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Notts County Foundation

Notts County Foundation is the official charity of Notts County Football Club. They use the power of sport to transform the lives of children and young people in their local area and have seen first-hand how finding positive outlets and building trust with children is vital to working towards a brighter future. We sat down with Lucy Devine (Mental Health Officer and Safeguarding Lead) and Josh Stevenson (Health Manager) to find out more.

BBCCin: Tell us about Notts County Foundation!

Lucy and Josh: We work with children and young people to provide life-changing development opportunities that improve health, create new skills and uncover common ground and interest amongst peer groups. It’s all about creating safe spaces for them. The initial engagement might be on a football pitch but we find that when we start with this, after a time they start to open up and begin to look at ways to tackle some of the issues they’re facing. Then we work together to think about how we can help them to build confidence, reduce anger, whatever it might be.

BBCCin: Tell us about the children you see coming through the doors?

Lucy and Josh: We work across Nottinghamshire with a number of young people. Some could be experiencing a mental health crisis, abuse or trauma, some may be in foster care or may be refugees. Others may have issues with anger and experience difficulty expressing emotions. We’ve worked with young people trapped in poverty and some who perhaps have more limited opportunities for paid activities, experiencing hunger or a lack of safety. Some children may struggle to access mainstream education or get the same opportunities as others, some may be in trouble with the criminal justice system, experiencing domestic violence at home or battling anxiety. A real range of young people.

Some fears are massive, cost of living crisis, maybe they’re young carers or experiencing the after-effects of the pandemic. The pressures of social media are huge too, as well as academic performance and not feeling listened to at school or at home.

But by using sport though, they don’t have to talk, it gives them an opportunity to enjoy themselves and is less about the idea of ‘us’ and ‘them.’ It’s an equal playing field.

BBCCin: Have you experienced an increase in numbers since the cost of living crisis?

Lucy and Josh: Yes, and not just because of cost of living. Mental wellbeing is becoming a much more significant factor too. We access mental health training regularly so staff feel more comfortable having those difficult conversations.

BBCCin: So, your project helps children and young people deal with a range of issues and emotions?

Lucy and Josh: Yes, having positive interactions, just having a safe space where they feel listened to. We interweave mental health with physical health. We’ve had referrals from individuals who struggle with this and we’ve seen their confidence and mood improve since they started with us. They create new friendship groups and feel better by turning up for our weekly sessions.

BBCCin: Are there milestones that you aim for?

Lucy and Josh: Yes. The project is produced for the young people- we don’t have a set agenda each week. We consider a variety of different outcomes from changes in confidence to being able to look after their own wellbeing and feeling more empowered. But it’s led by the young people. We use that as a way to measure each milestone. How things are going as well as what they may wish to do differently. They feel the project is their own.

BBCCin: Can you tell us about a time when you’ve experienced this kind of positive outcome first-hand?

Lucy and Josh: Yes. A young person started with us who experiencing significant anxiety which affected their ability to communicate. They struggled with eye contact, expressing themselves and stood on the side-lines. For us, it wasn’t about adding pressure, it was about giving them the space and time to be heard and ensuring that people weren’t speaking on their behalf. We saw a real positive change throughout the 10-week programme. They felt more able to manage their anxiety, felt less alone and made friends. They knew we were there for them.

BBCCin: What would your message be for people who fundraise for BBC Children in Need?

Lucy and Josh: BBC Children in Need really understand the impact and difference we’re making, they really want to hear our stories. It’s hugely important for people to give to something like this. It allows us to have a huge impact, services can only go so far and support goes much farther than people might think. It allows us to be there as that point of call and to deliver it to more people so there’s more support out there.

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