I started volunteering with The Mix in Spring 2021. The lockdown restrictions were easing and we could Mix with other people again (soz, couldn't resist that opportunity to Mix it in!).
I'd been looking a groups and places in the community to get involved in and emailed a few. Having worked in education during the pandemic I was aware of the effects the isolation was having on our young people, so when Gert (The Mix's Volunteer Coordinator) got back in touch with a short form to fill out and a few ideas of some of their projects I could support, I was immediately grateful, did a taster session, and joined!
I had heard of The Mix, and I'd volunteered in charity shops before, but I'd not joined a specific/active group or volunteered whilst working full time before...being part of an active project you believe in, and being surrounded by individuals who have such a positive vision and create such a supportive space, is genuinely uplifting.
One thing I have found, something I think we all overlook as the general public, is how important safe and supportive spaces are for our young people, and these spaces need to be there outside of the home and school. Spaces to explore and develop, meet others and unfold as an individual on your own terms and socialise with others, with the support of others, rather than spaces where authority rules and conformity is demanded.
Respect and safety for yourself and others are expected at the young people drop-in sessions or out on detached youth work. Space where open and honest conversations can be had, young people know they can get support and that support will be driven by what they want and what's best for them. I found great respect for the then detached lead, who said she started detached youth work as she'd noticed she herself had felt anxious around groups of young people in public spaces, and she'd acknowledged it was from not mixing with young people, and most of her fears were based in representations of young people in the media, and not real-life interactions.
Two scenarios I observed on the detached project, both around the same time, demonstrate the effects of the snap judgements and stereotyping; a group of young people had come over to where we'd set up with our drinks and snacks during a detached session. We'd brought some sports equipment and the young people wanted to play some football.
One young person hung back and sat hunched by a wall. The youth work lead went over and had a conversation with the young person, I could see the animation in his responses grow and as the conversation continued the young person engaged more, laughed a little, and seemingly grew...by the time the conversation was over and the young person went to join the others playing football, his head was held high, he wasn't slouched over and his shoulders were open as he carried himself easily, he was at ease.
As the youth worker explained, the young person had been having a difficult time with some things, hadn't had a great experience of school or adults in his life, and was an individual who knew some adults made snap judgements about him, he hadn't felt he could ask for help. The youth worker had been able to listen and support, and the young person visibly looked like they felt better, felt seen and heard, and respected.
On another day, not too far from the occasion above, a local resident asked us what we do out on detached. They had young children themselves and how could we offer and include activities for all...and in the midst of this conversation the resident saw a group of young people approaching, they had dark hoodies on, were in a group of about 4 or 5 and were striding towards us.
The resident began feeling anxious, their language became defensive (I could almost hear the tabloid headlines in their heads!) and they clearly felt threatened by the group, until we pointed out who they were, what a great bunch of young people they were, how helpful and great they were with all the other young people, respectful of the space and yeah, just look at how tall a young 14 year old can get!
Feeling a part of the community and actively supporting projects I believe are important has definitely helped my wellbeing - I think I hadn't realised how distressed I had become during the pandemic, and how frustrated I was at the apparent lack of focus and support out there for our young people. There aren't many places like The Mix, I firmly believe each town should have one!! The intersection it creates between young people and the wider community is so important in building a sense of community, it's tangible.
Volunteering at The Mix has helped me clarify how and why I enjoy working with young people. I was given the opportunity to complete the Level 2 in Youth Work and thereby explore the science and theories behind the teenage brain and physiological changes, how the environment of home, school, peers and public affect the teenagers sense of self and place within society, their psychological development - being a teenager is such a difficult, yet fascinating and magical time in a person's development. The Mix treats this stage of a young person's life as such, provides support and safe spaces for this development of the life-long foundations our young people are building for themselves, and I'm honored to be part of that :)
If you'd like to find out more about volunteering, get in touch with our volunteer coordinator > firstname.lastname@example.org