“It’s through these relationships that real, tangible change can happen.”
Dan Beedell joined east to west 10 years ago after discovering them at a local church. Originally a part time Relational Support Worker, Dan is now part of the senior leadership team and an enthusiastic champion of the charity and its fundraising.
“The reason why east to west are so effective at what they do is that we take the time to build relationships with those we support. Because we know them, we know what is happening, and we have a better understanding as to why. It’s through these relationships that real, tangible change can happen.”
east to west is a Surrey based charity supporting over 1,000 local children, young people and their families. The children and young people who work with east to west often struggle with self-harming, bullying, broken family relationships, abuse and homelessness. Through one to one and group sessions east to west listen and care for each young person they support. Their help often goes beyond listening; accompanying children to doctor’s appointments or food banks, or connecting them with a social worker or specialist counsellor.
In the wake of the pandemic, these needs have intensified. More and more we are seeing how the effects of lockdown have taken a greater toll on the mental health and wellbeing of our young people. Dan says, “in essence schools closed overnight, yet those we work with didn’t suddenly disappear. Their needs were still just as important on the day after lockdown as they were the day before.”
Nearly a third of young people in the UK who received mental health services and support prior to the pandemic are now unable to access support. The crisis has compounded existing inequalities and spiked abuse. And during this mental health “epidemic” young people are battling feelings of isolation, anxiety about the world they’re inheriting and frustration about being left out of the discussion about their own recovery.
Dan continues, “the reality is that the pressures on children’s and young people’s mental health are increasing significantly. We are seeing children and young people unable to understand or verbalise how or what they are feeling and what is expressed is anger, upset or frustration.”
Dan stresses that relationships are the key to east to west’s success, and it’s through their earned, trusted rapport with young people that they are able to make a difference, “we recognise that some wellbeing and mental health issues can be resolved relatively quickly… it may be a case of someone needing to offload to someone they trust, however for many of those we support, there is no quick fix and time and a commitment to being there to support is what is needed.”
In March, when lockdown happened, most mental health services were forced to quickly shift to online support. For young people this shift was not always easy; many had concerns about privacy at home and others faced gaps in their access to technology. The Community Foundation for Surrey has been there to help east to west keep crucial relationships intact. By providing an initial emergency response grant, the charity did not have to furlough any staff and could continue to work alongside young people to keep that all important connection. When east to west found people struggled to engage through phone calls, they eventually moved online, learning and growing with the young people themselves about what works best.
Most recently, a grant of £50,000 has been awarded by the Foundation to a group of 8 Surrey charities – including east to west – to help deal with the surge in demand for children and young people’s mental health services following the Coronavirus Pandemic.
It is currently unknown what the long-term effects of lockdown and the pandemic will be on our young people. For Dan effective mental health support is a long-term commitment hinging on investing time and energy into developing trusting relationships with young people. In his words, “if I had one word of advice to those reading this… invest in the young people you’re supporting… it sounds simple, but it is so effective!”