Thea Joshi sits down with Chantal and Jamie from Off The Record Croydon to discuss the work they do with young people who have experienced youth violence. They discuss the challenges facing the young people they work with, the unhelpful narrative of young people as ‘hard to reach’, and the distinctive approach Off The Record takes to meet young people where they’re at.
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Alethea Joshi (AJ): I am really excited to be here today with Chantal and Jamie both on Off The Record Croydon. Hi guys. Oh, it’s so exciting to have you on the podcast, I’m really looking forward to hearing a bit more about off the record and the work that you’re doing. So I am going to just dive straight in. I know that Off The Record provides free and independent counselling for 14 to 25 year olds in Croydon, but please, can you just tell me a little bit more about the organisation?
Chantal Goodridge (CG): Yep, so that’s right. We are a charity who support young people aged 11 to 25 actually living in a living, working studying or have a GP in the boroughs of Croydon, Sutton or Merton. And we have a range of support services. So we’ve got a number of counselling services, face to face counselling, online counselling, we’ve got the RASS service, who supports young people who are refugees and asylum seekers. And we may bring in interpreters if, if appropriate. We’ve got other support offers, like support for parents or carers, parents or carers of young people who are struggling with self harm, for example, of course, we’ve got the Chris team, which we’re talking about today. And yeah, we’re just sort of constantly trying to develop new projects. We’re trying to use our youth ambassadors and bring them into to talk about, you know, what young people need and what they want for their, for their mental health, really.
Jamie Martin (JM): We have a support line as well. So we’ve got a support line, so that if there’s any kids in crisis, and I think that was about it really. Chantal basically said everything.
CG: Yeah so, Off The Record has been gosh, I want to say around for about 30 years. And there’s off the record in Bristol, I think there’s enough off the record somewhere else live? Is it Liverpool? Yeah. Right. Yeah. So you know, there’s a number, there’s a number of different types of records. Although, you know, I think Croydon might be the biggest, I say that with a question mark, I think it must be the biggest because we’re across a number of boroughs and online and everything like that.
AJ: Amazing. And so I know, as you just mentioned that you guys both work in a service supporting young people who are affected by youth violence. Can you tell me a little bit more about that.
JM: Yeah, so our service, yeah, basically, does what it says on the tin, so we support young people who have been affected by serious violence in Croydon, so any child young person who has seen you know, maybe a stabbing or, you know, friends being beaten up or family member lost, we support them, and we offer them counselling or mentoring, maybe go into meet them on outreach, taking them out. And just given them that support with some of the issues that have come about because of what they may have seen.
CG: I think the only thing I’d add to that is just a bit of context really, because regrettably, youth violence is is a real issue in Croydon at the moment, I think it was named as London’s knife crime capital in 2021. And I think 2021 was worst on record for teenage murders in London. And I think, if I remember correctly Croydon accounted for about 17% of that, and that was more than any other borough. Unfortunately. Positively, though, really great news really positive was that there was a big improvement in 2022. And we saw no lives lost due to youth violence in Croydon, which is really, really great. And that doesn’t mean that we are working any less, though, unfortunately, we just saw some recent stats produced, which showed that Croydon was number one, or the number one London borough in terms of volume of teen violence victims, which was around 50% more than the London average, if I remember correctly. So you know, we’re still still working hard, but absolutely wonderful that we didn’t have to support anyone, as a result of someone losing their life to youth violence in 2022. And hopefully, that’s how it will continue.
AJ: Yeah, wow, those are really sober statistics, aren’t they? And the fact that people who are so young, they’re having to deal with such incredibly hard and tragic things. It’s really, yeah, it’s like, quite shocking. And I guess I’m just thinking, you know, for people who don’t work in area for whom this might not be kind of a daily reality, I’d love to know a little bit more about the kind of young people that you’re working with the sort of needs that they’ve got and how you’re seeking to work with them to support them.
