The Local Conversation in Haverhill South, funded by People’s Health Trust using money raised by Health Lottery East, supports people living in a neighbourhood experiencing high levels of disadvantage. Mental health issues have been on the rise for young people in this area, but the Local Conversation has stepped in to provide positive opportunities and a sense of purpose.
The COVID-19 pandemic highlighted just how essential community organisations are to the fabric of neighbourhoods, especially those where resources and community assets are scarce.
Jay Mills, is the Community Development Worker for the Local Conversation in Haverhill South in Suffolk. He described the area as not having “many resources or places to go for young people. It has poor public transport links to nearby towns and cities and it even has very few park benches for people to be able to meet up outside”.
The Local Conversation has been working with people of all ages in Haverhill South for six years and through bringing young people on board to consult on projects they’ve gained an understanding of the challenges young people are facing and what resources they need.
Jay Mills said:
“One of the key things that young people have said is rather than something to do, young people want somewhere to be. Young people can’t drive, can’t go out to a pub so they feel like they’re in limbo and don’t have anywhere to be. They’re expected to act like adults but don’t have the opportunities adults have.”
Through the Local Conversation young people in Haverhill have been able to secure a place of their own. Two years ago, young people voiced their desire for a pump track (a track for wheeled sports such as bikes and scooters) in the local area. Young people helped in the process of finding the location for the track, working with the council to get planning permission and bringing their vision to life.
The opening of the pump track has led to some clear benefits in the community. It is a space where young people go to socialise, learn new skills, build confidence. Opening the track has also had an impact on community cohesion by providing a space where everyone can feel welcome and included.
It is especially important that young people have access to this in Haverhill where tackling mental health issues is a priority for community organisations. In recent years the number of young people experiencing mental health issues has risen and funding for local youth services has declined.
After working with young people in the local area, Jay Mills found that “young people mainly need a sense of belonging, a sense of purpose and a sense of hope”. Projects in the heart of communities such as the Local Conversation in Haverhill have been able to support young people to gain a sense of community power and work towards improving access to resources and finding a place in their community.
In the case of Haverhill, community projects have again shown their importance as key drivers of local change. The Local Conversation in Haverhill has partnered with other community groups in the area and local schools to ensure that young people can receive the best support possible.
Regarding the success of the pump track Jay Mills said:
“Our project has put a facility in for people to use and now it’s about working with the schools and not overlapping but all pulling in the same direction and working together to support young people. The school next to the track has used it to coach over 100 people and the boost this has provided to young people’s confidence is clear.”
As we look forward to the COVID-19 recovery, we must make tackling the rising crisis in young people’s mental health a priority. To do this, we must look to those community projects at the heart of their neighbourhoods for expertise and ensure they have the resources to continue.