This month, Maria Wilson from our Belfast centre talks about the unique experience of joining Bytes at the start of lockdown and how things have changed for her, and the young people she works with, since.

Q. For you, what has it been like to live and work through the last few months?

For me, it has been a massive learning curve. As I started with Bytes a matter of days before lockdown happened, working remotely was ‘normal’ for me. I threw myself into many different projects going on within Bytes as a whole and took it upon myself to learn as much as I could in the time we had, as I knew there would never be an opportunity like this again. As a parent to a young family, I was happy that I was at home to support my children during this unusual ordeal we have all been living through.

Q. What have young people been struggling with during lockdown?

Speaking to young people in groups that I worked with online during lockdown, I found they missed the social interaction from their friends and family members that did not live with them. For a generation that spend a large amount of time online, they still missed the physical face-to-face interaction. Some of the young people even admitted they missed school, as school had given them a reason to stay in a routine, meet up with friends and learn new things.

Q. Is there anything that has surprised you in particular about how young people have reacted to the COVID-19 pandemic and lockdown?

I wouldn't say it surprised me, but the attitude of the young people I worked with was outstanding. A few of them volunteered within the community to help the shielding and the elderly. How quickly the young people adapted to the situations going on around them was a credit to themselves. So many times, there have been bad words said about the young people in different communities, not enough is said when the young people do good!

Q. You’ve been able to work face-to-face with young people again recently, how has that changed the dynamic of your work with them?

Going back to face-to-face work with young people is another new factor for me, as my time at Bytes had been all online work. I’ve thoroughly enjoyed working face-to-face with the young people at my current group from St Patricks College, Maghera. The dynamics have changed massively, as there are so many new and fun things I can do with the young people when in a room with them, as opposed to on Zoom calls. I feel there is a lot to be learnt from lockdown in terms of youth work and how we as youth workers need to adapt to suit the needs of the young people we are working with.

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

Lockdown has been hard on everyone. When it was first announced that we could not leave the house bar one exercise period a day it was a scary thought. Young people had to get on with that, as well as deal with the pressures of continuing schoolwork and for some, big exams in the not so distant future. No one expected lockdown to go on as long as it did. It has definitely influenced the mental health of everyone, young and old. So many young people adapted so quickly, and I feel they need celebrating for their ability to adapt in such an unusual time. We need to listen to the young people more, take ideas from them and learn from them. Young people are going to be the ones who take over our roles to build the future and they need to have their voices heard.

Q. How are you feeling about the gradual return to ‘normal’ work?

I am excited for the next chapter of my journey to start! I fully immersed myself in so many online projects within Bytes during lockdown, I am excited to see what comes next. There are so many conversations going on about what is happening next! As a youth worker, no two days are the same and it makes work fun and interesting as you never know what is going to happen in discussions within groups or activities. I hope that we can start to plan trips and days away with the young people as they have been a credit to themselves during such unprecedented times.