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Community During Coronavirus – Platfform

I first got introduced to Candice Lloyd via Twitter, and I’m very glad that it happened. The work she does is amazing, and it’s impressive how she’s been building and maintaining a community with complex needs, even before the exceptionally difficult current circumstances.

Tell me about the work you do, and the communities you work with.

I work for an organization called Platfform, which used to be known as Gofal. 

Platfform is a mental health and social change charity. What we’re looking at is changing the perceptions of mental health. And we’re providing a platform for people to support themselves in their communities.

We work with young people throughout Wales, so from 14 to 25, and over the last 18 months have developed the State Of Mind program, which is a mental health and wellbeing program designed alongside young people. We’re building a support network, where people are there for one another, sharing stories of recovery, and ideas and strategies for wellbeing.

Relationships are fundamental to what I do. Not only with the young people I work with, but also teachers, social workers, parents, the teenage children and young people. So relationships I think stem from having a good community understanding. And being very open and curious about what you learned and what you can share.

I go to schools, I go to colleges, I go to hostels. I do one-to-one work. I run groups. Sometimes we do an activity together, like cook a meal. And our strategy is around building a toolkit for other organisations to use, and to follow, and implement. Especially where they don’t have the time or resources to support these young people themselves. We’ve really connected with the community that people say that is hard to reach, even though they’re right there. 

And in 18 months we’ve worked with 1,200 young people.

Tell me how Coronavirus affected your community, and how you work with them.

The first thing that we did was we had a massive panic! But we had this amazing community and, I discovered at this time, it’s actually been kind of the glue that’s held them all together. 

I think what people are doing is starting to open their doors and really connect with each other. I have a friend, a family that I work with in college, and they’ve lived on the same street for fourteen years, but don’t know the neighbours. All of a sudden they have a WhatsApp group for their street, and, they know everything that’s going on in each other’s houses. Just hearing that mum’s real pleasure in knowing her neighbours, and now for the first time not to just get in the car in the morning to go work without really knowing them, is really lovely. There’s a real different connection that’s going on. And it’s really meaningful.

But our work has definitely recently become really challenging. Our initial panic was because I work with young people who are vulnerable and in need of crisis support services. 

So those strategies being employed at times of difficulty is quite concerning and the worry of them not being able to get crisis service. So my overarching concerns when hearing that we might be in lockdown wasn’t the physical aspect.  To me, it’s always going to be the long-term aspect and how we provide that support. A lot of the people I work with have experience of being in care, so they will have been removed from their families due to experiencing trauma. Isolation and lockdown could be re-traumatising for them.

So we had to think to ourselves “how can we mobilize very quickly and adapt to the new situation?” We decided that if we couldn’t do groups, we’ll make videos and start giving them strategies and role modeling them via video. These short videos were anything from mindfulness to poetry to just footage of one of my colleagues dogs running around the fields of west Wales. If they’re stuck in a highrise flat those videos can be so vital to them. We have about 30 videos up now, and we offered them out to schools to see if they would like access to them. We expected a small handful of people to be interested, but we now have about 600 people on that mailing list.

We’ve also been using Zoom, which I didn’t think would work, but actually has been brilliant. I’ve got one group and they’re so varied so from in locality where they live. They’re from all across Wales, and they’ve never met before.

I thought what would be useful for them is just to have a set time every day that they could check in, and see how each other’s feeling. We kind of have a “post it” system, so they put how other feeling and then they just post it on the wall. So we’ve continued that. We don’t need to talk about their feelings, necessarily, but they can just simply express how they’re feeling on these post its, even if it’s just “shit”, or “total bollocks”, you know. Because you know, sometimes it’s okay to say it’s shit.

So you have the same kind of group stuff that you would have even though it’s not that physical, there’s a cool little kind of person to person dynamic.

So you’re not finding the lack of physical interaction being a barrier to human connection?

One of the young people I work with has been self isolating for months because she lives with someone who’s a little bit worried about her own health issues. Her carer can’t come to take her out any more. So meeting new people and connecting via this medium is being transformative. Another young person has been attending zoom meetups, but not turning her camera on. But this week she did, and it really felt like the barriers were coming down. It feels like the meetings are really worthwhile in that sense.

For some young people there’s quite a lot of sadness about the rituals that they’ve lost. So if you think about those who won’t get to have their shirts signed on the last day of school. Or haven’t gone to the pub with friends, or bunked off together, or done a prank. They haven’t had that goodbye to friends, goodbye from teachers They won’t have that kind of really nice transition period of passing through into the next stage of education. No proms, no first music festivals. There’s a sense of loss, you know, a moment. So I’m doing a creative writing thing with them, so they’re writing about it’s time for them and how it feels. That seems to be proving to be really cathartic, just writing and capturing this time.

One thing that stuck out to me in my conversation with Candice is that even though she’s working with what some would see as one of the most difficult communities to engage and build, she’s managing to get results through gentle perseverance.

There were so many other great stories that I’d love to include (like Candice distributing hundreds of packed lunches to homeless centres sat were intended for staff on the cancelled Wales v Scotland rugby match), but there’s just not enough space here.

If you’d like to receive more stuff like this in your inbox very occasionally, you can subscribe to my newsletter. And, of course, you can read the preceding blogposts in this series:

By Neil Cocker

More at NeilCocker.com

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