One of the key drivers of the pressures on the NHS has been the growth in mental health problems which has led to a significant spike in the caseload of all GP surgeries in Cornwall and across the country. The causes are multiple: the pandemic led to social isolation for some elderly people and social anxiety for some teenagers; social media has increasingly become a platform for online bullying behaviours and there are background pressures on families.
Often the right thing to do is to get some early support in place as soon as an issue arises and that doesn't usually mean medical support and it doesn't necessarily need a diagnosis. Every school has a SENCO (special educational needs) lead, and they see the same sorts of problems on a regular basis and will often know intuitively what might help. That may be interventions within the school, or it could be engaging some external help from charities on individual cases.
This past Friday, I visited two fantastic charities in our area that provide support to children and young people to help develop their confidence. BF Adventures is a remarkable charity based in Cornwall which aims to provide disadvantaged young people with access to an outdoor education. BF Adventures was founded in 1987 under the guidance of Peter Mumford, then the Bishop of Truro. Amidst abandoned granite quarries overlooking Falmouth Bay, BF Adventures continues to support vulnerable children, offering support to around 5,000 children and young people annually through charity programs and tailored school residentials. Their holistic approach to child welfare and empowerment ensures young people develop the important life skills to carry with them beyond the classroom setting. We know that being outdoors can be good for mental health and BF Adventures have some amazing programmes and facilities that are second to none, including a zip wire designed specifically for wheelchair users.
I also visited the TR14ers, a youth-led Community Dance Charity which is making a significant impact in Camborne. Established in 2005 during the Connecting Communities program initiated by the Camborne Neighbourhood Police Team, the charity has gone from strength to strength. The TR14ers will have been spotted by anyone attending Trevithick Day in recent years. Members and Leaders in the group will often perform great street performances and encourage other young people to get involved. Over the years, TR14ers has evolved into a self-managing charity, with young people who started as members eventually becoming trustees. This, in my view, is what makes the model so powerful because new members get support from their peers and other young people who have been on the same journey. Despite the challenges of lockdown and the pandemic it is great to see they have bounced back.
The pandemic was particularly tough on children and young people. The closure of schools has had far-reaching effects beyond academic disruption. Friendships were strained, celebrations and events were put on hold, and the invaluable social interactions that are crucial for growth and development were limited. It is important to focus on providing additional support to those children and young people most affected and to help them recover from the emotional and social impact of the lockdown. This extends beyond catching up on academic knowledge; it's about rebuilding confidence, rekindling friendships, and addressing the insecurities that have been amplified.
The concept behind both charities is to try to bring some natural human engagement to support young people. There is no culture of targets or processes. There is no intense interview across a desk by an assessor. Instead, in its place, is the simple objective of trying to build a human bond of trust so that young people can take things at their own pace and feel that there is a human being and a mentor who is there for them. In a world that is often driven to distraction by targets and measuring everything, it is a reminder that we are all human beings and that what is needed now above all else is to develop approaches to the challenges our society faces in a more human way.