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Valleys Kids

Valleys Kids is located in the heart of the Rhondda Valleys and provides vital play and volunteering opportunities that help children and young people increase their self-esteem, better understand their feelings, and make better decisions around their health. We spoke with Jonathan Bundy (Youth and Community Worker) and Caroline Jones (Project Coordinator) to find out how Valleys Kids is there for children and young people in their community when they need it most.

BBCCin: Tell us about the children and young people you see come through the doors at Valleys Kids?

Jonathan and Caroline: We work with children from many different backgrounds. Many are local, some are further afield. Some families struggle with money and face problems with alcohol and domestic abuse. Some children don’t get a hot meal after school so we’ve decided to help with this. We make cakes, cook recipes… we feed everybody! We also support parents, downstairs right now are some of the mothers. We’ve known some since they were three or four and their kids all their life! A few we’ve known since birth. Everybody talks in this community. Everybody knows each other. That’s how we get to know new people.

BBCCin: How long has your response to food insecurity been in place?

Jonathan and Caroline: It started just before lockdown.

BBCCin: Covid and lockdowns have been a big part of the conversation when we’ve spoken with projects, have you noticed an increase in children and young people coming to you for support and what changes have you experienced?

Jonathan and Caroline: Kids have gone quiet- we’ve lost two years of twelve to thirteen year olds who couldn’t come to us. They didn’t come to us online but they all came back as soon as we could be together at the project and they could be outdoors. But when they did come back, we could see which kids were struggling. Even kids we’d known for years had become introverted, more withdrawn…They were up all hours of the night, even two years later, struggling with routines and getting to school. But you can work with kids that need a bit more support, many have become volunteers with us. We have some really good volunteers.

BBCCin: How do you help children and young people dealing with difficult emotions and changes?

Jonathan and Caroline: We give them time. We’re lucky where we are geographically. We do have video games but we prefer to use the outdoors, the land around us, the mountains! We get to sit and talk to these kids… we make things, and that opens up conversation. I’m from a generation where we used to sit around the table every evening and chat- a lot of kids don’t get that now. They get TV dinners, they don’t get the chance to talk. We create an environment where they do.

BBCCin: What is it about being outdoors that’s so valuable?

Jonathan and Caroline: The children aren’t being told what to do, they make their own choices. We make dens, we climb trees! There are less rules outside, more freedom.

BBCCin: What does the future of Valleys Kids look like?

Jonathan and Caroline: With the cost of living crisis, we’ve had a conversation about how we’re going to keep the building open as well as having enough resources for young people. We’re always looking for ways to stretch the money. We just had a hot summer, we were outside all the time, but this coming season is going to really kick us- but we still do get outdoors, we have head torches! After lockdown finished we all came together in the pouring rain, stood and chatted. No one wanted to go home.

BBCCin: How do you address challenges when it comes to mental health and wellbeing?

Jonathan and Caroline: We talk to the kids constantly. They do get support in school but they know they can talk to us. We make a point that we’re not counsellors but we’re there to listen and we refer children and young people when needed. The kids just tell us, they know our doors are always open. For some kids this is just a youth club, but for others, they share their really difficult times with us too. I’d say that we’re good listeners. People think they listen but they don’t. We don’t always have all the answers but we find ways and means.

BBCCin: Our campaign is all about showcasing how relationships with trusted adults and communities can ensure positive outcomes for children. Can you tell us about a time when you’ve experienced a particularly positive outcome first-hand?

Jonathan and Caroline: There are so many. We know every child’s name and make sure every one of them knows they have been seen as they come through the door. It’s great to see them grow up into good relationships, good job, good prospects… and it means the world when they bring their kids back! One child came to us when they were about five and they ended up volunteering with us, another has his own barbershop now. I would call this a home from home. Whatever goes on outside or in their homes, they can come here. You can’t change their situation but you can help them live with it.

BBCCin: What are some of the key issues that children and young people are facing right now?

Jonathan and Caroline: Right now, poverty. Mental health issues are also on the rise. Young people not knowing how to deal with stress. Things are different now, bullying continues when they get home from school, on the internet. You can’t always escape when you come home. It’s different from when we were kids. Also, we know parents are going through a lot right now, which has an impact on children.

BBCCin: Are there milestones that you aim for?

Jonathan and Caroline: Often, it’s getting them to become a volunteer. There’s such a change in them when they do it- the kids think they’re stars when they walk in the room!

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

Jonathan and Caroline: Do it. You can have a massive impact on communities like this. Before all this, half the houses were falling apart. I used to play in the empty houses, needles everywhere, burned out cars… We lived in one of the most deprived areas in the Western World. We eventually got the houses that weren’t being used knocked down- these areas are now green spaces. This changes people’s mindsets! These projects have completely changed the community. It’s a knock-on effect, people like us can break negative cycles of behaviour. It can go a long way and it can last for a long time. Two people started this project. It grows and it lasts.

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