Podcast: Young Changemakers

25 October 2022

Thea Joshi is joined by Ayanda Sibanda (Changemaker Coordinator at The Diana Award), Aaliyah Mulenga (one of our Young Changemakers) and Kadra Abdinasir (Associate Director for Children and Young People’s Mental Health at the Centre). Listen in as we learn about the Young Changemakers programme, which is equipping young people with the tools to produce social action projects aimed at tackling mental health inequalities in racialised communities. We discuss why this project is so needed, the social action that’s been happening so far, and the impact that being part of this programme is having on the young people involved.

Listen to the episode on Spotify or Apple PodcastsThe full transcript is available below. 


Show notes

Music by scottholmesmusic.com


Alethea Joshi (AJ): Hello and welcome to Centre for Mental Health’s podcast, where we explore ideas around mental health, equality, and social justice. I’m your host, Thea Joshi, and on the podcast we talk to people with lived experience of mental health problems, or those working in a specific area, about engaging in the fight for equality in mental health. The eagle-eyed among you will notice that this is our second October podcast – we’re spoiling you this month! So recently I chatted with Ayanda Sibanda, Aaliyah Mulenga and our own Kadra Abdinasir, about our amazing Young Changemakers programme.

The programme is equipping young people with the tools to produce social action projects aimed at tackling mental health inequalities in racialised communities. I heard from them about why this project is so needed, the social action that’s been happening so far and the impact that being part of this programme is having on young people like Aaliyah. If you want to support our work addressing racial injustice in mental health, or to produce more content like this, please head to the donate page on our website to give what you can. Hope you enjoy.

AJ: So hello, I’m really excited to be here today with Aaliyah, Ayanda and Kadra to talk about the Young Changemakers programme. Hi, guys.  I’m really glad we’ve been able to do this finally to talk about the young changemakers programme, and what it’s all about. So I’m just gonna jump right in and Kadra just ask you to give us a little bit of background on the Young Changemakers programme.

Kadra Abdinasir (KA): So, Young Changemakers is an exciting partnership between the Centre, The Diana Award and UK Youth. And it’s a programme seeking to reimagine mental health support for young people from racialised communities. It’s really about creating real and lasting change within the mental health sector that is really co-produced and centres young people and seeks to  build and create new systems that work for them, especially those facing, you know, the harshest inequalities. And also, another key objective for this programme is to enable young people from racialised communities to have opportunities to participate in social action, and decision making within the field of mental health. I guess just to say a little bit about why the three of us came together. I’m really aware of bringing a unique and individual set of expertise as individual organisations. So, the Centre bringing that sort of mental health research and policy expertise, our partners at the Diana Award would bring in that insight around youth engagement, social action, and they work as well with schools across the country. And of course, UK Youth, just being a massive sort of network of youth organisations, and really recognising the importance of youth work. So you know, collectively we come together to design this programme and harness insights, so that they can help address some of the concerns young people have around mental health. And of course, I just wanted to say that the programme was made possible thanks to the generosity of the players of the People’s Postcode Lottery and Comic Relief, and it’s a three-year programme. So we’re just about entering our second year.

Ayanda Sibanda (AS): Yeah, I think one thing I’d love to add is that our programme is quite unique in the way that it’s been built around. And so far, we’ve seen quite a bit of traction already in terms of what the young people are doing and their projects and highlighting or being able to help further things along. So this is a project that is really trying to make a tangible difference in the way things are done. And some of those things already in motion, which is quite exciting.

AJ: Amazing. I think it’s such an exciting project, and, obviously, for us at Centre for Mental Health, racial justice, and racial equality is really high on our agenda. For people who are new to this area of work, could you just talk us a little bit through kind of the rationale and motivation behind the project?

