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A team of footballers from Whitley Bay took on the 2000km run from the North East town to Barcelona in an epic lockdown virtual challenge.

The 13 footballers from Whitley Bay Sporting Club U12 Lionesses, along with their families and coaches, took three months to virtually run to Nou Camp, the famous home of Barcelona FC.

Coaches Lewis Crane and Kevin Thomas set the girls the challenge to keep them fit and motivated when the country went into its third full lockdown in January 2021.  Kevin said, “It was a new thing for the girls, they usually train once a week and play matches once a week, so heading out for regular runs was something very different for them.  It was a really good way for them to stay active and connected with their friends during lockdown”.

Each of the team logged their miles and finally broke the 2000km barrier on 11 April this year on the beach at Whitley Bay.

The team cross the finish line on the beach at Whitley Bay.

Kevin went on to say, “A few of the girls have really found running enjoyable and have carried on running regularly even though we’re back to being able to train.

I’m so proud of the team and how they continued to stay engaged with this challenge.  Hopefully, we can take them to Barcelona for real one day, although we might take a shorter flight next time.”

The team have previously raised money for us with a New Year’s Day dip in January 2020, and chose to continue supporting us raising an amazing £569.00 to support babies, children and young people across the North East.

Claire Austin, CounsellorIt’s Mental Health Awareness Week 10 – 16 May 2021.  In this blog, Claire Austin, one of our amazing Counsellors at our Young People’s Service, gives us more insight into flashbacks.

We hear the term “flashbacks” mentioned so easily sometimes or being “triggered.”  A flashback is something that comes from trauma, something that doesn’t feel nice.  When a person who experiences this says they are “triggered” they literally mean a thing has happened or been said that gives them a flashback.

But what is a flashback and how do we identify what it feels like for us?

My work mainly focuses on working with young people impacted by sexual and domestic violence.  My experience of flashbacks comes from my own lived experience and that of what young people share.

A flashback is commonly identified as a memory from a past trauma that feels as if it is taking place in that current moment.  Feeling as if the traumatic experience is happening again.

What I hear so often is how flashbacks occur in so many forms but it’s not always understood why or even that it’s a flashback occurring.  Someone can feel the emotions again even if they don’t “see” the memory in their mind, or they may feel some of the physical sensations again and not know why.

In counselling, there are many different ways to work with flashbacks, the best being within a therapeutic space with your counsellor.  By first understanding the experience is a flashback, it can be a great start to unpicking the power it has and how we learn to start controlling it.

When a traumatic experience occurs all our senses are ignited, our brain kicks into survival mode and we do what we can at that time to stay alive.  What happens next is our memory starts to hold onto the experience through our senses and starts to store it in different places.  Our flashbacks occur when these areas become heightened after the experience – touch, smell, taste, image, colour, places – these can all be factors that heighten these stored senses and cause the image to ‘replay’ in our mind.  It doesn’t always make sense, but your brain is kicking back into these negative associations and making you feel unsafe and scared.  It’s also common for this to happen through our dreams, someone can relive the experience in the dream and it feels even more like it doesn’t make sense.  Working with dreams feels important for me, it’s a huge part of our processing to explore and attempt to make sense of our dreams.  This can be another huge step in taking control of the links our subconscious makes.

There are many ways to work with flashbacks, but a nice place to start is with our deep breaths – breathing is something that is always in our control.  There’s no special technique to this, just in and out through the nose, I call it an equal breath.

Breathe in 1…2…3 and breathe out 1…2…3. 

Our breath is a grounding force and by linking into that we can focus our mind and body; it also sends signals to the brain that we are safe.  Concentrate on the breath and breathe in and out until you feel calmer.

Tapping is also a great way to connect with our body, use alternate taps on the knees and thinking of somewhere that makes you happy and safe.  You can bring your breath in again but just do what feels manageable to you at that time.  Lastly, journaling, writing or drawing down those flashbacks and dreams can give you a lot of power over the flashback.  When it is there in front of you, you decide what happens, or how the story goes.  You don’t need to keep them if you don’t wish – rip them up or throw them away after you have put them on paper.  The process of ‘dumping’ it onto paper can be therapeutic and gets it out of your brain and off the carousel that’s repeating again and again.

Flashbacks are powerful and scary and our aim is to take the power out of them. Talking about them is a huge help, but understanding what they are, allows you to take control and start the process of healing.

With lockdown restrictions easing and better weather coming, our services have been able to take full advantage of our fantastic allotment in the West End of Newcastle.

During the Easter break, our Young People’s Service and Families and Parenting service have been able to fully utilise our allotment to meet with our groups face to face for the first time this year.  With added funding from Newcastle City Council’s Holiday Activity Fund for our Best Easter Ever, we’ve been able to increase activities which have included Easter Egg Hunts, maintenance of the allotment and planting of the veggie patches.

Five images depicting young people allotment gardening and holding Easter Eggs

Young People from our Boys’ Group meeting at our allotment

Three images of Young people from our Girls Group enjoying our allotment

Young People from our Girls’ Group meeting at our allotment

Highlighting the invaluable resource our allotment provides, Denise Gilholme, Youth Team Manager at our Young People’s Service, said:

“Use of the allotment provides a valuable space in which our young people can meet in a socially distanced environment.  The therapeutic benefits of working together, in an outdoor environment, alongside the simple act of having lunch with friends, are phenomenal in terms of supporting everyone’s mental health and wellbeing.  Just switching off from the virtual world away from what must seem 24-hour screen use, has proven to be a much needed activity for both young people and staff.”

