Julie Ann Lyons, our much-loved Dumfries-based Youth & Community Development Officer, writes about delivering youth work in a beautiful yet logistically-challenging part of the country.
"If you’ve ever met me then there’s a very strong chance you’ve also heard my catchphrase: “I am rural”. It’s something that comes up in conversation a lot because I’ve spent my whole life living and working in Dumfries and Galloway. In my slightly biased opinion, D&G is one of the most stunning rural places in not only South West Scotland but the world.
We have so many beautiful attractions: nature trails, forests, museums, castles, lighthouses, deer ranges, distilleries, beaches, heritage sites… as well as pristine rolling countryside everywhere!
The downside of living in such rural splendour is it can take over 4 hours to travel from one end of the region to the other, so it’s always essential to plan ahead for any engagement. Public transport can be very hit and miss depending which locality you live within.
It’s for this reason that the young people furthest away from our Dumfries office are often unable to attend our weekly evening youth groups. There may be buses to get them here, but none to get them home again, as transport links stop surprisingly early in smaller communities. The young people in D&G are often at the mercy of schedules with just a handful of buses a day, and even that can shrink depending on the weather and the time of year.
During the initial Covid 19 lockdown, we accelerated the development of our already-planned online youth group platform on Discord so that we could stay in touch with the young people we support. Having a safe and secure digital space allowed rural young people who had already been receiving 1 to 1 coaching support sessions to continue to do so. The Discord server also allowed them to meet and form friendships with peers from other youth groups and be free to be themselves. That has a massive impact on their self-esteem as well as their optimism for life.
We also noticed an unexpected benefit: some of the quieter young people who had often been very shy and reluctant to speak out in face-to-face youth groups have felt empowered to take a lead in delivering sessions online. Again, this has led to a significant increase in their self-confidence and their session facilitation work can be logged as “social action” which contributes to them receiving Saltire Awards.
When Pride events were cancelled across the country in June, we decided to run a joint “local” online Pride event with members of the South Ayrshire youth group. The success of our event sparked calls for more opportunities to bring together geographically spread-out youth groups in one online space. In “normal” circumstances, it can be hard for our local D&G young people to take part in national events due to the sheer amount of travel time and the logistics involved, so they are relishing the opportunity to interact with their peers from across the country.
We now know with certainty that, even as we return to delivering in-person youth work, we’ll continue to utilise digital youth work in parallel. It has opened doors and made the vastness of our area feel a little less daunting. We are rural, and we are proud."
By Julie Ann Lyons – Youth & Community Development Officer