Covid brought a huge range of challenges for young people, and not just in terms of being isolated from their friends. For those living in deprived areas, lack of contact with schools, workplaces and agencies placed them at greater risk of issues such as exploitation or being involved in anti-social behaviour. 

In Blackburn with Darwen, to help keep youths safe and out of trouble during the pandemic, local organisations teamed up to deliver a street level engagement programme. Together, Young People’s Services (YPS) and the Strategic Youth Alliance (SYA) developed the Community Champions – Covid Detached Project, which included weekly detached work and community-based, Covid-secure events between March and August 2021.

The detached work involved teams from each organisation seeking out groups of youths in vulnerable wards, working with the Youth Justice Service and Engage (Exploitation Team), the police and the Community Safety Partnership to identify hotspots to target where they could talk to them. 

They then worked to quickly gain their trust in order to give them stay safe messages, signpost to structured provision, and provide on-the-spot advice and guidance around Covid restrictions, testing, vaccinations and any other issues they might be facing - whilst dispelling any misinformation that could place them at risk.

The project saw the highest number of partners involved in any one project throughout the history of the SYA, and managed to engage a total of 7,438 youngsters aged 8-19, and 1,223 aged 19+.

When restrictions lifted, YPS and the SYA ran a series of community events, bringing young people, parents and carers together in a secure, Covid-safe space to socialise and have fun.

Feedback from the community showed that the support and reassurance provided was welcomed by youngsters who felt isolated during the pandemic, with referrals giving them access to further help, and less incidents of anti-social behaviour in some areas. A reduction in the R rate confirmed the project also helped prevent the spread of the virus, and led to an increase in testing and uptake of vaccinations.

YPS Deputy Team Manager, Andrew Erlam, said: “The Community Champions – Covid Detached Project helped cement the relationship between all members of the SYA, developing and strengthening relationships at senior management and operational level.

“We met regularly with Public Health England to gather up-to-date and accurate information, then worked together to plan the best response from leaders in our communities. This joint forum enabled us to respond to situations in a really short timescale with newly found confidence in our knowledge base.

“The profile of the detached work has risen tremendously as a result of this project. So much so that new phases are being commissioned and delivered through the SYA, with increased support from the local police, the council Exploitation Team and Community Safety Team.”

For the youngsters it was created for, the project’s success has been the catalyst for the collaborative, continuous support they need.

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Andrew said: “Our teams now have connections with local residents within the community and are a recognised and trusted source of advice and guidance. Our communities feel empowered and have increased resilience, not only to deal with issues relating to Covid, but also when seeking support for a whole range of other issues that they currently face - such as unemployment, anti-social behaviour and signposting to local youth provision. For our young people this has resulted in increased engagement, new experiences and improved emotional and physical wellbeing.”

Supporting young people during Covid was a breath of fresh air for Andrew Erlam

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