KA: So I guess, you know, we’ve known for some time that there are some real stark and persistent racial inequalities within mental health across all ages. But really, there hasn’t been many national programmes looking at the experiences of young people in particular. So even before the pandemic and the recent wave of Black Lives Matter movement, there were some really unacceptable inequalities we saw in young people’s mental health, for example, they were twice as likely to receive mental health support through involuntary routes. For example, social care or criminal justice orders, according to some research by UCL Anna Freud Centre. Of course, at Centre for Mental Health, we’ve been involved in a number of programmes looking at the inequalities young black men face in particular, through programmes like “Shifting the Dial”. But I think I guess it’s fair to say that the murder of George Floyd in 2020. And  the subsequent sort of wave of Black Lives Matter, coupled with some of the concerns about how COVID-19 was having a disproportionate impact on racialised communities really concerned us. And it initially led to our partners UK Youth and the Diana Award coming together to launch a campaign called “Young and Black”. And, really, that campaign was launched because young people’s voices were missing from debates around racism, that obviously, I’m acutely aware of how prevalent it is across society. But one thing that came up through that campaign was just the impact it was having on their mental health and well being. And so our programme, you know, we came together to think about ways of responding to that in a more proactive way, rather than waiting for decision makers to tell us what’s up for grabs. So we kind of wanted to root the solutions and the thinking and what young people and communities want.

AJ: That’s amazing, and I love what you said there about reaching the solutions in communities who are facing these inequalities. And I think that’s, that’s vital, and it’s so important for us. And, you know, instead of focusing on a top down approach, and just being done too. Actually enabling and equipping young people, especially to be part of making the change happen. So that’s really helpful and I guess we know that you know, co-production has been really critical at the heart of this work. And I wonder if you could just talk us through why that kind of co-production has been such an important element.

AS: Sure, there’s actually a quote by Anna Rose Barker, who was the former chair of the British Youth Council. And she said that “the experience of youth at any one point in time is not one that can ever be shared by older generations”. And if you think about our current climate, none of us can fully understand what it’s like to be young, in the middle of a pandemic, or in the middle of the George Floyd movement, we’ve never been in such a situation before. So, to try and create solutions, without hearing or working with young people who have actively been experiencing what’s going on, is sort of somewhat an upward-hill battle, it doesn’t really work so co-production is important because it allows us to make sure that the solutions, interventions, preventions and research that we’re doing are actually fit for purpose and are relevant. The third sector podcast also spoke about young people in volunteering, and when a young person is involved in co-production, it heightens the passion and the motive to keep going. So by producing a programme alongside young people, not only are we making sure that what we’re doing is meeting the need, in a relevant manner, but we’re also encouraging more passion and more motivation. And young people can really get behind it, because they’ll be able to see what they’ve done from beginning to end. And we engage in co-production in a range of ways. So, sometimes that looks like advising on a suggestion or idea that we already have. Other times, it includes design. So if it’s coming up with the content from beginning to end. Other times, it’s research, actually, we have some peer researchers who work with evaluating and making sure what we’re doing, interviews and things like that are fit for purpose as well. So we have sort of a well rounded approach to co-production because we understand that it’s very hard to try and meet a need without knowing exactly what’s going on in those spaces. And we can’t know because we’re no longer young people. So that’s why co-production is quite important, and no it’s *really* important and why it’s embedded through various elements of our programme.

AJ: Yeah, and thank you for that painful but realistic reminder that we are no longer young. You’re totally right. And I think I mean, part of this is just underpinning all the kind of stance that we want to take about mental health and mental health research and that idea of you know, nothing about us without us. So why would we even dream of doing work around young people and racialised communities and not having them at the forefront of what we’re doing? That makes no sense. But also, what you said is that it’s also a lot more, you know, we know it will actually meet people’s needs, if it’s driven by them. So these kind of feel nonsensical. And yet, it’s, it’s important to recognise that that’s not the way mental health research and policymaking has been done to date. And so it feels obvious, but also it still needs to be hammered home.

AS: Yes. And actually, one thing we’re also working, working on internally is sort of like a co-production “Best Practice Guide”, so that organisations are professionals and people who have are new to that idea will know what to look out for what to do when it comes to co-producing with young people so that they have a bit of a hand in that. So you can watch out for that too, so that more people can get on the wave.

AJ: Amazing. And we will definitely promote that across all our digital channels once that’s out. So yeah, thanks so much for that context Ayanda and why it’s so vital. But I wonder if you can maybe talk us through a bit, kind of what’s happened in the programme so far, like I know, we’re about a year in so Yeah, talk us through that a little bit.

