours like self-harming or not eating. At school they might lock themselves in the toilets or they might cause trouble at school (and sometimes, ultimately, et excluded). Some start skipping school altogether.
The primary schools that we work in partnership with feel frustrated that they work very intensively with specific pupils in order to keep them in school only to see them excluded within the first few months of secondary school. We are looking at ways to address this, through mentoring, through working with other organisations to provide coordinated sustained support for young people who are most likely to have difficulty adjusting to secondary school. Alongside that, we continue to do what we have always done, provide consistency in times of change, a safe space for young people to come back to and adults they know and trust.
18 December 2015
We will be taking a break from 19th December to 3rd January.
It's been a great year: thank you all for the part you've played in it, whether you've come to sessions, volunteered, donated money or equipment, or just cared about what we are doing.
We wish you a very Merry Christmas and the Happiest of New Years.
Look forward to catching up with you in January.
2 November 2015
People regularly get in touch with us to ask if they can come along to an Urban Hope session; they might be considering a career in youth work, or they might be potential volunteers or funders. They are always welcome: we want members of the community to understand and get involved in what happens here, and, one of the most important aspects of that work is the connections that are made between people who might not otherwise come into contact with each other.
But, it can be a bit nerve-wracking for the team because there is a pressure to ‘show’ exactly what we’re doing, to demonstrate the difference we are making, and the truth is that youth work, done well, often doesn’t look like much. Someone visiting an Urban Hope session for the first time – particularly if it happens to be a quiet drop-in without any special activities laid on – might just see a handful of young people and adults milling about in a hall doing a bit of cooking and playing pool and table tennis.
It’s really only during the team debrief at the end of the evening that we find out what has actually happened in a session. Last week, after one such quiet session, we shared stories and heard that a boy who has been coming to Urban Hope for months, had finally felt safe enough to open up about the recent death of a parent, a youth worker had talked to some young people about their relationship with alcohol, there had been several chats about tensions with parents and at school, and some of the girls had talked with adults about underage sex and pregnancy. That first, open conversation a youth worker has with a young person who is seriously considering becoming pregnant is a potentially life-changing moment, but it doesn’t necessarily look very dramatic or interesting in the here and now.
14 October 2015
“It’s racist to describe someone as black.”
“There’s nothing wrong with saying ‘coloured’”.
“Why would anyone mind being called ‘half-caste’?”
These are some of the things we have heard young people saying over the past week. And we’ve encouraged it, because it’s Black History Month and we wanted young people to have some proper, open discussions about what racism is.
25 September 2015
I’ve noticed since starting work here five weeks ago that, walking along the street with colleagues, you can’t get through a whole journey without meeting someone in the street connected to Urban Hope. It’s a reminder of how many lives Urban Hope has had an impact on – and it is wonderful to be part of a community, and one that serves our wider community.
Each of the drop-in clubs we host here brings a different atmosphere: Monday has a chilled vibe, with different creative activities, games, chats over a toastie and a cuppa; on Wednesday we crank it up a couple of notches in both volume and energy, welcoming our junior club, and Thursday is our ‘around the table’ evening, we cook and eat together, sharing experiences. Sessions are fluid so that we can work around who comes and what situations and circumstances they bring with them.
As a newbie, it’s been beautiful to watch young people from different backgrounds, with different personalities, struggles and circumstances, being friendly and accepting of one another in a way that they might not be outside our sessions. That acceptance of difference is the opposite of what we sometimes see in the wider society – and it’s all the more precious and remarkable for that.
7 September 2015
On Saturday, Urban Hope hosted Community Day at the Almorah Road Community Centre. It’s a free annual fun day that we run for families living in the local area. The weather was gloomy, the ground was a bit soggy and it was unusually cold for the start of September. But, more than 150 people turned up to play games, jump about on the bouncy castle, eat burgers and sausages, play bingo, get their nails or face painted, make things or just have a cup of tea and a chat with neighbours. The youngest was just a few days old, and the oldest over 90, but everyone who came contributed in some way: some brought sausages or a home-made cake, some served tea or helped to clear up, others played with small children, and some simply turned up, smiling, and made an effort to talk to everyone there.
It’s at events like this that connections are made. We love having a chance to meet the families of the young people we work with, and also giving local people of all ages an opportunity to have fun with those who they might not otherwise encounter in their daily lives. Each new conversation or interaction forms a valuable little link in our community.
Our thanks go out to everyone who played a part in what was a great celebration of our local area and the people who live there, and a fine way to mark the end of summer.