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An independent evaluation by J H Consulting into our Avon and Somerset SOS+ Virtual Mentoring project has “delivered exceptionally well given the unprecedented situation posed by the pandemic.” The project, which ran from November 2020 to March this year, helped to prevent vulnerable young people from becoming involved in or exploited by serious youth violence and criminal activity, such as county lines, with online awareness raising sessions for young people, key professionals and parents, as well as virtual one-to-one mentoring sessions.
Funded by the North Somerset Violence Reduction Unit, the Sedgemoor Serious and Organised Crime Co-ordinator, and Avon & Somerset Police via Operation Topaz, the project has reached over 5,300 people.
The evaluation praised our team’s ‘flexibility and commitment’, and their ability to adapt services to the frequent changes of lockdown rules and the challenges for a team who usually present to people in person. With schools closed, it was vital that our team were still able to reach high-risk young people and build relationships with them and their schools, and connecting them with professionals such as counsellors.
Feedback from the schools was incredibly positive, including:
“Having worked in schools for a very long time, I’ve never seen the students captivated like that. It was hard hitting, but in the right away and it spoke to them.” Student Support Officer
“We’ve got some Year 11s, and they were transfixed. And the staff were mesmerised. To hear someone’s life story in a presentation is very different, very powerful. We have a real confidence in working with St Giles.” Pastoral Lead
The greater degree of support our mentors were able to provide was a significant help to families, and a ‘much needed and welcomed feature of the virtual mentoring program.’ One parent said, “It’s so positive to have St Giles, a blessing because they can communicate with my daughter…at the drop of a hat. He’s like a family member. He’s got her best interest at heart.”
Given the complex issues the young people faced, it was not anticipated that many would demonstrate positive lifestyle changes at the end of 12 weeks which were sustainable. But the report noted that ‘what is impressive is the progress that they made in such a short amount of time’.
Finally, it was hearing from the young people which really showed the effectiveness of the program:
“When I was involved in the county lines stuff, I had to work 8am to 2am every day. I was so tired, I got no sleep, I was stressed out and couldn’t go to school. Now it’s really different. I’m the most attentive student in the school! The teachers like me.”
“I used to chill with bad kids, drinking under the bridge. Now I’m with kids my own age, in the skate park and places like that – stuff that’s normal for my age. I’m not in trouble anymore. And I’m doing really, really well in school.”