AS: Yes, sure. So we’ve finished our first cohort, which is great, which is one of three actually. And from our first cohort, we saw four amazing projects. So the first one is Team Verity, who’s with us in the building and you can hear from her later. That was more about peer to peer outreach and support. So Team Verity has created a podcast to have a young person, Aaliyah, how is with us and professionals talking about mental health, how to get support, especially digging deeper into sort of young people who’ve experienced sexual assault. So that’s the first project we’ve had. Another project that we’ve done is engaging frontline practitioners through developing a culturally competent resource for practitioners to look out for that was done by Team Engage. Our third one is Not So Micro, which is looking at changing public policy with regards to race-related training and teachers and finding ways to make it mandatory. And finally team change was all about attitudinal change. So they did a couple of workshops trying to break stigmas in ethnic communities with regards to mental health. So, they did different pieces around tackling the stigmas that are around mental health so that more people can get the support that they need. Then now we’re coming into our second cohort. So our new cohort will be starting a whole new bunch of social action projects and our aim is to cause impact on a local and the national level with these social action projects. So we’re quite excited to see what this new group or new cohort comes up with.

AJ: Thanks Ayanda, it’s really exciting to hear about what’s going on so far. And we know that they have already been making change happen. Obviously, we’ll link to all the social action projects in the show notes, and you guys can see for yourselves, but Aaliyah, I wonder if you could maybe speak a little bit to, you know, any kind of progress or impact that has been seen so far.

Aaliyah Mulenga (AM): Yeah, so I’m just a – I think it was a few days ago – I received a message from one of the listeners from the podcast, who said that they were very thankful for the podcast. And what they really liked was the fact that it was raw and honest. It wasn’t just, you know, trying to divert and speak about, you know, the same things that people talk about, it actually went deep, deep into the conversation. So they were really happy that the podcast started, because they felt like they were listening to a friend talk, they felt that they were listening to someone that was close to them speak and stuff. So I think for me, that was the main goal, because I don’t want it like I’m not a professional person. So I don’t want it to be professional, I want it to be personal. Because sexual abuse is personal. And a lot of things that people go through nowadays is very, very personal. There’s a lot of like emotional instability and mental instability and what people most likely need in this time zone, you know, in times like that, they just need like a friend to talk to, a friend to kind of explain to them or just a friend and vent to you. And the podcast that I started, I started it because I wanted to vent myself like, you know, I didn’t have anyone around me to talk to but I just wanted to talk I just wanted to speak. So creating the platform, I think just by hearing her comments, and just by hearing her reviews, it’s nice to know that it’s a friend to people who they can just listen to and actually gain valuable information about what they’re going through and how they can also help themselves.

AJ:That is so cool, Aaliyah, I’m really excited to hear about that. Yeah. And obviously, we will link to your podcast in the show notes. But it’s exactly what you said, isn’t it that people just need a relatable voice, who can say actually, yeah, me too, you’re not on your own with this. So, I’m really excited that Changemakers is provided a space where these kinds of social action projects can can come to life and to become realised. These ideas. Tell me a little bit more about your experience of joining the programme and creating this idea of the Verity podcast.

