Blogs

 

“It’s like screaming help to the deaf”

MK shares his experiences of youth violence in Pain and Panic, a collaboration with Luwxwa for Take Back the Power.

In his brilliant articulation of some of the stories that have been shared in the research process so far, MK worked with our digital documenter, Richie Luwxwa to create visuals from online footage of youth crime which help bring the words to life.

Chilling lines such as “Mum pray for me, cos this could be my last verse,” help listeners have a glimpse into this paradoxical world of simultaneously being fearsome and fearful, at once a child and also someone who knows more about violence than most adults will ever know. Many of the researchers described feeling like they’re living a parallel life - where people see the surface of you, but don’t know what you are carrying inside.

The track hits on several other key themes from the research process so far; including feeling outcast and let down by the education system, the pressure to perform masculinity, looking for a sense of belonging, being exposed to trauma from an early age, and feeling “trapped in a cage where demons lead the way” - the constant decision between staying involved or taking what can feel like impossible steps out.

MK, 17, lives in Tottenham and he and his brother make beats in their home music production studio which was part-funded by his wages from Take Back the Power.

The project works on learning from the researchers’ own stories, and from them deciding on a course of action to help others who are experiencing similar struggles. The researchers are currently designing short and long-term interventions for young people who ‘are involved,’ to try to help them to change their mindset and seek the help they need to try to get out of the ‘cage’ described in MK’s work.

You can read a one-pager of the key findings so far here.

Stay in touch! We would love to hear from you on Instagram or Twitter or if you have any questions relating to Take Back the Power, the researchers or their findings please contact Lita Wallis, lita@thewinch.org.

 

Take Back the Power

Take Back the Power is The Winch’s research and employability programme for 15-19 year olds.

Each year, up to eight young people are employed and trained as researchers, to deepen understanding and take action based on what they have learned. Take Back The Power was designed in collaboration with young people of this age group who wanted a way to earn money, gain useful work experience, and have the opportunity to speak out against social injustice.

The methodology we use is called Participatory Action Research, which is different to other forms of research because it:

  • Is research by and for the people who are affected by the issue
  • Is specific and local; us, here, now
  • Has a social justice agenda
  • Focuses on action rather than reports
  • Recognises the value of everyone’s knowledge and uses everyone’s skills
  • Follows an iterative process of Research (eg. storytelling, interviews), Reflection (eg. group analysis, creative expression) and Action (eg. holding events, using findings to intervene in the public sphere, identifying changemakers and enacting change)

Each project is entirely run by the researchers who decide what needs to be done and the best way to do it.

In 2017, Take Back the Power researchers created a zine about their experiences as young people of colour in the education system, and held a day of workshops and performance for young people and educators about how to challenge racism in education

In 2018, following a night in which six local young men were stabbed in one night in our local area, the group chose to use Take Back the Power to examine youth violence. Researchers were employed on the basis that they have direct experience of youth violence, and are thus best placed to examine the root causes and consider what actions could be taken to address rising violence in London.

Former Take Back the Power researchers have led workshops for youth workers about Participatory Action Research, gone on to study at University, and opened their own businesses as part of The Winch’s enterprise programme, The Company.

Take Back the Power runs from September until Spring the following year. If you would like to find out more, please contact the Youth Team Manager, Andre Kpodonu: andre@thewinch.org

 

My experience of The Winch

By Karina (intern)

When asked by others about my internship experience, I immediately grow excited to share every detail of what it is like to be at The Winch. Over the past month I have been welcomed into the Winch family with open arms and have enjoyed every single second of my time here. I have truly learned a lot from my colleagues about what it means to work in this industry and provide care for children. Working in the After School Club has given me not only experience for my future, but happy memories with the staff and children that I will keep with me forever.

Through working in the After School Club, I have been exposed to genuine attention for the children that I have not seen in my past experience of child care. During our time with the children, staff are quick to engage in play, resulting in an abundance of giggles from both child and adult. Whether it be by cooperating when being put in “jail,” giving time-outs to stuffed animals for “misbehaving,” or chasing the kids around in a game of ‘It’, laughter can always be heard at the Winch.

