Community Lockdown Support
Providing IT kit, learning resources and counselling during Covid-19
This project 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 Covid-19, lockdown and home-schooling.
Voluntary action organisation 3VA worked with schools, community groups, and Tubbs Computer Supplies which repurposed and set up PCs and laptops to help students continue learning at home during lockdown. Willingdon Trees Community Centre and Shinewater Primary School in Eastbourne helped identify families in most need of IT equipment and online access. 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.
To keep students engaged with learning at home, Towner Art Gallery in Eastbourne commissioned a local artist to design engaging activities themed on air, earth, water and light for its learning packs. These included reusable resources and art-based activities with links to creative writing and/or illustration. The resources were also made available on the gallery’s website for others to use. After-school learning provider Craftyannies also developed creative packs for three different age groups – 4 to 8, 9 to 13 and 14 to 18 year-olds. These included activities such as create your own superhero and drawing a 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
3VA also worked with local community partners Willingdon Trees, Shinewater, Make Lunch Club and family support service Waves in Seaford to identify students and parents who were experiencing stress, anxiety and mental health issues during lockdown. Counselling sessions were provided by Eastbourne support group Holding Space and Seaford Youth Counselling Service.
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 on these and to develop easy-to-use parental controls advice. This resulted in safer online practice and Tubbs being better prepared for future projects.
Over eight weeks, four activity packs and two materials kits from Towner 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 support
The project’s mental health and wellbeing element was offered to families going through parenting crises and struggling to support their children’s education at home. They were provided with emergency support and routes into long-term mental health and wellbeing support (both one-to-one and group).
Extensive conversations and identification of need took place in Seaford with Seaford Youth Counselling Service, which was keen and able to deliver the services needed and was awarded separate Lottery funding at the same time. Between 15 and 20 young people benefited from mental health and wellbeing support.
Meanwhile, in Eastbourne, 19 parents engaged with the project, mostly those with children in Years 7 and 9 at Shinewater School, Eastbourne Academy and Parklands. 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 lack of 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.
KEY FINDINGS AND RECOMMENDATIONS
- 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) and 3VA recruited new volunteers to help deliver packs and IT kit. The project also offered its 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 project to quickly identify those families most in need of support to home educate during lockdown.
- Young people liked the Towner 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. 3VA said it may have been because it was a short-term project and Craftyannies wasn’t well known, whereas in Eastbourne, the project worked with schools it already had links with and Towner, a well-established gallery.
- Towner, Craftyannies and community partners hoped for more visual feedback, but little was received. Towner would have liked to have had more opportunity and resources to do more communications and follow-up with families.
- Online promotion of the project’s support was key in encouraging take up, especially Holding Space’s strong Facebook presence. 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 has been little formal feedback on the mental health support, 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 or 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 to 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 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.
- 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 on the project 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 foodbanks to families directly.
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.return
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).
March 2020 to July 2020
3VA, Tubbs Computer Supplies, Towner Art Gallery, Craftyannies Home, Holding Space and Seaford Youth Counselling
Emergency Learning at Home Outreach Fund