JM: So yeah. The types of young people we work with are – it really ranges to be truthfully honest with you because youth violence doesn’t really have a specific like, Oh, you’re from this community, or you’re from this area, it’s it’s really a range of, of young people that come to us in terms of like needs and stuff. Sometimes just like someone to talk to someone to process a lot of trauma that they that they’ve gone through. Also, as well, sometimes, if we have like longer with them, it may evolve into, like, what other things do you offer in terms of like jobs, and this is why we kind of work closely with some, some partners to try and like, send them and refer them on to, you know, places where they can go and, you know, play football, or something like that. So, yeah, that’s about that. I know, there’s probably more that I’ve left off. Chantal, is there?
CG: No, I mean, Jamie, you covered most of it. You know, like he said, we do work with a real variety of young people with a range of complex needs and risks. So you know, as you can imagine, we work with survivors, we work with perpetrators of youth violence, people who have been robbed people who have been held up at knifepoint, attacked, you know, you can you can imagine anything that sort of falls under that. One thing that we do see, alongside the sort of key presenting issue of youth violence are other issues such as county lines involvement, maybe grooming and exploitation, gang involvement, and things like that. So we they often come hand in hand, we often see that quite often, they might come to us just having witnessed something or been, you know, been involved in something like youth violence, but we’re also dealing with key things that we see quite often. And I think another thing to add is just that the young people that our service is sort of targeted towards, they’d be considered hard to reach. What that essentially means, of course, is that, you know, they’re not easily accessible, it’s hard for us to get to them. They’re certainly underrepresented in therapy, and just difficult to engage in mental health conversations really. So, you know, I heard Jamie say, you know, the young people that come to us, oftentimes, they’re not necessarily coming to us directly, which we can talk a little bit more about. But I think, a key point is that we have to work extra hard to ensure that there’s a piece of work at the end of it for whatever reason, that is, it doesn’t, it’s certainly not perhaps the sort of generic counselling model that many counsellors would be familiar with. And a lot of counsellors would really struggle with, with working in the way we do, too.
AJ: Yeah, thanks. That’s so helpful. And it’s something we actually come back to quite a few times on this podcast about this, this concept or label of being hard to reach and how it’s placed on different people or different communities or different ages, people who don’t easily fall into that kind of very specific traditional counselling model. And we see this a lot, and especially young people being labelled as hard to reach and, and just kind of really calling out the myth of that whole narrative, right. And that whole label, then actually saying, these people are not hard to reach, it’s that services aren’t reaching them. And that’s something we’ve, we’ve talked about time and time again, in different projects and I’ll link in the show notes, we did some work last year with Project Future and with Centre 33, three, both looking at kind of alternative ways of engaging young people in more informal ways, in ways that really reach people where they’re at, rather than expecting them to kind of fit into the that mould sort of thing. I’d love to know a little bit more about, like, how you engage them and how that kind of maybe looks different to the sort of more traditional approach.
JM: One of the things that we’ve done that’s been really popular, that has been really different was the barber shop work, because we know that in communities, the barber shop really is probably the barber shop and you know, Jamaican shops, chicken shops, but that barber shops are really like the hub of a lot of communities. So what we did was we basically got in touch with barbers who kind of had quite high standing in the community and we got them to do free haircuts. But while they’re doing the free haircuts, we basically had conversations about mental health with them, and even with the barbers as well. So I know Chantal did a bit of work, where she went and gave was it stab kits to the barbers, Chantal?
CG: Yes, they were, oh, gosh, what are they called? They weren’t called stab, stab kits, I might have to come back to you with the official name for them. But it was an initiative created by a Mother of a young boy who died in Croydon. And I think, you know, the general feeling is that if these were readily available in sort of key places around the borough, that actually young people, or anyone who’s got sort of a really huge wound that needs tending to, we’d have a much higher chance of survival. So we put some defibrillators in barbershops as well, just because you in the communities that we’re working in, and we train them as well, and how to use them, you know, actually they, they may help save lives in our communities. But yes, so to just add to what Jamie was saying as well. I totally didn’t even remember the barbershop work. So thank you, Jamie. But yeah, we, Off The Record have actually got a barbers network. So we have a number of barbers across Merton Sutton and Croydon, who are part of our network and who we really work closely with, and every half term we hold, trim and grin event where we, you know, we put out lots of advertisements, and we let the we choose a barber, and we hold just an open day where young people can just come all day and get their hair cut for free. And we just have, we sort of post up in there and have mental health conversations. like Jamie said, it’s really powerful, really, really important work.