“In more ways than one, the allotment offers a place to grow for young people.  Alongside the Holiday Activity Fund, we’ve received support from the Co-op Local Community Fund, we have been able to invest in new tools.  To bear fruit from this labour, we are also in the process of employing a Youth Worker to support the increased use and development of the work utilising such an invaluable outdoor space and resource especially in response to recovering post-Covid!”

Are you looking for a way to spend some time over the Easter holidays?  Our fantastic designers have put together this rather lovely colouring ‘book’ that you can download and print to help get your creative juices flowing.

If you scroll to the end of the ‘book’ there’s a fantastic ‘Happy Easter’ colouring sheet that would look lovely stuck in your window to cheer up passers-by too.

Download your colouring book here

Today, 11 March, is the ninth International School Meals Day.  We asked Francesca Hogg, from our Poverty Proofing and Participation Team, to give her thoughts on the role schools play in children having access to healthy and nutritious food.

Girl with glass of milk and nutritious food

As we celebrate the ninth International School Meals Day this year, I have been reflecting on the importance of food provision for families living in poverty, findings from our own Poverty Proofing the School Day programme and how schools can play a role in ensuring all children have access to healthy and nutritious food.

The benefits of access to a balanced meal during the school day are well evidenced, and our poverty proofing work has given extensive insight into how schools support their families with food provision.  For example, uptake of school meals is most successful when children and parents have been involved in developing the school lunch menu, through taster days and opportunities to feedback on things such as portion sizes.  Crucially, this also gives children and young people a voice in decision making that impacts them.

Lunchtime is also a vital opportunity for children and young people to socialise with their peers.  Where schools allow pupils receiving school dinners to sit with their friends with a packed lunch, there tends to be high uptake of school dinners and, importantly free school meals, as pupils are not influenced by their peer’s lunch choices.

There are almost 93,000 children in receipt of free school meals in the North East, equating to 23.5% of pupils, making it the highest figure for English regions and compares with an England-wide average of 17.3%.

This leads me on to the importance of free school meal provision and how schools can ensure families are able to take up the support they are entitled to.  Free school meals ensure children have access to a healthy meal at least once a day.  This helps boost their learning, health and wellbeing whilst easing pressures on family budgets to cover other essential living costs.  However, there is a lot of stigma associated with free school meals.  This means, despite being entitled to a free school meal, many families do not take up this offer.  To ensure families can benefit from this support, regular communication around free school meal provision is essential as family circumstances can change throughout the school year.  Any communication must be poverty sensitive and use a range of methods such as newsletters, texts, social media and face to face.

Having a member of staff in school who can support families in applying for free school meals is also hugely beneficial and can help remove barriers to the application process.

The way in which the free school meal allowance is administered can also make access to food easier.  For example, enabling pupils to spend their allowance at breakfast time or morning break gives children and young people flexibility and choice.  This is particularly important for children who may not have been able to eat breakfast before coming to school.  Finally, allowing unspent daily free school meal allowances to roll over allows students to use it on a day when they need a bit of extra food, and means they aren’t losing out if they attend extra-curricular activities during lunchtime.

So my ask to schools on this International School Meals Day is to reflect on your food provision policies and practices, celebrate what you are doing well and consider what opportunities there are to develop your practices further.

For more information and advice about how your school can address poverty in the classroom, we have recently published the ‘Turning the Page on Poverty’ resource in collaboration with the National Education Union and Child Poverty Action Group.

DOWNLOAD TURNING THE PAGE ON POVERTY

Today we are releasing our ‘Turning the Page on Poverty’ resource, co-produced with Child Poverty Action Group (CPAG) and the National Education Union (NEU).  The resource, aimed at helping teachers and school staff tackle poverty in the classroom, has been developed based on our years of experience working directly with schools to remove barriers to learning through our Poverty Proofing the School Day and Cost of the School Day programmes.  Francesca Hogg, from our Poverty Proofing and Participation Service, tells us more about this fantastic resource.

This resource comes at a time when, as a result of the pandemic, households have experienced a further reduction in finances, hitting families with children hardest.  Some of these families will have been pulled deeper into poverty, whilst some will be experiencing it for the first time.

The ripple effect of poverty means it inevitably impacts school life.  It means struggling with school-related costs such as uniform, resources and school trips but it also means poorer health, social and educational outcomes all of which impact children’s ability to fully participate in school life.

Each school is different with unique challenges and opportunities, so a ‘one size fits all’ approach to tackling poverty in the classroom doesn’t work.  However, using our knowledge of poverty and the lessons we learned through our work in schools, this resource gives schools practical guidance and information on the drivers and impact of poverty and provides approaches teachers and school staff can adapt to support families living in poverty.

By no means do we think schools can solve the inequalities in society, but by challenging the policies and practices within our schools, they can reflect the way we want society to be.  We know there are lots of examples of schools having support in place for pupils and their families, but to really understand what support is needed in a local context, we must put children at the centre of decision making and policies within our schools.

We need to understand what the school day looks like for a child growing up in poverty and how we can create equitable opportunities for all pupils.

It is through our collective knowledge and experience of working with schools and children living in poverty, we hope this resource will equip teachers and school staff with the practical tools needed to drive forward the conversation on poverty within schools and address the challenges poverty presents.

Read the full report here