SUPPORT for youngsters in New Milton is taking a step into the virtual world during the coronavirus crisis with the launch of an online youth club and plans for counselling via video conference.
Town council youth services manager Silma Ramsaywack has been looking into alternative ways to maintain local provision since the lockdown forced the temporary closure of the successful Ashley Youth Club recently opened in New Milton Rugby Club’s pavilion off Normans Way.
From Wednesday 13th May, local youngsters will be able to visit the Youth Voice New Milton Facebook page for weekly sessions from 7pm to 8pm.
As well as being able to enjoy uploaded activities, games and videos, there will be the opportunity to speak with one of the trained youth workers during the hour. This can be done through the comments facility or through private messaging if required.
Mrs Ramsaywack told the A&T: “We also envisage, bearing in mind that the youngsters are all at home, we could be a source of information if they have any concerns.
“We could provide a list of organisations to signpost them to, whether for the young people themselves or their families.”
As part of a bid to encourage as much physical activity as possible during the current situation, the Youth Voice New Milton Facebook and Instagram pages will be running a “doorstep skateboarding” competition.
With New Milton recreation ground’s popular skate park closed during the pandemic, youngsters will be invited to send in videos of themselves performing flips or tricks in their gardens.
Entries will be judged by Mrs Ramsaywack’s son, international professional skateboarder Benny Fairfax, with the winning video posted on the Instagram page with a “shout-out” from Mr Fairfax.
Following the cancellation of this year’s New Milton Music Festival, a music night is also set to take place when budding musicians will be invited to send in videos of their performances.
The online youth sessions will provisionally run for four consecutive Wednesdays, but Mrs Ramsaywack expected them to continue for some time afterwards amid ongoing social distancing.
“Realistically, even after the lockdown finishes, it may be a long time before we can have 35-plus people gathered in the same room for youth club, and that’s our usual number,” she said.
A mindfulness-based cognitive behaviour therapist, Mrs Ramsaywack has been looking into setting up an online support service for youngsters who might be struggling mentally during the lockdown.
Developed in collaboration with clinical psychologist and teacher at the University of Oxford, Dr Maret Dymond-Basset, she hopes the service can be launched within a month.
“This will look at enabling young people to cope with worrying thoughts, sleepless nights, etc,” the youth services manager explained.
“The idea is that there will be skills to help cope with it.”
The sessions would be held through video conferencing site Zoom, although youngsters will be able to keep their camera off if they prefer a more private discussion.
It is hoped this service will continue into the future, with face-to-face group or individual sessions becoming a permanent feature of New Milton’s youth provision.
Feedback for both initiatives, along with suggestions of other support which could be made available, is being sought from the town’s younger residents through the Facebook page at www.facebook.com/youthvoicenewmilton
Mrs Ramsaywack concluded: “It’s not ideal – obviously, it would be good to have contact with our young people face-to-face.
“But at least something like this provides the opportunity to keep in contact with our youngsters, even if it’s just to provide some support and advice and signpost them in the right direction to others that can help.”
The proposals were welcomed by town councillors during a recent meeting of the finance and general purposes committee.
Cllr Steve Clarke said: “I’m very pleased with Silma’s efforts. I think this is something we need to do.”