Journalist Jan Edwards describes how an ordinary day of door-to-door fundraising led to his involvement with Make (Good) Trouble. 

It was early January, and winter had firmly clasped its unrelenting, icy grip on Brighton and Hove, suffocating the distant memories of summer. 

Shivering, my resolve to fundraise for homeless young people spurred me on. I started a new road, willing an answer for some warmth. I knocked, but there was no response. Maybe the next… “Hello! Sorry, I was cooking.” I rushed back. “Hi, I’m from Centrepoint.” “Ah, I know all about you!” says the woman, smiling. “Come in.” 

While door-to-door fundraising can be discouraging, I relished meeting all sorts of strange, eccentric, but often wonderful people. At Centrepoint, I was yelled at, sworn at and chased down a garden path with a broom (only to be invited in for tea and an art lesson by the less cranky next-door-neighbour!).

Naturally, I was intrigued by this friendly woman who had provided respite from winter’s wrath. “You don’t need to say anything. I’ll sign up,” she said. I was bemused as even the most willing of donors usually take some persuasion. “I work for a social enterprise called Make (Good) Trouble, helping teenagers. I’m Daisy, the co-founder.” 

Daisy explained that her company aims to challenge society’s narrative that young people are a nuisance. The media is often full of teenagers’ misdemeanours, so Make (Good) Trouble uses it to celebrate their achievements and improve mental health. Based on my passion for helping young people from my own experiences, I was eager to get involved. 

As a teenager, I suffered from low self-esteem, unexplainable anger and bouts of anxiety and depression. This informed my behaviour: impulsiveness, drinking and trouble at home and school. In fact, I spent more time out of school than in! If only I’d had a means to express my feelings, to channel my complex coil of emotions. 

Enterprises like Make (Good) Trouble are essential if other suffering teens are to make a difference in the world, inspiring creativity and motivation. As a journalist, I feel that nothing boosts self-confidence more than completing a project and seeing the results. “I would love to help,” I enthused, leaving with Daisy’s number and feeling warm inside and out. 

I was delighted when Daisy scheduled a meeting to discuss my involvement with Make (Good) Trouble. She explained how revered the enterprise has become, securing a donation from Sussex Police. “We have Project Poppy coming up, which looks at women’s mental health in the First World War. It’ll be perfect for you.”

My Grandad is a Holocaust survivor, so I am familiar with the impact of war. A survivor of three camps, Grandad has harrowing memories which he seldom discusses. He was taken away from his mother as a child, and never saw her again. Nobody knows what became of her. A story lost. 

Indeed, the impact of war on women is rarely considered. I realised that in learning about the First World, the experiences of wives, of female nurses and doctors were not taught. With a Mum who won the NHS “Woman of the Year” award, I know how strong women are. It is imperative that the stories of these heroes be told. 

Meeting with Tayler, Daisy’s sister and project leader, I was amazed at her research and determination to bring the project to fruition. “Mental health is a current issue”, Tayler said. “We want young people to get involved and to compare mental health then with what’s happening today. We want everyone involved in the project to help build a picture of a fictional woman, Poppy, who lived through the War and use media to flesh out what her experiences might have been, to bring her to life.”

This project is part of the First World War Centenary, a programme set up by the National Lottery Heritage Fund that aims to help people understand the war, uncover its stories and explore what it means to us today, creating a link between then and now. Project Poppy participants will research the subject and create a film and a blog detailing the process, plus a presentation for schools.

Students at Hove Park School are participating in the project and we met up with them before the schools were closed due to the coronavirus. I was struck by the young people there, their compassion and confidence as they created diagrams of influences on mental health, both in the First World War and now. “Have you ever had mental health issues?” one girl asked. “Most of us have.” I was confused:  happy with her openness, but sad at the prevalence of mental health issues she had expressed. 

Walking home from the school that day, I was lost in thought. Isn’t it great how open young people are about mental health now, actively wanting to enact change? I smile. One thing’s certain: It’s incredible how interrupting someone’s cooking caused me to get involved with such an inspiring project.

Jan Edwards

We’re having to re-think Project Poppy due to the coronavirus lockdown. Make (Good) Trouble is now looking at ways to share the project online which will mean that more young people can get involved if they’re interested. Watch this space!

Hands up if you’ve read the Terms & Conditions when you signed up for a social media account (or anything else online for that matter!)?

The Children’s Commissioner tested social media platforms’ terms & conditions out on children and none of the kids they asked understood them. Did you know that:

“Snapchat can publically display or sell any content young person puts on Live or Local Snapchat, meaning they can use a young person’s face and voice in any way, how Instagram can read a user’s Direct Messages and how all companies collect a range of person information including how long you spend on certain pages, where you are and who is in your phone book. They remind children that YouTube is owned by Google, so if you create a YouTube account, your data will be collected by Google and linked to other information Google has about you.” (childrenscommissioner.gov.uk)

Thankfully, the Children’s Commissioner has published handy versions for us so we can better understand what we’re all signing up to. If you’re a parent, you could use these to discuss them with your children.

We don’t think parents should ban kids from using social media. We do think children (and everyone else) should properly understand what they’re signing up to.

As part of our ongoing research for Brighton5, we speak to those responsible for supporting children in some of Brighton’s biggest schools and colleges. We’re particularly interested in children’s mental health, one of our core focuses for the project. A recurring theme in our discussions is the lack of preventative approaches (and immediate referral support and resources). This means that, whilst warning signs are heeded, kids can’t always get the right help when it’s needed – early on.

This was brought into sharp focus today when the Education and Health & Social Care Committees published a damning report on the government’s new mental health strategy. They argue that the strategy is  “failing a generation”. The World Health Organisation states that “up to 50% of mental disorders in adults begin before the age of 14 years“.

The report asks huge questions about the strategy for mental health provision, answers to which are missing from the government’s Green Paper.  There’s a lack of focus on prevention, there is little joined up thinking on how different departments will work together, including a soloed culture –  all of which has been exacerbated by cuts in services and a lack of funding. They say there’s a woeful lack of data around  what provision is currently available in schools, an overstretched staff and issues with recruitment & retention, meaning that it’s unclear how the government will successfully implement the strategy – which the proposal seems to be to fund it from “within” existing budgets.

They also argue that the plan will take too long to implement leaving kids out in the cold – only 20-25% of the UK will be reached within 5 years.

At this point my blood was boiling. Our kids need help right now. Ten percent of 10-15 year olds in schools have mental health problems. We really can’t wait that long.

When we spoke to safeguarding staff for schools and colleges in Brighton, they told us that:

  • Reported cases of mental health issues have increased exponentially in recent years
  • Rates of anxiety in children have rocketed, with a notable change after exams were introduced in primary schools [which schools minister Nick Gibb refutes – he seems to think that more exams are the answer!?]
  • Politics is adversely affecting education with swings in policy each time a new government is voted in has a huge effect on kids. Education should be free from political see-sawing.
  • The amount of social media related problems have sky rocketed. Kids have very low awareness of what should and shouldn’t go on social media -bullying and body image issues need addressing.
  • Funding for wrap-around courses has been stripped back. The exam system is now academic, paper-based and test-heavy – if this is the measure of success, it disenfranchises a large number of kids.

One safeguarding staff admitted: “We have to wait until it’s all gone wrong before kids are eligible for the right level of support, but some of these issues are preventable – parents and teachers can often see it coming. The system is combative instead of preventative”.