'Huge numbers' at primary schools worry about worth, says charity boss

Tim Sweeting who will take over as the Diocesan secretary in August.

Tim Sweeting who will take over as the Diocesan secretary in August. - Credit: Diocese of Norwich

A youth charity is extending its work into Norfolk primary schools to meet the increasing demand for mental health support during Covid.

Tim Sweeting, chief executive of YMCA Norfolk, has been working at the charity for the past 12 years and has seen "an increase in pressures on family life" in that time.

He will be leaving the post soon to become the diocesan secretary for the Diocese of Norwich.

He said: "There has always been a need for services in secondary schools for issues such as exclusion, mental health support, drug and alcohol advice.

"But we are now starting at primary schools as a huge number of people are worrying about mental health and their sense of worth which is of great concern to us and partners."

Mr Sweeting as also spoken about the instability created by the coronavirus pandemic. 

"Covid has affected different people in different ways," Mr Sweeting said. 


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"There are people who suffered from social anxiety and some may be in a better place as there is not the same pressures there may have been before. 

"For most young people we need to have access to positive role models around them such as teachers and youth workers."

YMCA Norfolk chief executive Tim Sweeting. Picture: Ella Wilkinson

YMCA Norfolk chief executive Tim Sweeting. Picture: Ella Wilkinson - Credit: Archant

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Spending more time indoors during lockdown has also meant young people have been exposed to negative influences online through social media platforms. 

"Body confidence came up as a massive issue," Mr Sweeting said. "Young people are spending more time with Instagram filters to present themselves and they see others as more being beautiful which impacts on their mental health." 

On the work being done during the crisis, Mr Sweeting also said the charity has adapted to engage with young people in different ways, including increased online sessions.

"There has been a lot of demand for our services through Covid and we have continued to be able to do that," Mr Sweeting said. 

"The staff have done an absolutely fantastic job with schools to be able to engage with young people online through an e-learning service.

"During Covid, it has been trying going into family homes to provide charity services for families on the edge of breakdown. All the way through Covid it has been difficult to manage the risks of that.

Tim Sweeting, chief executive of YMCA Norfolk, talking to residents at the charity's central Norwich

Tim Sweeting, chief executive of YMCA Norfolk, talking to residents at the charity's central Norwich facility. Picture: Ella Wilkinson - Credit: Archant

"These services still need to be continued. Even during the pandemic, we have found ways of working.

"I think, like many other charities, it has been about trying to do the best we can with finite resources, but most of our services have continued.

"For example, youth clubs have been delivered online. It can be more difficult to engage with young people through that work but we know it became easier over time."

The charity has been making use of the Pathways partnership to minimise rough sleeping in Norwich, as well as teaming up with the Matthew Project to tackle unemployment. 

Mr Sweeting said: "A disproportionate number of people are unemployed. It's even more difficult when graduates are being forced to go for lower paid jobs which creates more competition."

A graduate of the University of East Anglia, Mr Sweeting has spent 22 years working for YMCA in total with 12 years as the chief executive in Norfolk. 

Norfolk YMCA chief executive Tim Sweeting. Picture: Denise Bradley

Norfolk YMCA chief executive Tim Sweeting. Picture: Denise Bradley - Credit: Copyright: Archant 2012

Speaking about his experiences over the years, Mr Sweeting said: "There are shocking circumstances, cases of abuse, and things boiling over into violence. 

"But it would be great to get the positive message over that many families, despite being under enormous pressure, are able to succeed even during difficult times.

"There are cases of young people going to university despite being on the edge of going into the care system, but they have worked together to step out of the situation and are able to self-manage family relationships.

"If we can empower people with the skills to help people work alongside them then the sky is the limit of what they can achieve." 

Mr Sweeting will be starting the position with the Norwich Diocesan Board of Finance in August.

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