AJ: I just love that it’s so incredible, because I feel like that’s a really obvious example of two things, which is one is like making a service that’s culturally informed, recognising that barbers are actually a really massive cornerstone in the community sort of thing and the power that they have as like a social space. And then to bring support to where people are at rather than expecting them to come through the doors of potentially quite clinical environment or something which potentially has people have misconceptions about misgivings about stigma, you just meet people where they’re at, with the support they need. And that’s Yeah, that’s really exciting. You were mentioning before we hit record that you guys do sort of a hybrid mix of in person counselling, face to face and also sort of telephone and online. And maybe you could just tell me a little bit about that.
JM: So what we found with a lot of the young people that we worked with is where we are based, maybe because Croydon is such a big borough. Some of them may be coming from the other side of the borough, and there may be gang activity in the place where we are. So a lot of the people we work with are okay to do telephone sessions. Also, just going back on something that you said just a minute ago about meeting like young people where they are, that’s something that we do as a service as well. So for instance, I’ve held basic counselling sessions in like car parks. So I’ve met young people in their estates and basically have had sessions because they felt uncomfortable coming in. So they can if they want to, we do see people in the building, but we are very open to meeting them in the park or taking them for somebody as long as it’s safe or confidential, and then doing a Zoom session, which doesn’t really happen. But we’re open to it.
AJ: That’s so cool. And I think we did a piece of research we launched in December about remote mental health technologies, and the way that they’re being used and I think that’s an example of, of how they’re being used really, really well to improve access. And so instead of saying, you’ve got to come to this place, in a place where you might not feel safe, you’re saying actually, again, we can meet you where we’re at, we can have a phone call, we can do X, Y, and Z and, and it’s really exciting to see how that kind of technology is opening up opportunities for some people to access support. So I was going to ask a little bit about kind of, have you seen changes in the types of issues that young people are coming to you for support with?
CG: So I had a good think about this, actually. And I think the last three years have been I mean, really intense, really, really tough on everyone in the world, you know, especially for young people. And, you know, COVID, we’re coming off the back of COVID. I mean, not necessarily completely out yet. But I feel, I feel like we’ll be seeing the impact of COVID for many, many years to come. And right, we probably don’t have a real sense of the COVID trauma, and just all the impact that will come with it. Another key thing that happened in the last few years is of course, the death of George Floyd, which felt like a really pivotal moment in time around the whole world, too. So I think, with those two key events in mind, you know, there were there’s been many other things, but just with those in mind, I think the themes of loss and identity for me, certainly in the work I was doing, seem to really come come up a lot. So, you know, for example, you know, in terms of loss, for COVID, they’ve lost key moments of their lives, you know, key key things that we all probably took for granted as adults, you know, be able to go to their prom, being able to sit GCSEs, which we resented at the time, but actually a lot of young people didn’t have that option. And therefore, their life probably took turns because of that. In terms of identity, I’m thinking of identity in terms of sort of off the back of George Floyd’s death, I think identity in terms of a lot of young people were asking them sort of, you know, who am I? What do I stand for? Who where do I place myself in these really tense conversations. And I think there were lots of really difficult conversations and lots of families were split, in terms of really difficult opinions and things like that. So I think identity, a lot of people really sort of found a lot of strength and found that found their voice. So there’s lots of positive, but I think identity felt like a key thing for me, in terms of currently, I think, I think the cost of living crisis feels like a key area. So you know, a lot of the young people we’re already supporting come from disadvantaged backgrounds. So we are really concerned about the impact that the cost of living crisis is going to have on our young people. You know, I work with young people who feel the pressure to help mum pay the bills, because they are the man of the house or need to sort of provide, you know, I have a young man who I worked with in mind when I think of the cost of living crisis that I worked with many years ago, who I remember, he had a young family and a baby on the way and, you know, he said, I have one pound to my name. And the only thing I know how to do is rob people, you know, which feels it’s so devastating when you think of that they’ve sort of been so desperate. And I think we’re just really aware in terms of the work coming up for us that, you know, we are going to be facing really desperate times and young people who are really, really desperate. So we’re trying to think about ways we can support them. And we’re sort of putting some stuff together to. I don’t know, if you have anything to add to that, Jamie.
