After a year of predominantly online work, we had an incredible final term of the 2020-21 school year – after a year of very limited in-person contact, we found ourselves spending time in person with children and young people every day!
Our top highlight of our sudden surge of in-person work was our Safe Spaces in secondary schools. Pre-pandemic we held a ‘Safe Space’ in a classroom or other indoor area in school. We would explore the big issues of life and faith with young people via one to one, small group and whole room conversations. Due to covid restrictions, we knew that as secondary schools started enquiring again we wouldn’t be able to run our usual lunch clubs across multiple year groups and that being indoors with young people wasn’t the safest option. We therefore prayed and took time to think about what we could offer to schools that would really help young people at this difficult time.
We came up with the idea of running Safe Spaces outdoors, in the yard with a focus on mental health support and the pupils having someone to talk to. After being invited into one school to do some 1-1 mentoring and support with a survey to see how the students were doing after a year of pandemic, we posed the idea of outdoor Safe Spaces, which was met with a very enthusiastic ‘yes’!
Very soon after this conversation, we began the first outdoor Safe Space, setting up a branded gazebo on the yard and wearing our branded hoodies with ‘Youth Worker’ on the back so it was clear who we were. We spoke to almost the whole of Year 7 on the first lunchtime session, which was incredible and slightly overwhelming after a year of little face to face contact. Many of the pupils knew us from Primary School, which meant most conversations were initiated by the pupils themselves. We were able to have some general conversations about how they were doing and some more in depth conversations about the struggles that they were facing. It was a privilege to be able to be there to listen and be there for them.
Following the success of the 1st Safe Space, we were soon in 4 Secondary Schools per week, sometimes doing multiple lunchtime sessions for multiple year groups. We have had many conversations where young people have opened up to us and we have been able to work with school to ensure that additional support is given. One young person spent the whole lunchtime with us after saying that they were struggling with friendships, felt very down and didn’t feel they had anyone to talk to. After a very long conversation and some positive input from a wonderful Christian staff member, the student spoke to the staff member that week and was able to receive additional support through school. The week after the student looked so much happier, verbalised that they were doing better and was being much more sociable.
Due to the relaxed nature of Safe Space and the resources that we have taken with us, conversations around faith have been easily initiated by the young people. We have had many conversations and questions about the Christian Faith, with young people discussing faith with their friends, which isn’t something they normally do. Naturally, being in the midst of a pandemic, prayer is something that we’ve been able to have many conversations about, which has been amazing.
As we think about moving forwards, we’ve been often been struck with the thought of “Why didn’t we always do it this way before?!” Being outside in the yard has had the most amazing feeling of “going out” to where the young people are at, being present in their space – rather than expecting them to come to us hidden away in a classroom. Perhaps there’s a wider lesson their for mission and ministry with all sorts of ages!
If you’d like to find out more about running an outdoor Safe Space, or enquire about having run one in a secondary school you’re connected to (or even an event you might be organising), please do get in touch!