In the first of a new monthly series, Aidan Quigley is a Youth Worker with Bytes in our Derry-Londonderry centre. He works on the Peace Bytes project with young people from across the North West. In August 2020, we asked him to highlight his experiences during lockdown, how he had to adapt his work and for his view on the challenges young people have faced during 2020.

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

Personally, I have found it stressful at times, particularly around having to go shopping and possibly exposing yourself to COVID. Not being able to see family was particularly tough, I was not expecting to miss them as much as I did.

As for work, it has been difficult to adapt to online as the majority of my working week was spent in face-to-face contact with young people. Adjusting to Zoom and Google Classrooms takes a little getting used to.

However, it has been five months now, so I have been able adapt to the new normal and have coped quite well. I have been able to have some face-to-face contact in recent weeks which has helped the young people and myself to re-establish our relationships.

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

Most young people have had to adjust to dramatic changes in their education, employment, routine and home life. Some have experienced bereavement and other traumatic events during the lockdown, while some young people who were already marginalised and disadvantaged are now likely to become even more so.

The main issue I see is with young people’s mental health. Most have said that they feel isolated or lonely, even though they have been having online contact with friends and family. Some have lost all motivation and the loss of routine has had a negative impact on their ability to cope with their day-to-day struggles. This in turn leads to an increase in the levels of anxiety and isolation.

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

I suppose the main surprise is that the majority of young people actually listened to the guidance and followed the protocols. Most of the young people that I have been working with have been sticking to the rules and adhering to the guidance from the government. They have asked for clarity on the rules when they didn’t fully understand what was being asked of them.

Q. Has it been difficult to adapt to working mostly online with your groups?

The biggest challenge to transitioning from working face-to-face to working online with my groups has been motivation. Some of the young people wanted to do activities every day and others were treating it like the summer holidays. Adapting to the young people’s needs and wants was relatively easy, however I did get some young people texting and messaging me at 3am or 4am, which did concern me. However, as the lockdown progressed the routines changed and most of our work was carried out at a reasonable time of day!

Great to be back on site and working with the brilliant pupils at St Cecilia's College, Derry! Feels like a very long...

Posted by The Bytes Project on Friday, 28 August 2020

Q. What support do young people need the most as we look towards schools & colleges going back, workplaces opening up more and a general easing of the lockdown?

I think that the end of lockdown will be as difficult as the start, fear and anxiety will probably be the most common emotional response most of us will experience as we relax lockdown. Most of us have found a way to work through lockdown, this took a lot of energy and strength to do so, and most of us have found a few ways of coping with the lockdown that we are not prepared to leave behind just yet.

I think we need to address the fears that young people will have about returning to school or employment, many of us have the same fears. Adults generally will have the capacity to overcome these fears in a rational process, however young people are still learning and developing and thus need our support and guidance to overcome their fears and anxieties enabling them to return to a normal way of life.

This support could take many forms, but I think just listening and acknowledging their fears and allowing them to express themselves in a constructive way will help alleviate their stresses and worries. As long as we are there to guide and advise when needed and allow them to progress out of lockdown at their own pace then we should see a reduction in the levels of isolation, anxiety and stress.

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

I personally am looking forward to returning to ‘normal’ work. I have some apprehension around how it will look and feel but overall, I’m excited to get back to working with our young people and helping them develop into great young men and women with bright futures ahead.