JM: I think you basically said it all. Yeah, so definitely right now the cost of living crisis. So exactly what Chantal said in terms of like, some of the young people who I’m working with, it almost feels that they’re faced with a decision as to do I sit down and struggle? Or do I go down that route where I will be making money, but it’s probably going to be illegal? And, again, you know, they’re not, they’re not silly. Like, they know they go home and there’s no power or, you know, I’ve been told stories of young people eating cereal with water, having to eat like, rice and tuna fish all week. So yeah, and, and that kind of thing can push a young person who maybe doesn’t really want to live a certain way into going into that certain way of living. But I think it’s only gonna get worse, because we’re seeing it in the service. And I only think is actually just gonna get worse.
CG: I just thought there Jamie of another young man, I remember asking him, you know, what do you want people to know about you and people like you. So this was a young black boy. And he, he said he wants people to stop looking at him like he’s a criminal. You know, he said that people don’t understand that he was 15 years old, he said that a young 15 year old boy whose mom can hardly pay the bills. You know, they can’t go out and get a job, no one’s going to employ them. Whereas perhaps, you know, a young, a young 15 year old girl could go and sweep some flooring in the hairdresser’s and get a bit of change, whereas they’re really stuck. And they’re really sort of, like Jamie said, a bit of a crossroads. Do I make a decision? Take risks, do things that are perhaps, you know, risky for a number of people? Or do I allow me and my family to suffer? You know, it’s really, it’s really hard. And I think one thing that that’s really come about in the work is just really humanising these young men who are making decisions that are not right for them. But actually, there’s a story behind it, you know, there’s, there’s, there’s meaning behind it. It’s deeper than just, I want to go and do this. They don’t want to do this.
JM: I think that is the thing as well is they actually don’t want to do this.
AJ: I mean, thank you for sharing that because I think people need to hear that reality. But yeah, it’s devastating, isn’t it? I find it devastating. And also, quite often we talk about my anger on this podcast, my apologies. But it gets me so angry, you know that we live in one of the richest countries in the world and yet we are in a situation or some people are in a situation where they are really feeling like they don’t have any options left. Right. That’s, that’s fundamentally wrong. And you know, obviously for us here at the Centre, we are very much talking about the cost of living, we’re talking about poverty and and the toxic impact it has on mental health. You know, we’ve been calling for some specific things from the Government in terms of kind of really thinking again about benefit conditionality and benefit sanctions, in the midst of a cost of living crisis that are really just making things even worse for people. And I can link more to that in the show notes. But yeah, I mean, just thank you for what you shared there. Yeah, we’re totally clear, this is not okay. And something like the cost of living crisis, like living in poverty, like not having options for employment, they have really devastating impact on young people’s mental health and mental health across their lives. Right, which is why it’s so devastating, and why we will continue to keep calling for for more support for tackling child poverty, and really for prevention early on. And there’s no, there’s no point I keep banging on about this. But there’s no point in us talking about preventing mental health problems in with one hand, and taking people’s ability to earn a living, on the other hand, you know, we can’t give with one and take with the other because we won’t end up with better mental health for all. So yeah, thanks for sharing that.
CG: I think. Just to add to that, that’s Jamie touched on, on it earlier, where we are recognising that these young men, you know, yes, they absolutely could do with some mental health support from us. But they are also desperate for some real practical help as well. And, you know, while we may not be able to do that, we really want to have a rich contact list where we can say, right, okay, you need help writing your CV, go see my, my not my friend, you know, my colleague, you know, this, this organisation here. And, you know, another thing we found, for example, with getting jobs is, you know, some a lot of young men don’t know how to tie a tie, they don’t know how the sort of interview etiquette, they don’t, they don’t know, these things that perhaps, for those who may not have had a father figure in their lives would have shown them, you know, that there’s some real gaps in their knowledge. And, you know, they don’t necessarily know to have eye contact and sit up and smile, you know, they haven’t been taught these, these very key things that you or I might take for granted. And that’s something we’re really recognising. And we really want to add to, you know, it’s not just let’s sit down for one on one genetic counselling face to face in the counselling room, what else? How do we need to make your life better? You know, how can we help to do that?