I often find myself simply observing the action around the room and smiling at how genuine the bonds are between the staff and children, which are evident through the activities they engage in together. Likewise, the activities planned are chosen with care for the interests of the children, every day there is sure to be an activity that each age will enjoy due to the thought and care put into daily planning. I have found that the relationships built both among children and between staff and the children are so positive due to staff’s genuine interest in their establishment. 

Rather than being a situation in which the child is relevant only when they are at the After School Club, staff care about the wellbeing of the child at all times. Even when the staff are making preparations at the start of the day or cleaning up at the end of the night, they are still discussing ways to improve relations at The Winch. Whether it is considering new activities or debating how to handle difficult behaviour or disagreements between the children, it is evident that the staff here keep the utmost interest of the child in mind when making decisions. I feel that is a magnificent quality to have in the staff of an organization such as this one. The care exhibited by the staff towards the children they are working with makes me proud to be a part of The Winch and it likewise makes me happy to see this dedication to the children of this community. 

With only two weeks left in my internship, the idea of leaving already breaks my heart. Being a part of The Winch family, even if only for two months, has been one of the best elements of my time in London. It is clear to see that the people of this organization are extremely kind, thoughtful, and passionate for what they do and I will dearly miss seeing the positive work being achieved by this group of humans. Moreover I know I will miss hearing their laughter, playing restaurant and pretend-eating the food they’ve “cooked” for me, laughing with them as we copy each other’s accents, and even being declared ‘It’ and running around the playground. Overall, I know I have to make the most of my last two weeks here. This experience is one that I will walk away from with happy memories and the assurance that the children of the After School Club are receiving the greatest possible care.

Thank you for taking the time to read my reflection about working at The Winch. This holiday season we are raising money through the Big Give. Please consider donating to our organisation this Christmas!

 

First time I saw the Sea

By Andre Kpodonu (Youth Work Manager)

I found it hard when tasked with writing a blog post to think of a snapshot of my day-to-day work that I wanted to put out into the world. Many youth workers have argued that our work and the relationships we hold are too complex to be explained readily. I’d be lying if I said there wasn’t also a degree of anxiety at the idea of putting my practice up here for all the world to access, should they wish. Upon reflection however I found the hardest thing was in fact, the daunting task of distilling so many varied experiences into some sort of coherent message.

Seeking help, I got to talking to my colleague Jim about some of the highlights from the summer programmes we’ve run over the years. Naturally we ended up meandering around some of the more humorous situations we’ve found ourselves over the years; our attempts to save a picnic in Regents park after the heavens opened up on us; the time a pair of our young people got stuck on a ride at Thorpe Park while - to everyone’s terror – a pre-recorded announcement warned the barriers were about to open.

Despite the tricky and sometimes hilarious moments that come with working with children and young people, the moments that continue to resonate are the ones that give you the tiniest glimpse into someone’s world expanding.

What better example than watching a young person discover the sea for the first time? A 15 year-old that kept it to himself so well, that the first we knew of this was when they ran screaming like a banshee into the water, shoes and all. In the shock and joy of such a discovery, questions can often multiply. How had this come so late? How many other young people haven’t seen our shore, or any other? When was the first time I saw the sea?

The conversation reminded me of a similar experience I had on a sailing trip with young people from our Enterprise Programme, The Company. The young person was 22-year-old and happy to be on a break from their difficult living situation. During some of the downtime just after lunch they confessed that they couldn’t remember ever going to the beach, despite spending their early childhood on an island renowned for their beautiful shores.

Our next stop was going to be Weymouth. The whole crew resolved to ensure the young person would go to the seaside and experience getting in the water for the first time. It took us all pledging to do the same for him to dip his toes in. As we watched the sun go down, I was struck by how important such a small moment could be amongst all the difficulties that can come with living in London.

