For the final monthly Q&A of 2020, Michelle McCann talks about the Peace Bytes programme, managing a new team and her hopes for the year ahead.

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

The coronavirus pandemic has been stressful for many of us. Over the past few months, we have all had to work extra hard to manage a lot of mixed emotions, the anxiety of the virus, dealing with impacts of social distance and the worries of what could happen to us & our loved ones. However, for me, it hasn’t been all doom and gloom.

This pandemic has helped me appreciate what is important. It has given me precious time with my daughter and family, created more time for meals together, conversations, games, movies and arts & crafts. This unexpected slowdown has given me a chance to deepen relationships and create new rituals.

Clearly, the new demands and requirements of the pandemic have pushed us all to work in different ways. For me, I feel that Peace Bytes has adapted very quickly to the change, moving our services online to ensure that we continued to engage and support young people throughout the coronavirus pandemic. Even though remote communication does not provide the same emotional connection as in-person work, it is amazing to hear from young people how our digital approach helped bring structure, routine, connections and fun, helping them to cope with the lockdown.

Q. What have young people been struggling with during lockdown and how have they coped with being back in school/college?

Understandably, the pandemic and lockdown measures have created significant interruptions in young people’s lives. School closures, being forced to stay at home, worry about their health and that of loved ones, issues around predicted grades have all contributed to increased levels of anxiety. Boredom and isolation were also common struggles for the young people we are working with.

Unfortunately for those with complex issues/challenges, these were only intensified by the lockdowns. This is why our services were so vital and proved beneficial for those in need. It is very rewarding to know that we bring light to young people’s down days and seek to support them in their journeys to overcome difficulties.

Now that lockdown has eased, and schools have re-opened, participants are enjoying the little bit of normality. Whilst things are not the same, and they still must abide by restrictions, they see this as a positive step.

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

I must say that for me, young people’s strength and determination to stay focused and motivated in very uncertain times, has been very powerful.

We had people setting fitness challenges, healthy eating plans, carrying out DIY at home, occupying/playing games with siblings; all in a bid to make the most out of the circumstances they found themselves in. Their attendance and commitment to Peace Bytes was exceptional, which made the experience very positive for both them and our staff.

Additionally, their willingness to follow and abide by restrictions, to ensure that they were doing what they could to protect loved ones, was very positive. We really do work with remarkable, considerate and fantastic young people!

Q. You have recently taken over the running of our Antrim & Newtownabbey Peace Bytes team, how have you settled into that?

With the help of our Antrim & Newtownabbey team, the transition has been smooth. The team have been very supportive in helping me find my feet. It is an absolute pleasure to work alongside the others, our team is full of amazing youth workers and their personas and skills are essential to our work. This new position is a challenge, one that has taken me out of my comfort zone and for me this is a real positive for my personal and professional development.

Q. As we go into 2021, what are you looking forward to in the new year?

I think that like most people, we are all looking forward to 2021. We’re seeking some form of ‘normality’ and ensuring that we do our upmost to support those in need through their struggles. Let’s hope 2021 is a better year for most and we take the positives of the pandemic into the new year with us!