This month's Q&A features a member of the Bytes Senior Management team for the first time! Janene Ware, Head of Projects, talks about how Bytes has changed its approach to staff welfare as a result of the pandemic and what future support young people will need as a result of the last year's upheaval.

Q. Start off by telling us a bit about yourself! For you, what has it been like to live and work while our offices have been closed and most work has been done remotely?

My name is Janene Ware and I am Head of Projects at The Bytes Project. I can honestly say this past Covid year has been a rollercoaster of rapid change with school at home madness, cats on Zoom calls, and lots of sanity saver walks around the block!

At Bytes we saw incredible staff adaptability, a willingness to try new ideas, and teamwork as the entire organisation switched to remote working, recruitment and delivery with young people, partners, and funders.

Q. What do you think young people have struggled most with during the last year?

Having personally watched the impact of multiple lockdowns on the young people in my world and the young people we work with, I have to say mental health has been and will continue to be an ongoing challenge for our young people. The disruption to school, social isolation, sense of loss on multiple levels and the anxiety of living in the continued unknown of a pandemic has taken a huge toll on young people, their families and their wider peer connections. This, combined with an already under resourced mental health system and GP services operating over the phone instead of face-to-face due to Covid, has meant even those willing to talk and get help have found the process daunting.

Q. What long term support do you think young people need as part of the ‘recovery’ from the lockdown period and isolation?

I think an urgent review, funding and resource allocation, and co-ordinated overhaul of the mental health support services available at regional, council and community levels are needed, with an integrated approach that combines medical, therapeutic, youth work and educational expertise, alongside alternative local social prescribing options like nature walks with hiking clubs, volunteering, gardening and allotment groups, sport events or art classes.

Q. As a member of the Bytes senior management team, what have you had to focus on to keep the organisation running and growing over the last year or so?

Prior to Covid we didn’t really consider staff wellbeing as a senior management priority, and it was something that line managers were largely responsible for. But remote working, the rapid pace of change, and ongoing realities of the pandemic meant suddenly I was working out how to run online meditation and mindfulness sessions, setting up pamper parties and wellbeing check ins, and bringing in new support processes.

Team Managers were finding innovative ways to gather their team together online and more intentionally look out for each other. I think one of the positive outcomes of this is that Bytes now has a Wellbeing Team made up staff who volunteer their time to participate and that this is wholeheartedly supported and attended by our Board!

Q. What are you looking forward to as things (hopefully) start to open up again?

I am really looking forward to meeting up with friends and going for a good hike in the back of the Mournes on a clear May day! Getting the camera out, backpack picnic sorted, and the kids and dog along for the ride.