JM: So one thing I’ve noticed as well is, when I’ve done that after the call, so once, maybe I’ve worked with someone for six months, or whatever, and I’ve done maybe a call, maybe six months after we’ve worked, and normally find that the boys or girls who’ve got jobs are perfectly fine. It’s almost like, oh, yeah, I’m working now. And I’m alright, I’m getting a little bit of change. And I’m getting, I’m doing all right. Whereas the ones who kind of haven’t been able to sort themselves out either college or jobs, they kind of fall back into that kind of lifestyle or similar thing. So it’s really important that we do which we have basically done is we’ve got a link with the job centre. So trying to refer people on to see if they can give help.
AJ: Yeah, exactly. And I think that’s why, you know, part of our work is around employment support and supporting people into work, because we know that when it’s meaningful, and it’s not sort of a result of benefit sanctions, when it’s something someone’s chosen to do that, you know, it gives people a basic income, it gives them purpose, and drive and motivation, new skills, all of these really, really good things. And, you know, as you say, if people are earning a bit of money that contributes to getting out of poverty, and you know, which, which is critical. I mean, it’s, it’s difficult, because in some ways, this is not hard stuff. You know, it’s not rocket science. It’s like, we all know, what is necessary for people to have the building blocks for good mental health. And yet we sometimes see, yeah, mental health in kind of a weird vacuum, where it’s all just about your feelings, as a very much as an individual. There’s no sense of like, wider context, family social circles. So yeah, it’s great to hear that you guys are taking a really like holistic approach to supporting people’s well being. That’s, that’s amazing. I wonder what you guys would say about kind of what needs to change in terms of mental health provision for young people.
CG: As you’ve mentioned, it’s it’s just a really difficult climate at the moment for young people and services, providing mental health support for young people. So when I was thinking about this, I thought it would be really good to sort of think about the way, you know, Off The Record has sort of created change in terms of our own provision for support. So we’ve sort of touched on it already. But I think the key places are, of course, meeting young people where they are, like we’ve said, so this is of course, where our outreach work comes in. And probably important to note, you know, Off The Record, other than I think the Chris service is a self referral service. We are of course, the self referral service to but, you know, generically a young person would refer them, you know, they would recognise for themselves, they need some support, they would refer themselves, so contact us themselves, wait on the waiting list until they get to the top. And then as soon as we’re ready for them, we call them and they come to us in the building, you know, it’s really easy stuff in terms of the generic way, approach, but I think, like we said, for our cohort of young people that we really want to see, sitting across a room with a with a counsellor one on one, talking about their mental health, it is just so intimidating for many young people. So yeah, you know, this is where we’re different. If a young person did lose their lives to youth violence, then we would get out there as soon as possible and as soon as appropriate to the street memorials, where people were laying flowers, where young people gathering and just, you know, be a presence, offer support, as and when you know, just there on the street to have mental health conversations, let them know that we’re around if they need, you know, give out our sort of cards, so they know there’s free support if they need us. We’re sort of being proactive and reactive at the same time, if you know what I mean, when, you know, meeting people where they are, like Jamie said, because of postcode wars, you just simply can’t expect young people to come to us in the building. So you know, the reality is, we won’t be seeing them at all, we will not be reaching them at all, if we sit and expect them to come to us like in the generic counselling services.
JM: And I think what’s really worked for us is how quick we’re able to engage the young people. So for the Chris service, we try not to let any young person just sit on the waiting list. And if they do have to sit on a waiting list, which is very rare, we always do checking calls. So we always call them maybe once a week, just to say, Look, I’m just letting you know, we’re just trying to allocate your counsellor, how you doing, and it’s almost like a mini counselling session before they start the actual counselling support. So that’s one way in which I feel like we’re quite different. And Off The Record, it is very diverse anyway, but our service is actually very time first. So when we’re engaging the young people, they’re coming in, they’re seeing a counsellor. It looks like myself, a counsellor. It looks like Chantal, a counsellor looks like one of our other colleagues. And I think that’s very rare for a lot of young people to the word counselling and they associate something else with that, and not us. So I think that’s what really then two specific things really work for us that how quick we are, and how diverse our services.
