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Supporting vulnerable young people continues during coronavirus through vital Downham Market project

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A Downham-based youth project has ensured young people continue to receive the support they need during the coronavirus outbreak including through one-to-one sessions and Zoom meetings.

The Swan Youth Project, located in the former school building on Paradise Road, respond to the needs of those aged between 8-18-years-old within Downham and surrounding villages.

In total, there are 250 young people registered to the project with 100 of them requiring engagement during the pandemic for "mild or emerging mental health issues".

Picture: Swan Youth Project (34912399)
Picture: Swan Youth Project (34912399)

Project manger Anna Foster and youth worker Rhiannon Eagle have continued to offer support and have made use of communicative forms such as WhatsApp Messenger in order to keep in touch with youngsters.

Mrs Foster said: "Mental health support is needed during this time when people are isolating and being stuck inside with their families, which can create its own tensions. It's really important for young people to have that support right now as the novelty of lockdown is starting to wear off for some.

"With a lot of the school community not going back until September, it is really starting to hit them so we try to keep them busy."

Picture: Swan Youth Project (34912403)
Picture: Swan Youth Project (34912403)

As well as bookable one-to-one sessions, the project offers a check-in service for welfare, vocational taster courses, Roblox sessions, support packs and the c-card scheme providing sexual health support.

Pamper packs have also been delivered for those in need, including young people living in Outwell, Upwell and Elm. The Norfolk Community Foundation has granted funding to help with this scheme.

The size of the old school building means the project has plenty of space to offer support during the pandemic, while also ensuring safety is maintained. The project is conscious of being "Covid aware" when arranging sessions.

Mrs Foster explained: "We can't just have people coming in without warning but we can text or message to book a session. Some young people are really isolated so on their daily walk they can arrange to come and talk to us about any issues with home, school work or if they are feeling lonely."

During term-time the project would normally offer young carers groups and multisport sessions to support confidence and self-esteem.

The registered charity is also a delivery partner for the Princes Trust Achieve Programme, providing educational support to young people.

Rhiannon Eagle started as a volunteer with the project and is now employed as a youth worker. She said: "We are still doing quite a lot considering the circumstances. We are actively engaging as much as we can through one-to-ones where young people can come into the centre. It is generally the most vulnerable or concerned. We try to continuously be positive."

In terms of the coronavirus impact, she added: "It's a worrying time generally for everyone but we are lucky to have a big centre with a system in place for one-to-ones so that people follow a path to a handwashing sink and sanitiser. We have three really large rooms."

Picture: Swan Youth Project (34912401)
Picture: Swan Youth Project (34912401)

The Swan Project states its aims are to "create appropriate settings that facilitate the growth and development of the children and young people from our area and beyond".

This includes providing a safe place for young people to spend time with their peers, offering educational and health activities as well as unbiased and on-the-spot support and information.

Mrs Foster, who has been at the centre for two years, said it is a "constant battle" to keep funding coming in. She added that the project does not get any statutory funding through grants and donations, but West Norfolk Council has supported them in the past.

For more information on the project visit www.swanyouthproject.org or www.facebook.com/theswanproject1/

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