AM:So um, at first joining the programme was a little bit confused, because I joined through, I think a, I don’t know if it’s a partnering organisation, but it was another organisation that kind of told me to join and stuff like that. So I wasn’t really sure what the programme was really about. But when we went to the retreat and stuff, that’s when I kind of had more of an idea of what it is that you guys were trying to do. And I think for me, it was more incredible, because when I stepped into the room, I didn’t know who I was in the room with, if that makes sense. There was a TikToker there that I’d seen like like for a week, at least every single day, I saw one of her videos on Tiktok. I was thinking like, “Oh God, they know you too”. So you know, it was like a place where like, I felt very under qualified being there. But I also thought like, it was a great opportunity for someone that is under qualified, because to be in a room with people that have so many different experiences, so many different networks and connections, and you can actually, who are actually there to help you and not just to listen to you. I think that was what was great for me. So when I went there, and then I met Dr. Trevor, I met Haley Melinda in person and so many other like people from The Diana Award and stuff like that it was just kind of like, oh my god, these people want to make a difference. So that was my experience kind of just being astonished that there’s a group of people or group of individuals and companies that actually want to make a difference, not just in anyone’s life, but especially in the ethnic minority. So for me, that was like, okay, cool. What can I like, How can I, you know, how can I be a part of this? I’m already a part of this, but how can I myself make a difference? So when it first started, I was just kind of like, okay, let me just present them the podcast that I already started, you know, everything’s rosy. But then when I started to actually see how deep you guys were trying to go, how far you guys were trying to go. It made me expand my idea of the podcast even more, because I don’t just want to talk to people actually want to provide them with knowledge and wisdom and understanding. So just being in a room full of people that were excited, passionate, and that had, you know, ways to actually help and resources to help as well. I thought let me just meet this idea even bigger than it already is. And yeah, Verity was birthed from there and it’s just been great because from them, it’s like things haven’t stopped. I got into contact with Dr. Trevor, who opened so many other doors for me, allowed me to meet so many different people and then Verity has now turned into something that not only looking to be a podcast, but something that also wants to help the education system, because now I’m training to be a teacher, and I’m noticing so many things from that as well and I’m just like, okay, cool. The education system needs to change because it’s not only it’s not just kids that – it’s not just normal kids – I don’t know what the best way to describe it is. But there’s kids with learning disabilities, ADHD, behaviour problems who are being left out of classes, they’re being neglected, they’re just being basically given a toy and being told to just sit in the corner. And I’m like, No, this is not right. But then you can’t blame the teachers, because the teachers are stressed. So, I’m like okay, how can we help the system. So it’s just like Verity has now turned into something more than just mental health, it wants to help out the education system itself. i forgot about the trauma I faced in primary school, when it came to teachers shouting at you and calling you lazy. So it’s like, it’s just a really, really great opportunity. Like, I’m happy to have been involved in this.

AJ: Aaliyah, it’s so excited to hear about you talk about this. And I feel like we were all just sitting here beaming, just listening to talk about it, because it’s so exciting. And your passion for it is really obvious. And it’s just also, yeah, that you kind of came in and said, Oh, I feel a bit underqualified but being in that room with other people, you know, gave you the encouragement to kind of let those dreams fly and let those ideas rip kind of thing, and kind of the evolution of the podcast. It’s just so exciting. And you’re obviously completely right, that there’s a lot that needs to change in the education system. And it feels like that links in with the Not So Micro group, and their work around microaggression training for teachers. So it’s just, it is really exciting to listen to you talk about it. And, you know, the passion and the ideas. So, yeah, just love it.

AM: No, thank you guys. You started it.

AJ: And I mean, I guess talking maybe more reflectively, how is being involved in Changemakers? How is it kind of impacted you?

AM: I think it’s made me think about my professional life a lot more than just my personal life. When the podcast was started, was just like, everything’s rosy, just everything was just about me. But the way how the programme has impacted me is that it’s allowed me to kind of like, have a wider perspective on life. Like, I know that I go through things, but there’s also a lot of people out there who also go through things. Not just people who are suffering with mental health problem, there’s, there’s like a network of just situations happening all at the same time. So what the programme has, has done for me, it allowed me to notice the gaps in our societies, like it’s allowed me to notice that, okay, cool. There’s issues here, there’s issues and issues there. It’s just pointed out a lot of things that actually need help and it’s also allowed me to know that as much as I can have all of these ideas I can’t do it all by myself, like the, like the programme itself, you’re meant to work in a team, you’re meant to be networking, you’re meant to be talking to different people with different qualifications, and all that kind of stuff. And it’s a lot for one person, just kind of want to change the whole of society in general. But you know, starting out being black, being a girl, being young and stuff like that, like, it’s, it’s allowed me to know that, you’re not gonna get this straight away. Take it easy, because you know, you need patience with yourself. And you also need patience for things to change and stuff like that. But one thing is like, just keep your eye out and like, just look out for what’s missing. Like, if you can fix it, then go ahead and fix it. But, always remember to ask for help. Because I think one thing, at the retreat that I literally noticed is that everyone is just being like, very, very helpful. Like literally so helpful – like “oh my God, do you need that” Very, very helpful. It’s okay to ask for help. It’s okay to accept help as well. And I’m one person, I’m very stubborn, and I’m very independent, and I don’t like asking for help. I will not pick up the phone that could be dying and I will not pick up the phone. But if you really want to make a change in society, if you really want to make a difference, you need to pick up the phone like you need to actually ask someone who has 10 years, 15 years of experience, okay, this is what I’m struggling with, how can I you know, change this? how can I deal with it? So I think for me, the programme has just allowed me to be more human than just a machine that just goes and goes and goes like, I’m literally learning to take time and just go with the day as he is like. Since the programme started, I’ve gotten in contact with so many people I’ve had so many opportunities come at me and the way how my head works is like okay, cool. Go, just go just go, just go. But that’s not how life works. So it’s just kind of like patience. You gonna get there, just take it step by step like this week do this, that week do this. It’s just kind of like, it’s given me patience with myself, basically, I think that’s one thing I can definitely say is, but it’s given me a lot of patience for myself. 