AJ: Yeah, and I got to just jump in there. Because again, this is something that we’ve talked about on the podcast, but but, as you’ve said, seeing people who look like you, as the counsellor in that, in that position of support is massive. And I think often it’s kind of it’s sort of underestimated the power of that, or the challenges when your therapeutic workforce doesn’t reflect the people who are coming through the door seeking help. Obviously, every counsellor supports people who are different to them in lots of different ways. But there’s something about you know, when we’re asking why, especially say young black men aren’t getting the support they need with their mental health. We have to look at the complete under representation of, of black people or any people from racialised communities in the therapeutic workforce are kind of go well, maybe that’s part of the problem there. So yeah, great to hear that.
JM: So so we went into a school in, I think it was January, last year young young boy got killed. And we went into support some of his friends. And I think it was like 10 of his friends. And we did like we did some group work with them. And they, some of them were really shocked when we came in. And I remember one of the boys saying I’ve had counselling before, and he didn’t even know what Call of Duty was. And so this is the importance of being able to understand.
CG: Yeah, I think, you know, that’s one of the best things for me, is, you know, we’re as a service and as counsellors, we’re sort of challenging these stereotypes of, you know, what a counsellor looks like, what what counselling is. And actually I always use this quote, but we got a quote from the Youth Offending team who was sort of asking their young people about their ideas about counselling, and, you know, word for word. It’s, the belief was, you know, all counsellors are white people who don’t know what it’s like and live perfect lives. So, I mean, you know, of course, we know that that’s not true, that’s not absolutely true. But I think the key point here is, you know, the reality is, these are ideas that are out there, these are, these are perceptions that are out there that young people are thinking and feeling. And so, you know, with us being from minority ethnic groups, you know, some and not all, but some people and young people respond better to people who they feel look like them, or who might be able to, you know, provide a, I guess a more culturally sensitive approach. We we also wear like hoodies and sort of tracksuits and caps and trainers we’re really comfortable with sort of, it’s really informal, and we try our best to use sort of simplified language and slang where appropriate, we have to sort of keep up to date with the slang. But yeah, I think, you know, one thing I found is that, you know, our use of language or dress sense and are sort of street credibility is sort of continuously assessed by the young people we work with, and, you know, they can be quite quick to write us off as a chance. And, you know, I have the same experience as Jamie that, you know, often when I go in and I meet a young person, they are really shocked that I am the counsellor, because they, they had sort of, I guess, in a way these fantasies of, of what a counsellor would look like, and we’re challenging that which is, which is great.
AJ: There’s a call to action there that if we say that it’s important to have a more representative therapeutic workforce, then the ways into counselling and therapy as a career have to be opened up and have to be rethought. Because the fact is, it is significantly white middle class women who are in training, because it’s really expensive and it takes a lot of time. And obviously, you know, needs to take a bit of time. But we need to rethink how we do that, because we’re not going to see a change in the workforce if we carry on as the way we are. But as you say, you know, I think, too often a culturally informed approach is seen as like a nice to have, but it’s not really important. And actually what you guys are saying what we’re hearing again, and again, is actually a culturally informed approach is the difference between people accessing support and benefiting from that support? And not, so we can’t kind of see it anymore as a nice to have, we have to really start taking these things seriously, I think.
CG: Yeah, yeah, just as an option, and, you know, I think it’s important to recognise that, you know, just for example, if I, if I want to, just because I might want to work with a female counsellor, or a black counsellor, that doesn’t necessarily mean that I’m going to have the most beneficial experience with them. You know, this is just, this is just, I guess, a stepping stone towards my engagement. And actually, once I’m there, I’ll have the experience, and I’ll be able to work that out for myself. But actually, if a barrier to me taking that step forward, is that the counsellor that I would prefer is not available, then actually, that’s gonna stop me from engaging so absolutely, exactly what you said.
AJ: Yeah, that’s, that’s a really helpful point.
