Mind Matters: How tackling loneliness taught us the power of community among care leavers

‘You gave me the opportunity to create memories taken for granted by many others – normally family type of trips we miss out on. I actually have something to look back on for what is one of the most unsettled/lonely parts of a care-experienced young person’s life.’
Mind Matters participant

Poor mental wellbeing is commonly associated with care-experienced young people. Their experiences in lacking positive family or peer groups support can also introduce a sense of loneliness. But positive activities can help to shift the state of mind to a brighter outlook.

Our Mind Matters project was launched in 2020 after Leicester City Council asked Leicestershire Cares to explore the mental wellbeing needs of local care-experienced young people. After one year of the project these are our findings:

Co-production of Mind Matters

Leicestershire Cares set up a consultation team made up of five care-experienced young people to develop the initial plan for the project’s purpose (strengthen their resilience and wellbeing), its scope, deliverables and its name. We held three meetings to discuss the project and what it could deliver for young people, including discussions of the impact of the pandemic on young people’s mental health and isolation, high levels of boredom, lack of connectivity and poor eating habits. Ideas for the Fakeaways, crafternoons and regular online social sessions emerged from these discussions. This co-production model gave the care-experienced young people tools as well as ownership of the solutions that would help to improve their wellbeing.

Online activities

At the start of lockdown, we quickly moved our support online and provided young people with data SIMs and/or laptops to ensure they could access digital activities. When Mind Matters started in July 2021, we already had a few months’ experience of delivering engaging virtual activities and built on this to ensure that Mind Matters was a success. We used our findings from our ‘Life Under Lockdown’ report (May 2020) to create a programme that would be robust, practical and inclusive. Crafternoons engaged eight young people in a six-week programme of arts and crafts activities on Zoom, along with a facilitator who encouraged them to use arts and crafts as a way of improving wellbeing. The young people reported feeling more relaxed, less anxious, and enjoyed learning a new hobby together.

Doing these activities [arts and craft sessions] allows me spread my creativity to others and that is my passion. As I have anxiety, I don’t cope well in groups but having a thing to do, takes your mind off of being in a group and you just start having conversations with people.
Mind Matters participant

Fakeaways was a great success. This fortnightly Zoom cooking session – taught by a professional cooking tutor from the Adult Education Centre, involved young people making healthy versions of the takeaways they had been buying during lockdown. The young people were then empowered to run the sessions themselves, sharing recipes that connected them to their estranged families and heritage and promoting conversations about their shared lived experience.

We had 12 regular attendees at Fakeaways, and occasionally more, and the session feedback was very positive, reporting improved confidence, money saving, healthier eating and weight loss. Those with children noted that cooking together helped to improve their relationship with their child.

The confidence I have gained cooking for myself is incredible. I never thought I would be able to make tasty dishes for under £10 and really enjoy them too!
Mind Matters participant

I have saved so much money not buying microwave meals and getting rid of my fear of feeling I can’t cook. Thank you!
Mind Matters participant

Coming out of lockdown

Young people joined weekly online Chill & Chat sessions featuring film nights, quizzes, and general chats. In the autumn we were able to hold socially distanced outdoor activities, including picnics, healthy eating sessions at a local community allotment, an outdoor Christmas party, a barbecue, canoeing at the Outdoor Pursuits Centre, wood carving and gardening projects. In total, over 30 young people took part in these activities, the majority of whom said that they had helped them reconnect with other young people and feel less isolated.

Being able to see people’s faces and have a face-to-face conversations feels so natural, but has been something that has been so hard to find over these last five months. It’s opportunities like this that Leicestershire Cares offer that are so positive for me holistically.
Mind Matters participant

Long-term benefits

As well as gaining new cooking skills and an understanding of healthy eating from Fakeaways, young people said that the social activities have given them more confidence in engaging with others, given them a sense of belonging and helped them feel able to talk about their experience of being in care.

Being involved in the activities that Leicestershire Cares run means that I am able to get out and be more involved in activities which involve socialising in a group. It allows me to meet new people and feel part of a team.
Mind Matters participant

My confidence has increased and I feel safer talking about my real life as a care-experienced person. Leicestershire Cares gave me a safe space to recognise it’s okay to embrace that part of myself.
Mind Matters participant

Some spoke about feeling more independent which has encouraged them to consider what they want to do next in terms of volunteering, training or employment, and how their decisions could support their mental health.

It helped me become more confident and helps you towards independence… I’d like opportunities to try vol or paid jobs to do with animals. I think that would improve my mental health.
Mind Matters participant

While others have appreciated the chance to catch up on life that was on hold, and to create memories that many traditional families take for granted.

You also gave me the opportunity to create memories taken for granted by many others, like Go-karting and Beaumanor Hall – normally family type trips we miss out on. I actually have something to look back on for what is one of the most unsettled/lonely parts of a care-experienced young person’s life.
Mind Matters participant

Going forwards

As lockdown restrictions ease, we’ll return more to face-to-face delivery, but we’ll also maintain a hybrid model of both online and face-to-face support. We feel that virtual delivery has a role to play, especially for young people who have travel anxiety or are very busy with other commitments (e.g. college) and want to join via video call.

Our steering group suggested what they would want from the programme if it would continue such as including more focus around how to manage mental health and develop positive thinking; social activities to develop life skills; and activities which promote physical fitness as well as mental wellbeing.

I really enjoy any opportunity to get outside and do something especially with other CEP. It gives me a chance to socialise in that safe space and kick myself out of bed that day. Practical things are particularly good i.e. cooking and woodworking as they can have real life applications.
Mind Matters participant

The young people also identified that the power of ‘giving back’ and connecting with their local community has an effect on their self-esteem and mental wellbeing. They suggested they might raise money for a local cause in various ways, i.e. a sponsored 24-hour gaming marathon, cake bake, art auction or a sponsored walk.

The steering group also introduced the idea of a life coach as a useful support for those who might want specific advice on how to progress towards their goals. Leicestershire Cares has recently started a business volunteer mentoring programme for care-experienced young people. We’re finding that some of the outcomes are improving mental wellbeing, and overall, the widening of these young people’s networks are helping them to grow.

Leicestershire Cares is a wonderful organisation to work with. The commitment and passion for supporting young people is evident from early interactions. The innovation in project development and commitment to agreed outcomes has been outstanding!
Diana Dorozkinaite, Business Change Commissioning Manager, Leicester City Council

For more information about our work with care-experienced young people, please contact Jacob Brown.

To read the full article, visit the Leicestershire Cares website.