Mental health matters for young leaders in Blaenau Gwent

Courtney, Chelsea and Shannon are young community coaches with Aneurin Leisure Trust’s Sports Development team, a member of the StreetGames Wales network based in Blaenau Gwent. Having been involved with previous Us Girls projects and community sessions, the girls are passionate about increasing participation in sport and physical activity for girls and young women in their local community.

In 2022, the current young leaders, and two former leaders Elise and Alisha, worked together to design and develop a new project with the aim of supporting young females who have experienced adversity in their lives, and who might find themselves in ‘fight or flight’ responses that make it hard to learn and feel emotionally safe in a school environment. The project was based around the Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACEs) recovery toolkit, combining sports with additional therapeutic activities and outdoor exercises to help participants recognise and develop their skills, strengths and resilience.

Working in partnership with Aneurin Bevan University Health Board and Blaenau Gwent Supporting Change Team, four young females aged 12-15 were identified as being likely to benefit from the project. Some of these participants were engaged with the Child and Adolescent Mental Health Service (CAMHS), and/or at risk of exclusion from school or at the edge of care.

Having been supported by StreetGames to source and access funding for the project, the young leaders planned a six-week programme of activities at Parc Bryn Bach, to take place once a week between the hours of 9am and 3pm. The activities would count towards school attendance for the participants. A varied range of sports and physical activities were on offer, including Go Karting, paddleboarding, caving, high ropes, climbing, abseiling, gorge walking, orienteering, mini golf and bushcraft. The project leaders also incorporated regular classroom-based activities, using different aids such as Fear Jars, Reflection Jars and Self-soothing Boxes, to enable participants to talk openly about their feelings and emotions.

The sessions have had a demonstrable impact on the participants’ mental health and wellbeing. The togetherness that the project created empowered the young females to support and reach out to one another, which positively impacted their confidence and mental wellbeing. The ‘safe space’ of the classroom-based activities also allowed for meaningful conversations to take place. Friendships were formed as a result of the project, and participants began seeing themselves in a positive light and started to openly talk about their hopes and dreams for the future:

“I’ve started reaching out to people to get help. It makes me feel better about myself knowing people are there.” 

“I want to become a teacher. I’m going to start volunteering with Aneurin Leisure to gain experience working with children.” 

Plans to replicate the project at Parc Bryn Bach, and to establish similar projects locally, are in place for the coming weeks and months, with solid partnership working between agencies at the forefront to support more positive outcomes, for more young people.

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