WHAT MATTERS TO THE SOUTH WEST
Don’t forget the youth

Young people are struggling to transition from education into work because of a shortage of jobs and the disruption created by COVID-19, the panellists said. More apprenticeships could help address the issue, they said, as well as more support for employers who create opportunities for the youth. There is currently a mental health crisis amongst the youth in the South West, participants said.

Bea Bolton, a student in Devon, said: “Young people can’t function if their mental health is not good but counselling is very expensive. We need a more affordable approach and to reduce mental health waiting lists. My best friend killed himself due to mental health issues. He was let down by all the job services and mental health services.“ Maggie Ayre, Regional Manager at Young Enterprise, also called for more financial education for young people, which could help them cope better with money challenges. She said that these programmes must be delivered when children are young in order to build financial knowledge and resilience early.

Lack of infrastructure in rural communities

The panellists said that many people who used to commute to London for work are now struggling to work from home because of connectivity issues. They warned that this may prompt an exodus of skilled workers from the South West. “We need a green, sustainable culture based around local communities that stops people leaving to the big city hubs,” said Sacha Romanovich, CEO of Fair4AllFinance, which helps vulnerable people access financial advice.

The panellists also warned that students from rural areas have really struggled this year because of isolation, anxiety and fears over the future. Another issue that is often experienced by young people in rural areas is limited access to jobs and work experience, the participants warned.

More support for the elderly

The panellists warned that the South West is home to an elderly population, which has struggled during 2020. “We’ve seen Age UK shut all its day centres in East Devon because of COVID,” says Libby Price, Director of The Filo Project, which supports individuals with dementia. “There are lots of disempowered older people here, and we have a carer crisis.” In areas like Devon and Somerset, the elderly population is “a silent majority without a voice”, she added, and they are currently at risk. The participants flagged multigenerational living projects as a possible solution, to also tackle the issue of lack of affordable housing. The panellists revealed that the COVID-19 crisis has helped bring communities together to tackle challenges like loneliness amongst older people. They flagged that the pandemic is nonetheless challenging social cohesion within rural communities in particular, and these kinds of initiatives must remain a priority to protect the elderly and most vulnerable. Libby Price commented that it is imperative that “the vital services elderly people in our communities rely on are sustained so that they’ll not only provide support and safeguard our most vulnerable now, but will also still be there for them in the future.”

They praised the efforts of grassroots organisations but warned of the dangers of working in “bubbles”, arguing that support initiatives for society’s most vulnerable need to become more “systemic” and connected if they are to sustain communities for the long term. They said that insights and resources needed to be shared across organisations, and efforts co-ordinated, to make a real impact.

STANDOUT INITIATIVES

Building a sustainable future in Exeter

Exeter has made a commitment to become carbon-neutral by 2030. Exeter City Futures was created to bring Exeter’s businesses, individuals, communities and leaders together and provide the coordination and focus needed to deliver the city’s carbon ambitions.

Supporting vulnerable people

Earlier this year, the Exmouth Mutual Aid Group was created to provide coordinated assistance to those in self-isolation with urgent needs, such as food or medication. The group sourced volunteers on Facebook and successfully supported the local community.

Helping young people for 70 years

Young Devon is the largest young people’s charity in the South West. Each year, it works with over 2,000 young people, providing mental health support, access to accommodation and even job placements.

A mental health champion

The Blurt Peer Project is a peer-to-peer project focused on improving the mental health of young people aged 4-24. It works through schools across the UK to help destigmatise the issue of poor mental health and teach resilience and self-care to young people.

IEP BOOST Social Innovator

ToolShed supports young people who left school with minimal to no qualifications through training and work experience in construction.

ToolShed has been able to scale its offer to young people through introductions made by the BOOST programme to several housing and construction companies, including Golding Homes, MTVH, Landsec, Mears and Skanska. In addition, connections to the Education and Skills Funding Agency unlocked the opportunity for Toolshed to significantly increase the learners they support.

PARTNERSHIP OPPORTUNITIES

Equality of opportunity:

Work together to provide people with equality of opportunity across all communities in the South West, for example by investing in connectivity and digital inclusion in rural areas and providing the necessary infrastructure, including skills hubs, to support a new generation of entrepreneurs and remote workers.

Young people:

Increase opportunities for young people who are struggling to find employment, especially in rural areas where there is a lack of infrastructure and support. For example, promote entrepreneurial role models that young people can identify with, match education with employment opportunities in a place-based approach and provide opportunities for work experience.

Mental health:

Implement, support and provide funding for robust mental health programmes for young people, and focus on reducing waiting lists for critical service provision. Additionally, support young peoples’ resilience early on with better financial education to help them cope better with future money challenges.