Gemma Obeng, UK programmes manager at the Co-operative College, shares her thoughts on the impact of Covid-19 on young people – and how co-ops can help them through the challenges they may face
How have the young people you work with been affected by Covid-19?
When Covid-19 hit we understandably had to place all of our projects on hold. As you can imagine, this had a big impact on all the young people we were working with. This included disappointing a group of 16-30 year olds who were not currently in education, training or employment and had been extremely excited to start our new project in Oldham.
We reached out to those young people, who provided us with insight into how they were affected by the lockdown. This included being anxious due to exam results and being unable to work. Some discussed the impact on their wellbeing, such as feelings of loneliness caused by a lack of contact with others, specifically those who rely on projects and individuals to support them.
Boredom was a major factor too, as there were various reports of schools and colleges not providing them with work. Finally, there were a number of issues with young people not being able to work and the financial strain that this was causing them and their families.
Some of the young people we spoke to said they found the start of lockdown extreme and that it had caused them to feel quite panicked. They’d also initially hoped that the situation would not last as long as it did – which, in turn, brought about feelings of sadness, anger and uncertainty.
We also found others have used the spare time as an opportunity to learn and develop, learning new skills such as creating podcasts, doing artwork or volunteering in their community. Learning new ways to manage their wellbeing, such as going for walks, has also been a top priority.
How can technology help you engage with them?
Our conversations with young people prompted us to create an online youth series. In place since April, the series has given us a unique opportunity to engage young people through tech. We’ve used Zoom to run the sessions, complemented by other online tools such as Kahoot to ensure the sessions were engaging and interactive.
Work to re-develop and convert our projects into more of a blended delivery method, rather than purely face-to-face, is currently under way. It is understandably extremely difficult to know when things are going to return to normal, particularly with local lockdowns taking place, but our young people are keen to start attending the projects once again.
Using the Rise online platform, we can make our sessions as interactive as possible, which is perfect for instances when face-to-face sessions aren’t practical.
Generally, we’ve found that young people feel comfortable using technology. They are much savvier than I am – and their pointers have taught me a lot.
Even so, one issue we have found is that the confidence of some young people can be quite low when it comes to engaging through online activities. This is why we’ve placed so much emphasis on making the sessions so immersive, with lots of different tools and activities to cater to as many learning preferences as possible.
Accessibility has been key to everything we have done, and we wanted to make the sessions as inclusive as possible.
Social media has proven to be a great tool for our young people during lockdown. They have used a number of different platforms in a
variety of ways, including creating content, learning about various topics and being active in current affairs such as mental health, the environment and racial injustice campaigns.
How much do young people know about co-ops – and once they’ve learned more, how do they feel about them?
Unfortunately, our work with young people has highlighted that most of them knew little or nothing about co-ops before we engaged with them.
This is a huge shame and a missed opportunity – particularly as we’ve seen that once young people learn about co-ops, their values and community impact, they’re inspired by them and want to learn more.
We’re fully committed to doing more to highlight co-ops to a new generation, supporting young people via our youth networks built through our partnerships and engagement with other education establishments.
We are in the process of upgrading our Young Co-ops programme, an initiative that has run with great success in schools for over ten years. Continuing our work with schools via a bitesize programme such as this will help young people learn about co-ops at an earlier age, encouraging them to develop a co-op, work at a co-op or interact with co-operatives in the future.
To find out more about the Co-operative College’s work across the UK, visit co-op.ac.uk/ukprojects