The Yard Fun & Friendship Youth Sessions
A story by The Yard
We ran four Fun & Friendship youth clubs for disabled young people, based in Edinburgh. The clubs helped increase their social, emotional and life skills and independence, as well as creating friendships and providing respite for families/carers.
What The Yard Fun & Friendship Youth Sessions did
Better Breaks funded our four Fun & Friendship youth clubs: our mixed gender 8-13s Club, our Girls Club (ages 14-20) and our mixed gender teens club (ages 13-18). We ran 71 club sessions in the grant period, and each club ran for two hours fortnightly, with activities (chosen by club members) including movie nights, baking, science experiments and a Halloween party. The club sessions met several of Better Breaks’ priorities, in that we gave young people with complex needs the opportunity to have fun build their social circles, develop their independence, and for the older club members, learn the skills necessary for a smooth transition to adulthood. There were no unforeseen changes to the plan for the project, although one of our Play Team Leaders left during the grant period, so we recruited a new member of staff to fill this vacancy. We are particularly proud of how quickly our young people were able to adjust to fortnightly club sessions, as opposed to weekly, as they were pre-pandemic.
For many young people, it was their first time attending a club by themselves. Many were already members of The Yard, having attended other activities (e.g. family sessions on a Friday and Saturday), meaning that they already felt familiar with our staff and environment. For new members, we offered tours and trials to families, to demonstrate the clubs in action. Young people interested in joining a club were then signed up by their parents/carers and added to a waiting list, joining a club when a spot became available.
With their child safely playing at The Yard, parents/carers could use this time to take part in their own hobbies, run errands, and in many cases, spend quality time with their other children. Although the clubs were a parent- and carer-free zone, drop-off and pick-up times allowed them to meet one another and lean on each other for peer support.
What The Yard has learned
1. No “one size fits all” approach: although we were already aware of this, the main lesson that we have taken away from this year is the importance of maintaining flexibility in order to accommodate a wide range of support needs – there cannot be a “one size fits all” approach, as every child is different and needs to be supported differently. Furthermore, it has been important for us to recognise that each child’s needs can fluctuate frequently, with each child’s needs often being different every single week, and sometimes even within each club session. It is essential not to make any assumptions about what each child needs based on our previous experiences with them, and instead to meet them where they are at each time they attend The Yard.
2. Importance of letting club members have agency over their own time: child-led play, where every child can choose exactly what they want to do, has always been at the core of our work, but this has been particularly important when considering what “structured” activities we will do in each club session. If we hadn’t consulted with the club members on a regular basis about what they wanted to do and decided on the activities without them, we would likely to have had much less interest in these activities, but by carrying out regular consultation, we can ensure that every child feels a sense of ownership and pride of the club.
3. New ways of sharing learning across the play team: we found that these learnings are relevant to all The Yard activities, for example our early years sessions, so we have been more pro-active in sharing our learnings with our staff members who aren’t directly involved in running the clubs. By having these conversations, we are better able to cement our overarching ethos of being child-led and adaptable. We have also decided to reflect on these lessons on an ongoing basis, with a team meeting taking place at the end of every session in order to find the best way to support one another as well as each child.
How The Yard has benefitted from the funding
The Yard is lucky enough to have had Better Breaks funding for our clubs for several years now, which has ensured that we have been able to keep these clubs running on a consistent basis – something that was uncertain during COVID-19. With this funding, we have been able to transition fully back into face-to-face delivery, and even increase the number of young people we are able to support in each club. Consistent funding from Better Breaks over the years has proven to other funders that our Fun & Friendship clubs are worth supporting, and for this reason we have been successful in securing multi-year grants from funders such as BBC Children in Need. Having a strong funding relationship with Shared Care Scotland has allowed us to be flexible and adaptable to each child’s needs, as we know that they are very open to discussing changes to the project plan if that is what is necessary for us to provide a truly child-led service.
Disabled children and young people between 8 - 20 years will have had more opportunities to have fun, develop friendships and do activities they enjoy.
Club members told us that they felt welcomed, safe and free to be themselves. Having a family-free space with the chance to suggest activities allowed them to develop a sense of community and ownership over the club. Many formed strong friendships, and when arguments inevitably happened, our staff helped them navigate this, strengthening their resilience and mediation skills in the process. Our November 2022 members’ survey revealed that 98% of parents/carers strongly agreed or agreed that their child had fun at The Yard, 97% strongly agreed or agreed that their child felt free to be themselves and 65% strongly agreed or agreed that their child was more sociable. Note: this survey was not specific to the clubs, but we know that generally these results replicate across each of our services. We feel it is an accurate representation of the benefits that club members across the year as it is supported by our qualitative evidence e.g. discussions with family and observation diaries.
