A group of ten young people have overcome two lockdowns to graduate from a Staffordshire Fire and Rescue Service led Prince’s Trust programme in Cannock

We’re grateful that we’ve been able to help some individuals get out of that trap and show them they are amazing and can achieve great things.

Sian Osborn, Programme Leader

The group, aged between 16 and 26 graduated from the development programme last week (Friday 29 January) following an intense 12-week course. It focused on growing confidence, self-esteem, employability skills and helping those involved in learning about how they can best help their local communities.

Programme Leader, Sian Osborn and Programme Assistant, Adam Little, have been with the group every step of the way – whether that be virtually or in person.

They have shared their experiences of how the team helped them work through the pandemic.

Sian said: “We normally have quite large teams but due to the pandemic we reduced the numbers to ten on this occasion and we found that this team in particular were truly excellent.

“We had to deal with the restrictions in November and then the further lockdown in January so it was tough for all of us but their ability to think outside of the box was excellent and they were very creative with what they achieved.

“The makeup of the group was also unique. We had one girl – which is quite rare. She had to drop out of school after having a baby and being a victim of bullying so she was really struggling to look for a way to get back in to education. She was extremely resilient.

“We also had a full spread of ages – from 16 to 26 – and that was great to see. A lot were from the local area but one young person came all the way from Uttoxeter every day – which shows great commitment.

“All of them had different backgrounds – some were university graduates who were left jobless because of the pandemic, some dropped out of school and never got the qualifications they needed, some had really poor mental health and struggled to be around other people. There was a full mix and a lot who had no routine during lockdown one. Allowing them to have the opportunity to get that back was a great feeling for us.

Adam said: “For us it was a real challenge but we quite enjoyed having to think outside the box and develop our own teaching styles and working out how we could make things happen whilst keeping everyone safe.

“We literally had one day in the office before lockdown was announced after Christmas so there was a bit of a mad panic to get it sorted but the group were great and made it really easy for us by being adaptable and understanding when we were trying to work things out and that made a real difference to both of us.

“Things were changing week-by-week but they were always happy to go with the flow and nothing was too big of a challenge for them.

Sian continued: “The confidence of the group and ensuring that was where it should be was the biggest challenge for us. Some of them are not used to talking via camera so the idea of taking part in a virtual chat and having their cameras on was a difficult prospect. So, we changed to smaller groups which enabled everyone to have their say and not feel overwhelmed by it all.

Adam continued: “However, despite the initial challenges we really liked the virtual element as they had to motivate themselves to do the work.

“Before the pandemic it was quite hands on, you’d get really close and work as a team so the trick was to ensure they didn’t lose that by having to do everything virtually. So, we used the projectors more and we made it work with their help. Being forced to use technology in this way is sort of a blessing in disguise.”

Sian said: “The feedback has been great from the young people and that’s really amazing for us to hear.

“For some of them the routine was what they needed and for one lad in particular, it was the friendship he got out of it. He really struggled to talk to people when he got here, despite wanting to, but he grew in confidence and now he’s met his best friend and for him that’s the first social contact that he’s got on his own. The friendships have been so strong and it’s helped them come out of their shells and the fact they’re so encouraging of each other was great.

“Another individual was very open with how his life was a bit of a mess before he came here. He’d dropped out of college and was stuck at home, not enjoying life.

“He’s come a long way and has an incredibly positive attitude now, believes in himself more and is starting an online training course – which is amazing to see.

“I would say that this particular programme is more meaningful than before as the young people have seemed to need it more than those who took part before the pandemic.

“It’s clear that one of the most impacted groups by the pandemic are 16-24 year olds because they’re the ones most likely to be furloughed or fired and to have no education to rely on when they get pushed back.

“You worry for the mental health of our young people in a time like this so programmes like this are really vital in giving those that need it some purpose.

“We’re grateful that we’ve been able to help some individuals get out of that trap and show them they are amazing and can achieve great things.”