A young person seeing the sea for the first time, stepping into the water, feeling it lapping coolly against their feet. The summer is a time where special moments like these become possible. Once the darkness of winter has fully retreated, and the pressures of the academic year have faded away we can often find the time we need to look beyond our immediate problems.

Thank you for taking the time to read my reflections; we’re grateful for your support. This Christmas we are raising money for our summer activities, so that we can continue to broaden horizons, provide new experiences and take young people on journeys (both literally and metaphorically)- we hope that you will support our mission to do this by donating to the Big Give campaign which will match your donation- doubling the amount and doubling the impact.

Click here to support the campaign

 

As Promise Work Lead at the Winch, each month I set up a Promise Worker working group to address key topics that come up in practice. This learning is also ‘manualized’ in a Promise Work manual. One recent topic was that of endings.

What is Promise Work? 

Promise Work is the Winch’s targeted, bespoke, long-term support for 4-25 year olds. Promise Workers build trusting relationships with children and young people as well as (especially for the younger ones) their families. Promise Workers aim to be a secure and dependable adult in a child, young person or family’s sometimes chaotic life. This support often lasts a number of years. Through this relationship, young person and Promise Worker work together to achieve goals and develop character strengths. The Promise Worker helps the young person to feel listened to and understood and role models positive behaviours, with the aim of supporting the young person to succeed in the broadest sense.

This is a voluntary relationship, no one is forced to see their Promise Worker. There are often ebbs and flows. But arguably, the bond between them is more special because it is freely given and must be constantly worked at. Through this journey the worker maintains professional boundaries and also often feels genuine care, dare I say love, for a fellow human being. Therefore, the notion of endings can be particularly difficult.

Is this the end?

When you want to be a secure and dependable adult for a young person, ending the work together is not taken lightly. Many of us hear children and young people complain about yet another social worker who has come and gone, a new school, a new housing officer, a different care home every month, moving house or having no home and leaving established networks behind. This can feel like no control, a lot of rejection, starting from scratch and being let down. That is why the Promise Model works long-term and tries not to emulate the disruptions experienced by children and young people elsewhere. We follow the young person rather than the institution, recognising that life changes may actually be the times when we are needed even more. Therefore, within reason, yes, within reason, we do not let things like prison sentences, changes in address or a new school mean our work has ended. This freedom to continue our work comes with challenges and decisions.

When and how

Endings in Promise Work take multiple forms. Some Promise Workers have encountered young people moving abroad, or those who have long prison sentences that mean they will be well over 25 when released. Some young people are just plain difficult to get hold of, changing phones every week sometimes meaning months without contact and unanswered letters, texts and emails. Maybe they don’t want to see you now but they demand it next month. Sometimes they may not be in the ‘perfect’ place but they are already over 25. Others may have been doing ‘well’ for a long time, but because they are under 25 does this mean we should just keep working? Some children move on from the After School Club they attended for years meaning the worker no longer sees them every week. There is also the reality of limited resources and just a handful of Promise Workers to bear in mind. What do we do in these situations? When is the ‘right’ time to end?

Personally, in my practice, there were endings when I went on maternity leave. Yes, even Promise Workers are allowed to have babies. We do not pretend we will be around ‘forever’.  Some of the young people I worked with transitioned to new workers, so one ending was also a new Promise Work beginning. Hopefully these new relationships were consistent in approach but also fresh with new possibilities and dynamics. Other young people decided it was time to move on from Promise Work support, still part of the Winch family they perhaps did not require or want a new worker.  

But while endings are an inevitable part of life, how they are approached and thought about is important. I hope, in my case, it was an opportunity to increase young peoples’ resilience and to celebrate the achievements and journey we shared. Young people were given time to prepare and to acknowledge that while I may not be physically present, I still value and appreciate them hugely. I also hope they felt proud of how hard they had worked. Of course, it is easier for some young people, indeed for many people, to slip away without acknowledging an end. Not bothered, right! But I hope I at least attempted to mark the end in some way rather than hide.