13-year-old A is autistic and has been involved in our Fun & Friendship Clubs for a several years now. Involvement in the clubs has helped her in several ways – for example, she has often struggled with anxiety, particularly surrounding trying new things and socialising with large, unfamiliar groups. Coming to The Yard has improved her confidence in these areas significantly. Having previously been a member of our 8-13s Club, she recently joined our Girls Club, and we are pleased to say that she has settled into the group well, discovering new activities that she enjoys every week and making new friends with the other girls. Speaking about her experience in the 8-13s Club, she told us: “My favourite thing to do at The Yard is to have fun and go crazy! I can usually be found riding the bikes outside or creating a cardboard dinosaur head in the art room. This club has given me so many fun opportunities, like going to Gravity Trampoline Park! The Yard has made a huge difference in my life by makings my days feel more special, and I would tell everyone to join if I could. You’ll have loads of fun, make friends, and meet lots of kind workers!”
In 12 months’ time 160 carers will have had 96 hours respite where they had been given the opportunity to enjoy a life outside of their caring role.
We went above and beyond this outcome as our clubs ran for a total of 142 hours in the grant period, providing respite to 171 carers. Carers were able to use this time to relax, enjoy hobbies, spend quality time with their other children or even just run errands, safe in the knowledge that their children were in a safe, enjoyable environment. According to our members’ survey, 77% of parents/carers felt they could relax more as a result of their child attending The Yard and 79% felt less stressed.
One parent told us, “The Yard is an invaluable place for families like mine. It provides a safe place where children can play and learn without judgement. My son loves it! He’s happy and relaxed in the lovely environment. That allows me to relax too, which I don’t normally get to do outside of our house. I can’t tell you how important a place like this is for families like ours! I can’t thank the staff and people who support it enough.”
Over the course of the year 160 carers will feel better supported and as a result of the respite they will have the opportunity to relax and improve their mental well-being, thus ensuring they are better supported and equipped to sustain their caring role.
We feel that we achieved this outcome as the 171 parents and carers who benefited from the clubs regularly told us that they really loved the fact that the clubs gave them the opportunity to meet other families and make friends with others in similar situations. Although the nature of the clubs means that they leave while the club sessions are happening (so opportunities to meet with other parents and carers are slightly more limited than at the likes of our family sessions, for example), many reported that being able able to talk to others in a similar situation to them at pick-up and drop-off times was an invaluable part of their Yard experience. According to our members’ survey, 63% of parents and carers felt they had a stronger support network as a result of coming to The Yard, and 73% felt less isolated.
The mother of L, who is autistic, often felt that their family faced a lot of judgement in other play spaces, and they felt isolated and excluded as a result. She told us, “The Yard is now our second home. I have friends in parents, L has friends at The Yard and we know the staff very well too. We aren't stressed during our visits and all love going. It's a place the kids can be free and I don't have to stress the whole time about any behaviours that might occur. I get a chance to have a cup of coffee and talk to other parents. The staff have fun interacting with the kids. The kids play alongside other kids who also have disabilities…You have the chance to meet other families and have a chat. My most valuable advice and suggestions have come from other parents ahead of professionals.”
100 disabled children and young people and 160 carers will have improved well-being, with access to time to be independent of each other, allowing for opportunities to experience new things, gain respite and socialise, improve their self-confidence and self-esteem, and reduce isolation.
Re-adjusting to the club environment after lockdown was difficult for many of our children and young people. Although many had been in clubs together previously, the disruption of COVID-19 meant that many of them felt like they were getting to know new people all over again. We felt that building up their confidence again was the priority, so we designed sessions to ensure that everyone had the opportunity to participate in activities that they told us they would enjoy and get a confidence boost from. With this in mind, we feel we achieved this outcome, as we were able to be flexible and adapt to the most pressing needs in terms of supporting each child’s overall wellbeing. Our members’ survey in November 2022 revealed that 64% of parents/carers strongly agreed or agreed that their child was more independent as a result of attending The Yard, and 76% strongly agreed or agreed that their child was more confident.
L is autistic and has been attending The Yard with his family for most of his life, finding a “second home” here after feeling isolated and excluded from mainstream play facilities. L has never been able to join other clubs for children his age due to his anxiety and lack of confidence, particularly when separated from his family. Joining the 8-13s Club has changed all of this. Because he knows The Yard and our staff so well already, he feels safe at the club, meaning his confidence in attending activities independently has grown considerably. L has become much more forthcoming in involving himself in play with other children and make new friends, which has often been hard for him in the past as he has faced a lot of pressure to socialise in a particular way. At The Yard, he can socialise and play in his own way without judgement – for example, he has been able to find new friends who share his love of rough play and physical chasing games. Moreover, he has become more confident in socialising with adults outside of his family, and loves to play with our staff as well as his peers. According to his mum, this isn't accessible or possible for him anywhere else but The Yard.