CAMHS Mentor Volunteer Coordinator Sinéad Brown talks about “Health Information Champions”, an exciting and innovative project that involved young people collaborating with award-winning artists Mark Chilvers and Paul McKenzie. The project was funded by NHS England and Improvement.
“Studies have shown that young people of all communities reported experiencing raised levels of stress and anxiety during the Covid-19 pandemic. The ‘Life These Days: A Young Person’s Guide to Navigating COVID 19’ creative arts project was designed as part of a winter response to this finding and aimed to ease some of the burdens caused by the pandemic.
“A group of 15 young people came together to volunteer their time in a bid to facilitate a space where young people could access accurate and timely messages about COVID 19 and enable positive health experiences. Most of the young people involved in the project were current or former users of our Child and Adolescent Mental Health Services (CAMHS).
“This co-designed project included drama games and icebreakers, debates and discussions, homework challenges, and several mini-masterclass training sessions in photography and filmmaking. Each participant involved received a film-kit in the post, which caused much excitement and anticipation to kick start the project.
“The project spanned seven weeks, delivering over a dozen workshops and our end product was over 20 co-produced digital posters each with messages from young people, one 30-minute podcast and short film. View the Facebook album here.
“We closed the project with two celebration parties – one for each of the groups (aged 7-12 and 14-18 years), where young people dressed up, brought party snacks and danced and laughed as we brought the project to a close. Each young person was awarded with a certificate of achievement and an e-voucher to thank them for all of their hard work and effort in creating and sharing uplifting and educational messages for other young people.
“Projects like this remind us that despite the difficulties weighed down on us by COVID 19 communities can still come together to support, create, learn, share, and inspire. The flexibility of remote engagement allowed us to reach young people all over South London. Relatives of participants were able to take part, former service users were involved and even inpatients on acute wards could be part of the project.
“The young people said they felt the sessions helped them to cope with the pressures of COVID 19; they also said they felt that the workshops helped them to have good mental health. The project provided the young people with a place to feel heard and recognised, to have fun; but most importantly, it was a space for young people to connect. It didn’t stop there, parents reported feelings of respite from the project, and clinicians felt that it really acted as a supplement to therapeutic sessions of the service users they were supporting.
“Finally, it is absolutely the case that the impact and legacy of this project will continue far beyond the final delivery date. The young volunteers developed their confidence, built friendships, and nurtured a love for art. All things that truly are invaluable and immeasurable.
“The parent of a child aged seven who took part said: ‘He loved it so much. He got so much from it. It boosted his confidence. His self-esteem really improved and just blossomed over the time. After each group [session] he got more comfortable. It touched my heart to see how much impact you had on him.’
“Isobel Mdudu, our Trust’s Volunteer Services Manager, said: ‘The Health Information Champions project has been wonderful. A big thanks to Sinead who succeeded in making this happen in such a short space of time – an imaginative, creative and amazing way to involve young volunteers.’
Nurjahan Ali Arobi, NHS England and Improvement’s policy lead on youth volunteering, and the project’s lead commissioner said, ‘We are delighted by South London and Maudsley’s progress with Health Information Champions, with 96 percent of participants finding the sessions either calming, exciting or inspiring.’