CG: Before we move on. Sorry, I wanted to mention one more thing about the change that we’d like to see. And one thing that Off The Record is really good at is keeping in touch with young people. You know, of course, we need to keep in touch with young people to stay relevant, because you know, they are the experts on themselves. So yeah, we do have Youth Ambassadors, like I mentioned before. And we also have a Young People Say event, which means once a month, we would invite young people to log in and give us feedback on ideas we’ve got or help co design projects and sort of support offers. And I think we’re just really good at sort of thinking about what works, what doesn’t check it out with young people going back to the drawing board. And I think we were really good. And what has sort of been pivotal for us is we’re really good at sort of recognising and understanding that mental health support can come in so many different forms. So as long as we’re drawing on, on our intelligence from the young people, and we’re asking ourselves, okay, what do we know about young people in mental health right now? What is relevant? What is up to date? What’s cool? What do they need? And then thinking about how can we translate that into a support offer? And we’ve done you know, I can give probably one or two examples, which had been really key to us. And during the pandemic, I was speaking to a lot of young men who, you know, during the pandemic at Zoom was really popular, and I can’t remember the app that young people were on where they do log into this sort of room and they’d all see each other. You know, they didn’t want to log on and be seen by their friends. They didn’t want to video call. They didn’t want to go out for that walk that we were allowed daily, because they noticed that because their hair was unkept, because they couldn’t get to their hair products because all the shops were closed, they couldn’t get to their hairdressers, to their barber to cut their hair couldn’t get their hair cane rowed. And they were just feeling really rubbish about themselves, you know, everything was outgrown, and they just felt really messy and they they didn’t want to be seen. So actually, what we did is we created something called the no trim challenge. And at the time, there was a challenge that was really similar to that, that we were drawing on where the actual challenge was, where they would show themselves without makeup sort of really glowed down, and then they would glow up.
AJ: No makeup selfie, or no?
CG: But actually, it was like that, but we sort of turned it around. So we we encouraged them to send pictures of them looking all the way, you know, glowed up, and then it would transition into their sort of pandemic look. And we encouraged them to own it and just be proud and send, you know, send that in, let everyone sort of embrace their no trim looks. And what we did for anyone who entered the challenge, we were guaranteed that we pay for their first haircut as soon as it’s sort of locked down, finished. And I guess that sort of ticked so many boxes in a way because our barbers, our barbers network, they were suffering. And then the young people were feeling really rubbish. And at least, especially then where financial issues were really key as well, they didn’t know if they’d have the means to pay for a haircut, by the time they go out of lockdown. At least they know, that was one less thing they had to worry about. Because we had it sorted, we sort of we had their back for it. And that helped you know, it’s not necessarily us sitting down one on one, you know, that video went far and wide, at least around Croydon and it helped, we had some really good feedback from it.
JM: And I was just going to add another thing, because I’m thinking that as well, as is just what I think were again, a little bit different that is is kind of understanding and understanding that, for instance, we might have a session with someone booked for a certain time and understand that actually, they’ve got call today. Can we reschedule? Yeah, that’s fine. Whereas maybe some services, they’re a bit very rigid with, it has to be this time, it has to be in this place or sometimes even services, you know, they kick young people off, because maybe they’ve missed one session or two sessions. So what we do is we say, Look, I understand I get it, you’ve got, you know, whatever it may be, that’s fine, we can reschedule or we can do it next week. As long as it’s not like, we don’t hear from you, for like a long period of time, we can keep you and still try and contact you and keep these sessions going. Basically,
CG: I was just gonna give one more example of a way that we offered support. And as you can imagine, we were speaking to a lot of young men and women actually who were saying that they feel unsafe or young people that were carrying knives, because they felt that they may have to say that they were unable to defend themselves. So we also created we sort of partnered up with one of our partners, and offered self defence workshops for young people to get involved in, you know, so just recognising that these is, you know, this is a contribution towards their, their mental health, you know, we’re actually helping them feel safer by providing some support in a different way.
AJ: Yeah, and again, taking that holistic approach to people’s whole lives, rather than seeing mental health in a vacuum. I mean, I’d love to know, sort of what what kind of things you’ve learned from working with these young people?
JM: I would say that, I think what I just said before is, like, when you meet them on their level, they’re a lot more inclined to engage a lot more inclined to come back to the sessions. And, you know, it’s, I think, like, we just, we just, we just treat them how, I guess young people should be treated and it like, you know, I’m not saying we’re all groovie and and all that sort of stuff, but we are kind of and because of that they engage with us.
