On 23 March 2020, Prime Minister Boris Johnson said the words “I must give the British people a very simple instruction – you must stay at home” and announced a national lockdown that changed our lives dramatically. This was the start of one of the most challenging and difficult years in our country’s history. Equally, this has been one of the most extraordinary years in the history of The Change Foundation, so this month we took some time to reflect on the last year as we begin to see some optimism in the fight against COVID-19.
Being a sports charity COVID-19 had an obvious and direct impact on our engagement with the vulnerable groups we work with, increasing risks like raised anxiety, frustration and paranoia, further isolation and loneliness, further time spent on social media affecting their mental state as emotions are even more exposed, boredom so enhancing chances of breaking COVID-19 rules, exacerbation of the lack of opportunities and inequalities, higher risk of depression and self-harm and some facing even more extreme poverty. But this made us even more determination to innovate our programmes at a time when vulnerable young people needed our help more than ever. We adapted and created new ways to keep young people engaged. This is now helping to inform our new strategy which will be launched at the end of the year.
Over the last year our team has shown an immense amount of resilience by thinking and delivering differently. They reinvented programmes going from one weekly session to four sessions a day (morning, lunch time, afternoon, and evening) five days a week. This allowed us to regularly engage hundreds of marginalised young people aged 16-25 while in lockdown, at different times of the day that suited them. It also enabled us to provide motivation and encouragement to avoid ‘lazy lockdown’ habits. Sessions included morning yoga, fitness based challenges, mock interviews, afternoon tea catch up’s, indoor adventure challenges, esports and evening socials we call the ‘players’ lounge’.
Young people’s trust
As an organisation that traditionally built trust with young people through face to face engagement, we were blown away by the way young people continued to trust Coach Mentors by joining virtual sessions and responding to more online mentoring. We were also able to connect with more referral partners who were finding that many other services for young people had stopped or been cancelled and were able to refer even more young people to The Change Foundation.
We have been able to test a model of face to face and virtual delivery at different points during the last year. We were able to support young people online and when regulations slightly relaxed, we delivered one to one walks and runs, small group bike ride outs and outdoor fitness sessions. We also found young people from different postcodes were more willing to connect and build friendships.
All our funders were so quick to provide even more support and have been extremely understanding in changes and adaptions to original planned delivery. We have been able to engage new funders who were keen to support pilot projects while we tested new ways of delivering sport for social change programmes over the last year.
In May 2020 we were able to launch The Change Foundation Esports Programme with the huge support of leading game publisher Take-Two Interactive who donated PlayStations for our young people to use. We delivered weekly sessions, connecting young people from across the country and building in messages of personal development while gaming.
Corporate partners engagement
Our corporate partners were able to offer specialist virtual workshops on employability skills, creating podcasts, advice on becoming an entrepreneur, creating a LinkedIn profile and several industry talks for our young people and we found that there has been even more corporate staff engagement within our programmes.
TCF Women and Girls Network
During the last year we have been developing a network of local community organisations that are positively trying to tackle the mental health pandemic caused by the coronavirus, for girls and young women dealing with existing mental health conditions. The TCF Women and Girls Network shares good practice, produces valuable insight of the impact of the coronavirus on young women’s mental health and acts as a cross referral network.
Virtual events and challenges
Our fundraising team have been working tirelessly with our amazing supporters to host virtual fundraising initiatives such as kayaking down the Thames, virtual gin tasting, virtual quiz nights and TCF Big Step Challenge, raising valuable life changing funds when all face to face events were impossible.
Looking back, the last year has been one of the most exceptional in the charity’s history. We would like to thank every young person that remained engaged through their own hard work. Thank you to our incredible team, that continue to find life changing solutions. Thank you to our amazing trustees whose leadership helped us navigate this time. Thank you to our ambassadors who never stopped finding ways to support us even more. Finally, thank you to our funders, supporters, friends and family for your understanding and investment when we needed you the most. We look forward to another extraordinary year as we celebrate the charities 40th birthday in June 2021.