On 23rd March 2020, Boris Johnson addressed the nation on TV to confirm what most people already suspected, the country was going into lockdown. Those first few days and weeks were so strange as people came to terms with staying at home, seeing hardly any cars on the streets and many of things people took for granted being taken away from them in order to fight the spread of COVID. 

For a charity that delivers all of our programmes face to face in a real life setting, we were faced with a choice. We could close things down and ride out the storm or face the challenges head on and try and continue to support young people at a time when we knew they'd need support like ever before. The last year has been tough in so many ways but we're proud to look back and see what we have accomplished as a team in this period.

Going Virtual

Even before the lockdown on 23rd March, we were adapting our programmes to support young people. When asked to avoid all non-essential travel, we started to conduct programmes virtually via Zoom. Looking back, Kelvin Batey delivered our first remote session on the 17th March on our AQA Unlocking Potential programme which begun a period of huge innovation where we re-wrote our programme frameworks to enable to us to continue to engage young people remotely when we couldn't meet face to face.

Fundraising

With the country all at home, many of the traditional fundraising events stopped and charities across the country were worried about their income. Taking place the same weekend as the cancelled London Marathon, the 2.6 Challenge offered charities the chance to get involved in a national campaign that would raise awareness of the plight of charities and much needed funds. Leading the way over the weekend of 26th April our CEO, Ben Hilton cycled 260 miles on a borrowed turbo trainer in his house over three days and other team members took on challenges such as walking 26,000 steps, doing 260 press ups in a day and teaching a dog to perform 26 tricks in a row and much more besides. Our President Dame Kelly Holmes got involved by delivering virtual fitness classes and overall we raised over £10,000 in one weekend. You can see the finished video of how we got on here.



Delivering More Virtually

Very quickly we realised the situation was going to be long term and so we quickly looked at technology available and the content and structure of the sessions we were able to deliver. Within two weeks of the lockdown, we started delivering shorter sessions more often to our groups and by May we were proud that we were managing to deliver 55% of our programmes entirely virtually, with the remaining unable to be delivered due to schools or community partners being unable to continue at that time. 

We knew early on our approach was working as young people like Maddie told us how useful attending Get on Track had been during the lockdown periods, giving her a real structure to her day. You can read her full story here.

Maddie attended our Get on Track programme in Folkestone last year.

Bite Size Briefings

Over the summer, our world class athletes delivered virtual Bite Size Briefings on topics such as Leadership, Communication and Motivation. Over 400 people attended these free lunchtime sessions to learn key skills and to hopefully provide a break from the stay at home routine. Additionally our athletes contributed workout videos and wellbeing tips to the national #StayInWorkOut campaign. We've shared Claire Bennett's Five Ways to Wellbeing video below and you can see the full playlist here.



Staff responses to COVID

Outside of work, members of our team stepped up in their own time to help other people. Our Programmes Manager Sarah made PPE clothing for her local care home including masks, headbands and scrub bags and then through the charity For the Love of Scrubs, started making scrubs for her local hospital as well as fabric masks for a local pharmacy. In total Sarah made over 40 separate pieces of PPE in those early days when there was a nationwide shortage. Our Programmes Officer Ane volunteered at Salisbury Hospital, assisting the elderly with their personal care, helping them at meal times and basic rehabilitation. She described it as an absolute privilege to be the only ‘visitor’ these patients may have had.

 

Sarah modelling one of her creations and Ane volunteering at Salisbury Hospital.

AQA celebration event

One of the undoubted highlights of the Trust's year is the AQA Unlocking Potential celebration event, which in 2020 was scheduled to be held at London Zoo. Sadly this wasn't possible but in conjunction with our media partners TMG, we delivered a brilliant virtual celebration event featuring a live awards presentation, videos highlighting the amazing work of the young people and an appearance from our President Dame Kelly Holmes. The event was fantastic and a reflection of the Trust's attitude over the last year to look at what can be done rather than focussing on what we can't do...   

Digital Engagement and Wellbeing

In early 2021 we rolled out the pilot of a new app to participants on our Get on Track for Wellbeing programme. The app, produced in partnership with Dame Kelly Holmes, provides guided fitness sessions from world class athletes, wellbeing tips and healthy nutritious recipes from our partners Chartwells, plus so much more. This app will continue to be developed to provide more support to young people in between sessions with our athletes. Additionally we created and sent out wellbeing packs funded by the National Lottery to students on AQA Unlocking Potential and select other programmes that included clothing, a water bottle, a pedometer and more to help keep the groups active over the latest lockdown.

  

Other Innovations

Throughout this period we've looked to challenge what we've done previously and seek to try new ways of engaging young people. Some of the key things we've done are:

  • Establishing a flexible delivery offer and expanded reach, including an end to end virtual delivery model that some partners are opting for instead of face to face.
  • Establishing new routes to accessing young people who need support, such as the pilot schemes we are running via job centres. As young people are accessing job centres remotely, we can provide support remortely to these young people with no geographical restrictions.
  • Piloting delivery over a 6-month timeframe.  This development is particularly crucial in enabling us to support young people over a more intensive period, when their social fabric may be unable to support them.
  • Mental Health training for all our athlete mentors, as we recognise mental health and wellbeing will be a huge topic for young people as we emerge from this pandemic.
  • Accessing a Digital Inclusion fund established through National Lottery funding to ensure all young people can access virtual programmes.
  • Expanding our offer to work with new partners including Hull University in recognition that a wider range of young people are now more vulnerable due to the pandemic

Virtual Delivery in 2021

Over the last year we have continued to develop our offerings, not only consolidating programmes we already had but using the opportunity to launch new programmes virtually and reach young people that potentially we would have struggled to engage with using our standard model. We have completely re-worked programmes for this virtual world and we're proud that we've supported over 500 young people remotely in this last year. While we can't wait to get back to working face to face, virtual delivery is now ingrained in what we do and can offer an additional level of support that we couldn't offer previously. Athletes in Liverpool can deliver a taekwondo session to a group in Folkestone and an inspirational footballer in the West Country can inspire young people in the North East of England. We can now use these learnings to deliver a blended approach including face to face, virtual and digital to help us reach young people in the most suitable format. We're currently piloting a project with Alder Hey Hospital in Liverpool which we hope will lead to an exciting new way of working in the months ahead.

The Future

The last year really has been a year like no other and we couldn't have supported as many young people as we have without the support of our funders, delivery partners and athlete teams. As life hopefully begins to return to a new normal this summer, we will remember the lessons learned over the last 12 months and continue our work to support young people facing disadvantage due to inequality in their everyday lives to become the best version of themselves.