How three young people have used their struggles to help others

18th-24th November marks #iwill week, a campaign that celebrates the work young people have done for their local communities. We caught up with ambassadors Billie, Bradley and Sophia to find out what they're doing and why.

Billie, GCSE student, 16, Rossendale

We can make a difference, and it’s a great way of learning and growing.

What sort of social action are you involved with?

I volunteer at the local food bank. At the moment, we are running the Christmas comfort scheme, giving food parcels and gifts to those that need them.

The hardship people suffer is often worsened at Christmas time. Even something like being unable to buy an advent calendar, or being the only one who can’t buy gifts for those in your friendship groups. All these things create a feeling of being left out.

The food bank also runs an annual Christmas party for families who've had access to food banks in the last year.

Why did you choose to work at the food bank?

I see people struggling all around me. People are homeless on the streets, peers at school are struggling with a lack of food, clothing, sanitary products and not being able to buy uniforms.

There is an emotional impact too. People feeling ashamed and isolated, kids may experience bullying and loss of concentration. I saw all this and wanted to do something about it.

What would you say to other young people who're interested in social action?

We can make a difference, and it’s a great way of learning and growing. If you are from a less wealthy background I think it’s even more important to get involved. People get missed, and this is a chance to have their voice heard.

"Reach out to your community, speak to people that have taken part and get involved."

Bradley, Architecture student, 20, Liverpool

I think it's empowering for other young people from a non-privileged background to see this and think 'if he did it, I can do it too.'

What’s your motivation for doing what you do?

When I was at school, my parents split up, which caused me to be disengaged at school. LHFC (Liverpool Homeless Football Club) was a massive support for me when I was going through difficulty in my teenage years. I left school feeling that I had not reached my full potential. I felt like it was all over, but it wasn’t.

Luckily, I was offered a traineeship with Homebaked CLT and Rotunda college, which helped me turn my life around. Part of the apprenticeship involved outreach work with the local community. It was then I realised where my passion lay: I want to help empower people.

What causes are you involved with?

I work with the charities LHFC, Rotunda college and Lady Justice UK to help those who are, or have been, homeless and those who are economically disadvantaged. My work includes running workshops, engaging with the local youth community and creating a multi-functional space for that community.

When people have been through a traumatic experience they put up a wall, and the work we do at LHFC helps them break it down and let them continue on their journey.

Can you tell me a moment that made you proud?

While I was doing outreach work at Rotunda, running social action and conservation workshops, I felt like I made a real difference to one of the lads there. He looks up to me as a mentor and is now following in my footsteps by taking on the role I used to do. I am really proud of him, as he overcame a lot of personal challenges and worked hard to get this position. I didn’t take the traditional academic route – and I think it’s empowering for other young people from a non-privileged background to see this and think “if he did it, I can do it too."

How does your social action work change over the Christmas period?

Depression, anxiety and loneliness can all increase around this period with the vulnerable groups of people I work with. It’s a time when families come together and spend money, which adds to the feeling of isolation if you can’t do the same.

As part of my work, we identify those who are socially isolated and reach out to them with a series of Christmas coffee mornings. Here they can meet other people in a similar situation to them and have a chat. Then, at Christmas, LHFC work with local restaurants that open up to people who would otherwise be alone for Christmas.

"My ultimate goal is to eventually run my own programmes, nurture young people and help them realise their potential."

Sophia, gap year student, 18, West Midlands

I find Christmas and New Year such a hard time personally, which is why I feel that my social action work is even more important at this time of year.

How did you get involved with social action?

Both my parents love volunteering, and encouraged me into helping at a food bank set up by The Trussell Trust when I was 14. I found it such a rewarding experience that I’ve continued to volunteer there to this day.

Then when I was 15, I was hospitalised for seven months due to an eating disorder. While I was recovering in hospital, I remember thinking I never want anyone else to go through this, and that thought played a large part in my recovery. Since then, a lot of my work has been around mental health and working with groups of vulnerable young people, including the work I do with Birmingham's mental health partnership Forward Thinking Birmingham.

Is there any time of year when it’s harder to cope with an eating disorder ?

Yes, there is a lot of pressure around Christmas. It’s a happy, exciting time of year for most. There is a feeling that “you should be happy” and of course this is just not possible sometimes. The weather is another factor. The days get shorter, darker, and colder, and for someone already vulnerable this can make it worse. Another, is the obsession with food around Christmas and the New Year diet culture and attitude, which I find so toxic. It should be about balance and moderation.

I find Christmas and New Year such a hard time personally, which is why I feel that my social action work is even more important at this time of year.

Do you think young people can make things change?

100%! Let me give you an example. I met my MP, Andrew Mitchell, in the House of Commons. We were talking about mental health and he said to me “Our government has invested a lot into mental health,” to which I replied, without thinking, “Really? Where has it all gone? It’s not reaching the people on the front line.” There was a sudden silence in the room, while all the people around looked slightly aghast. I thought to myself “Oh no, what have I done!”, but he just laughed and said “Quite − good question”.

I think this shows that young people are a bit more allowed to say things, and when we do, people listen.

"We are the voice of the future. We have to ask ourselves, do we want to live in a world where this is happening and, if not, what can we do to change that?"
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