AJ: Oh, thank you so much for sharing that with us. It’s really cool to hear your reflections on like, how it’s  impacted you both as you think about your career and your future and the activism that you’re doing. But also like, the way you’ve been able to reflect on like, the Yeah, the personal impact it’s had and that idea of patience. I loved your observation about, you know, it can feel really overwhelming to try and think, oh, I’ve got to change the whole of society, it’s all screwed, and it’s all on me. I think that’s something we can all relate to that feeling of like, things are sometimes really bad, and like, what do we do, but that idea of like the need for collaboration, and a shared effort to get there. And also, like you say, like it being okay to ask for help, and  that kind of sense of self care and needing to look after yourself whilst also trying to like really make a difference. And so yeah, that’s really powerful to hear.

AS: The impact the programme has had, I guess, both professionally and personally, is seeing just how ambitious and creative and solution driven young people are, when given the opportunity to do so. I know there’s a statistic, I think it’s from the “I will” campaign that talks about how it’s 4 in 10 young people at the moment that engage in social action, but giving a space and a platform for young people to all come together and seeing that in real time, was quite incredible. In some of the projects, we’ve had just to touch on lightly, for example, Not So Micro has now got connections with either schools or teachers or different organisations that are passionate about the same thing and getting the ball rolling. So being able to see what started off as small social action projects go bigger, sort of encouraged me in a hopeful sense, both professionally and personally, to know that actually, we are making changes, and we are making progress and if you give people the opportunity to walk through the door, they will. So it’s just looking at how do we get more young people involved in this programme, so that they can affect change wherever they are at because there is young people with great ideas. They just need to be able to do that. And I’m grateful that our programme offers that.

AJ: Yeah, that’s amazing. I love that fact, the idea that like it gives us hope. And I think that’s really what I’m feeling like, as we have this conversation, just the fact that there is there is hope. And that as we’ve said, like even though things are really tricky in society, and  inequalities are really harming young people and we can see that in the data. But the fact is, that’s not the end of the story, the idea that there is, yeah, hope that progress is being made. And that as you say, young people have got the tools, they’ve got the ideas, we just need to give them the space to realise them and to play that out. So yeah, but for a lot of reasons, this project really gives me hope. So obviously, as we’ve said, we’re only kind of one year down out of three, but any kind of key learnings so far from our work alongside it, our evaluation?