CG: My learning my take from sort of this very specific work is a real appreciation. I guess, a real appreciation for the young people in their struggles, I think, you know, sitting across from them, really getting a sense of, of what’s going on for them. You know, I think we’re working it Off The Record and other servers previous to working in the Chris service, I probably took for granted. What we understand is the sort of generic counselling model where people are referring themselves and the young people that we really want to support our young people who have You know, they have huge distrust in systems that we’re sort of fighting against certain stigmas or belief systems, or attitudes towards counselling. And yeah, I think the amount of work we need to do before we even get to counselling, you know, we have to do pre-therapy, essentially, where we build a relationship, we sort of do, in a way some reparative work, because a lot of the young people we work with are known to social services, they have social workers, key workers, and they’ve been let down by the adults in their lives. So you know, they’re coming to us having acknowledged that they, you know, they could benefit with, with support, you know, they get to the point of sitting right in front of us, they’ve sort of referred or allowed a referral to take place, but there’s just an unbelievable fear underneath it all, you know, and, and, I guess, like, in no other service, I’ve worked in just really appreciating that these young people, you know, their sense of safety is continuously undermined. And, and actually, you know, counselling is a place that they need to come and feel safe. So, it’s an extra piece of work before we can even get to the piece of work. And often if we managed to get through that initial pre therapy stage, if we still have them engaging, and we managed to do a piece of of therapeutic work with them. Oftentimes, it’s reparative. It’s wonderful, really, you know, speaking for them, but my my sense is that it’s really beneficial for them.
JM: One of the things I’ve learned is, obviously, were quite big in Croydon, but I think the importance is smaller organisations because, again, what Chantal said, in terms of trust, a lot of these young people don’t trust the system. And because we’re seen as one of the big organisations sometimes until they actually speak to us, they, there’s that trust level isn’t there. So this is why, again, going back to the holistic approach of having links with jobs and having links with other organisations that do other stuff, because there might be a young person who needs therapy, but he’s already engaging with another organisation in Croydon, but they don’t have they don’t have counsellors or maybe then their knowledge of mental health isn’t the best. And because when we kind of they know us, we work kind of closely with them, they can say, alright, look, we’ve got these, this specific service we can refer you to. And because they’ve had that person who they already trust, say, look, try it Off The Record, they’re more inclined to give counselling the goal and then when again, going back to it when then when we pop up, it’s like, oh, okay, this is the counsellor kind of thing. And then down right back to the start. What do we do after therapy? Because a lot of times, yes, the therapy is great. And they do come away from therapy with, you know, maybe feeling a little bit better than when they first came in. But what can we refer them on to, and that’s why again, we’re working so hard to work with the Job Centre and work with certain organisations so that there are things after that i.e. college or jobs or, you know, placements or things that they can go into once the therapy is finished. So it definitely the biggest, biggest thing for me is that is the holistic approach is something that we are really trying to adapt and bring into our work.
AJ: Yeah. And I just think it’s so interesting, what you’re saying just that you’re highlighting the fact that for a lot of people actually getting to the place where they are willing to have therapy is a massive step, you know, that I think sometimes we assume that people are just willing to talk about their feelings. And sometimes that’s the case for people like me, but for a lot of people, especially if you’re struggling with some really difficult stuff, or you’ve got multiple issues going on. Actually, it’s not easy just to sit down and talk especially to stranger about how you’re feeling right. I think the majority of people would say that. And so acknowledging that, on top of that you’ve got a lot of distrust potentially in services and things that are seen as provided by the state of which the state can feel quite hostile, you know, recognising all those layers that are essentially barriers to people getting support and, and seeking to overcome those barriers by working in a different way is, I mean, it’s just fascinating. I do say this a lot, but I genuinely could carry on talking to you for another half an hour or an hour, we may have to get you on for another session, you guys, because I think there’s so much more we could talk about, there’s so much more I want to ask you and discuss around this work. But for now, I’ll just say thank you, the work that you guys doing, Off The Record, is amazing. I’m so grateful that there are organisations like you meeting people where they’re at and reaching people who aren’t reached by the services, and it’s really exciting to hear about what you guys are doing. So thank you for joining me today.
CG: It’s been a pleasure. Thank you for having us.
JM: No problems.