What I learned

I won’t be able to go into the full details of the working group in this blog post. But some of the key insights that struck me were that we do not personally ‘own’ any child, young person or family nor should we seek to hold on to them at all costs. The key to us doing a good job is that they can flourish without us, not be dependent on us. How we bridge a young person out and support them to have multiple positive relationships and agency is key. But we acknowledge this is difficult work and has sometimes been patchy. This bridging should not just begin at times of impending endings but is key to how we plan our work long-term.

Promise Workers draw on the AMBIT approach to help us reflect and stay balanced and for the team to support the worker in making decisions. Seeking support allows the worker to discuss their own feelings with someone who is not in the middle of it all. It also promotes transparency in our work and role-models help-seeking to those we work with.

Rather than strict rules for all endings, we acknowledged that each young person and family is unique and some room for the individual’s needs were given space within general guidelines. Endings can also be openly discussed and negotiated with a young person. We also recognised that Promise Work is only one programme in an array of support the Winch offers. The young person will still be a part of the Winch (sometimes actively, sometimes symbolically), even when Promise Work with an individual worker ends.

 

Zenobia

A lot of research in the fields of neuroscience, psychology, education, medicine and economics has gone into finding out which character strengths help children and young people to succeed in life. The conclusion: Grit, Curiosity, Optimism, Self-Control, Zest, Gratitude and Social Intelligence (see for example, Paul Tough’s How Children Succeed ). As a Promise Worker working with ages 11-25, part of what I have been piloting is how we can develop these character strengths in young people in order to help them to succeed and to flourish.

My journey into character strength land has been an interesting one as I discovered there was a lot of theory and practice going on in this area, although not much specific to the youth work sector. At first I was a little sceptical. I was suspicious about who chose which strengths were universally ‘important’, who decided how much of each strength young people possess and whether ‘success’ was linked to stuff like flash cars and a big wage packet rather than being individually defined.  I value people for their unique strengths, so rating people against seven fixed strengths on a scale to track if the characteristic went up or down over time seemed difficult to swallow.

At the same time, adapting a strengths-based approach to character in a youth work setting allows for lots of positives too. For example, it helps young people and workers to think of character in terms of strengths that can be changed and developed rather than as fixed traits that people are just born with and so can’t do much about. It also helps young people and workers value these ‘non-cognitive’ or ‘softer’ skills as vitally important and linked to, rather than separate from, ‘harder’ outcomes, which fits in with a lot of the informal education values of youth work. This in turn allows us to draw on a framework that contributes to the flourishing of those who have perhaps suffered from greater degrees of poverty, inequality and childhood stress and trauma and who are thus statistically less likely to succeed.

It is also useful to remember that there are actually a more holistic set of 24 character strengths (see VIA Institute for the full list) which are all important but which have been narrowed down to the seven that are most likely to predict life satisfaction and success to make them more workable. However, I like to keep in mind all 24 and praise them in others when I notice them.  In this way, character strengths have been much more about making people feel valued, noticed and capable rather than about focussing on deficits.

It is of course a challenge to help young people develop key character strengths and over time I have seen different activities work for different people and the same activities can be used to focus on different strengths. For example, a Bollywood dance class I teach can be used to develop zest (being present, enjoyment and energy) and curiosity (openness to trying something new) but can also be used to work on self-control (listening and following instructions) and grit (persistence and the ability to keep trying even when things are difficult). Having a 1-2-1 with a young person and using it as an opportunity to discuss their optimism and social intelligence is much better if you can share research with them about why these things are important and sharing examples can demystify the whole business of character into conscious thoughts and habits. Young people can begin to notice their feelings and interactions and are supported to adopt more helpful thoughts and routines to build their strengths. Measuring character strengths (young people as well as workers are involved in this) helps us all to adopt a strengths-based way of thinking, to better understand the impact of our work and to see where to direct our focus with different young people and groups.

A young woman I work with commented recently that she disapproved of trying to change peoples’ character as everyone is different. I agreed that it is great that people are different but I wanted to equip young people with as many tools and experiences and as much support and knowledge for them to cope better with life and be happy and fulfilled in whatever they choose to do.

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