On Tuesday 18th August, Dorset Youth Association (DYA) hosted the Leader of the House of Commons, Mr Jacob Rees-Mogg. With a quick turnaround (7 days from agreeing to host the visit), we brought together 12 young people from 7 Dorset organisations.

Jacob Rees-Mogg sitting with a young person

Mr Rees-Mogg with a young person from Ansbury Careers

We wanted to provide Mr Rees-Mogg with the experiences of families, young people and colleagues we have been working with in Dorset during lockdown, and then invited the young people to tell him how life was for them - the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic, lockdown and any other important life experiences.

Jacob Rees-Mogg talking to young people

Mr Rees-Mogg talking to Young Ambassadors from Dorset Mind Your Head

We updated Mr Rees-Mogg on the effect of the Coronavirus pandemic experienced by the families and colleagues we work with at DYA. Jess told him all about her work as a Family Link Worker and how families have been coping during lockdown. She highlighted the increased demand for support with mental health needs from both parents and children. During lockdown, our Family Link Workers have been supporting families through Zoom, WhatsApp and phone call welfare checks. When restrictions allowed, they met families in gardens and have, more recently, been enjoying outdoor areas with their young people.

Mr Rees-Mogg with Young Ambassadors from NCS

Lynne spoke to Mr Rees-Mogg about the 0-25 VCS Forum and how lockdown sped up the plans to take the Forum forward to encourage online events in addition to face to face meetings. In order to keep the sector together at such a difficult time, the Forum has been hosted virtually on Zoom, with guest speakers giving input on particular issues. Guests have included Theresa Leavy – Executive Director of People – Children for Dorset Council discussing the Dorset Council restructure, Simon Fraiz-Brown – Service Manager – Adolescent Service talking about his new role and priorities with Dorset Council and Kerry Madden – Children’s Improvement Consultant, People – Children (followed by a discussion on how the VCSE can enhance Dorset Council’s thinking around their new priorities and the way forward). This new way of working has been welcomed by everyone who has attended, and who enjoyed meeting with colleagues to share experiences.

Piddlehinton Community Group representatives talking to Mr Rees-Mogg

Mr Rees-Mogg then spoke to Hannah, our Clubs and Groups worker about our affiliated clubs and the support we provide to youth clubs in Dorset. Since youth club funding was stopped by Dorset County Council, the demand for support has changed and evolved. Safeguarding support, staffing issues, training and template policies and procedures alongside DBS checks form the core offer – although we respond to the needs of each club which are as individual as the clubs themselves. More recently in lockdown, the focus has been on guidance and what it means for the re-opening of youth clubs. Hannah pointed out to Mr Rees-Mogg the importance the youth sector has in keeping young people safe, identifying needs and supporting their mental health at all times, and the loss of such help would be detrimental to our young people.

A young person from Space Youth Project and Participation People talking with Mr Rees-Mogg

The remainder of the time we had with Mr Rees-Mogg was then given over to the young people. We were pleased to welcome young people from Ansbury Guidance, Dorset Mind Your Head (youth mental health support from Dorset Mind), NCS, Piddlehinton Community Group, Dorset Youth Voice (Dorset Youth Council, supported by Participation People), Space Youth Project and affiliated club Purbeck Youth & Community Foundation.

Participation People's second representative speaking with Mr Rees-Mogg

Each young person had a different experience to discuss with Mr Rees-Mogg. Topics ranged from employment and education, mental health, community volunteering and the future aspirations each young person had post-pandemic and for the next stage of their lives. The young people talked about how each organisation had helped and encouraged them through difficult times with the support they wanted and needed.

Affiliated club Purbeck Youth & Community Foundation in discussion with the Leader of the House of Commons

DYA are very proud of this ministerial meeting. Feedback from attending groups was very positive and all felt safe and secure with the social distancing measures put in place. For such a short deadline, we feel we were able to provide a wide spectrum of experiences from the county to show Mr Rees-Mogg – and in turn, Government – what is important to the young people of Dorset. Young people living in rural communities often have very different experiences and barriers to engagement. To give these young people a platform to raise these with a Government Minister is a small, but very important, part of our work.