KA: Yeah, so. Our evaluations still underway and obviously, we’ve not really published findings yet. To touch on a little bit about what we’ve been finding so far, I guess from a sort of young people’s perspective, a real sort of like sense of increased understanding and confidence, talking about mental health. So through their sort of like youth development journey that was put on for them, by the Diana Award, and in partnership with other organisations, really just kind of hearing and learning more about mental health and feeling more equipped to sort of talk about it, their own mental health and also amongst their peers, also building and gaining new skills around like social action planning and delivery research, public speaking, I think like Changemakers, so far, have been invited and spoke at nearly a dozen different conferences and events, both internally for our organisations, but also at big conferences. So two of our Changemakers, for example, spoke recently at the Triumph Network Conference in Edinburgh, to talk about their projects and their work. And also, of course, gaining skills around like policy influencing, which is, you know, Not So Micro is an example of that. And, you know, using some of the insight from the programme to feed into things like the court for evidence for the 10 year mental health plan that the government’s developing, that’s like, a big opportunity for us to influence. And yeah, just like sort of earlier, Aaliyah already touched on this, but like, young people reporting that like the value of connecting with other like-minded young people and experts in this space, just really helping to strengthen young people’s networks. And this has been like, especially important in the context of COVID-19, where you can kind of feel disconnected from people. Yeah, another thing we’ve been learning is just really thinking about how we can take a more localised approach with the programme. So, this year through UK Youth and its partners, we’re really just thinking about how we equip and support youth workers to work with Changemakers in a more direct way. And this is especially important, again, going back to what Aaliyah touched on earlier, just really the value of having that face to face support and meeting opportunities. So we learned, again, from putting on that residential and the celebration event, that just the power of being in a room together, and bouncing off each other’s energy and, you know, supporting each other. As you can imagine, trying to bring a lot of people who don’t know each other together through Zoom isn’t always ideal, especially if it’s like after school and like, you’re knackered already. So I think like, we’re hoping that for cohort two and three, like that shift towards that more sort of face-based approach will make a big difference. We’ve also had huge interest from the wider sector, like the wider youth and mental health sector, who are all quite keen to think about ways of reducing racial inequalities. So you know, again, we’ve been connecting with people like the Children and Young People’s Mental Health Coalition, and others, to share our learning and see how we can kind of galvanise more support within the sector. And then I guess the last thing I’ll touch on as well, and then Aaliyah and Ayanda, please shout at me. So, the thoughts on this is just really, a key objective in this programme is to like plug the gap in evidence base around young people’s mental health and racial inequalities, as well as like the impact of racism itself. So this year, our Children & Young People’s Researcher, Huong, at the Centre worked with Changemakers, who are also peer researchers to produce a rapid evidence review. So you can check out our report called “A Voice For Change”. This really kind of consolidates the data and evidence we have around young people’s mental health and racial inequalities. And I guess, just overall, there’s a real sort of limitation and shortage of up to date evidence around young people’s mental health. And, you know, we rely quite heavily on international studies in this space, which sometimes are not always, like, relevant to the UK context, specifically. So, you know, we really kind of through this programme want to work with young people to like, build our insights on issues and topics that matter to them the most. Again, one way that we’re trying to do this, that’s coming up is working with Not So Micro to develop a survey for teachers, so we can understand the need and the scale of anti-racism and anti-microaggression training in schools. So over the next few weeks, please do keep a lookout for that, we’ll be launching that survey. And yeah, if we can get as much support and people out there, completing it to help us make that case for mandatory training. But yeah, we need that evidence as well to kind of convince decision-makers in the space.

AJ: Amazing. Do you guys want to want to add anything into what Kadra was saying on sort of the learning so far?

AS: Not really, but I have a bit of shameless plugging to do.  So one of the things we were doing at the Diana Award was that we started a respect programme, which falls under our anti-bullying side of things. And two of the areas we’re covering, first of all, the first one is anti-racism and race-related bullying and then the other one is regards to sexual and gender-related bullying. So those two, if you’re interested in those types of things, then do reach out because we are happy to go around different schools and talk about these topics to young people and teachers so that we can change the experiences of young people who identify in both of those groups.

AJ: Amazing. Thanks so much for plugging that, that’s really useful. And again, we will link in the show notes. Yeah. What to say after all that? Thank you so much for sharing some of those learnings for us, Kadra. It just feels like as we’ve been talking, I’ve just been so aware of the way that this project mirrors what we at the Centre are trying to do, in terms of addressing really pervasive racial inequalities and the impact that they have on children’s mental health and all the way through life and  lifetime but also that really critical point of centralising lived experience and co-production and putting the people who we are talking about at the centre of the conversation. So I’m, I am really just so excited by this project will continue to share updates about it on our digital channels. So, keep watching out for that. Thank you so much Kadra, thank you Ayanda and thank you Aaliyah, for giving up your time today and for sharing your perspectives, it’s just been wonderful to hear more.


Thank you. Thank you. Thank you.

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