Bryony Harris, Group Leader at Seal Dunfermline 

Phase 1 story (Spring / Summer 2020)

Seal Dunfermline works with children and young people between the ages of 8 and 16, the majority of whom are referred to the project by social work, schools and health professionals. Children are referred for a variety of reasons that fit within our eligibility criteria. Regardless of the reasons for attending, our aim is to make sure that every child and young person coming to the project feels valued, supported, listened to and understood. The work we do is conducted in small groups each comprising of around 8 members and is focused on building character strengths, resilience and positive relationships.  

How have you been able to keep a focus on what matters to people during COVID? 

Seal closed its premises the same week that schools closed. The group leaders chose to  move to an online platform to deliver groups in a new way they had never tried before.  

These are extremely stressful and confusing times for any child, however for Seal’s  children who have autism and other social and emotional needs, a change towards a  virtual world has been a lot more challenging.  

The emotional wellbeing of a child is imperative to their health and many of the children  Seal supports are not engaging with online learning. It is for this reason, that fun and  exciting activities delivered by Seal are more important than ever. It is keeping the  children that Seal supports connected to the outside world, without the added pressure  of tasks to complete. 

What have you had to do differently and what made this possible? 

We were unable to hold physical groups, therefore moved to zoom group calls. One factor that made this transition go smoothly, was an anonymous donation of £2000 which was put towards new laptops for the group leaders. We also made Goody bags for each group member and delivered them to their homes, this allowed us to check in on our group members physically and remind them that we are  thinking of them.  

What have you noticed that has been better? 

We noticed that some of the children we support engaged better with group activities  online, than they do at Seal house. Some seemed to be more confident, which may be  because they are in the comfort of their own home. Online groups ensured that the group  members, staff’s and volunteers’ spirits remained high throughout this difficult time.  

We also hosted a party online, where we invited all of our group members, their families  and the seal staff to enjoy a live zoom magic show. This was great fun and ensured that  everybody who wanted to come was able to, as it was online.  

How did this make you feel?  

This made us feel very proud of our young people as they adapted so quickly. We are also  very pleased with how quickly we as an organisation adapted to online groups and were  able to engage and support our young people throughout the whole of lockdown.  

What have you learned through this?  

We as an organisation have become more creative in the way that we design activities. We have also learned that we can still make a big difference to the children that we  support even on a virtual platform and are able to connect young people through  engaging with online groups.  

Anything else you want to tell us?  

We have had lots of parental and carer engagement  throughout covid-19, thanking us for the support that we have given. As an organisation, we are delighted with the service that we have managed to continue to deliver.

Phase 2 Story (Autumn 2020)

What has continued to help keep a focus on what matters for people during the  pandemic? 

Seal works with children and young people between the ages of 8 and 16, the majority of  whom are referred to the project by social work, schools and health professionals. We have continued to run the service using the zoom platform. This allows our group  members to keep in contact with one another and our group leaders.

Are there changes that seem to be lasting longer term and are there things that have slid  back to old ways of doing things?  

Communication with parents has improved. The group leaders need to message the parents  if there are any craft activities or any activities that they need resources prepared before  group, this allows the parents/carers an insight into what their group member is doing  when they come to Seal. This is something that we are going to try to keep going when we  are able to return to physical groups. Each group member will have their own learning  journal which will be shared with parents/carers. This will give the parents/carers an insight  into the things their group member is doing at Seal.  

We want the children and young people to feel valued, supported and listened to. We make sure that everyone gets a chance to contribute and like to begin every group with  sharing something positive that has happened that week. This allows us to take time to  share some positive news and allows us more of an insight into what our group members  get up to. We have kept this going since the start of lockdown.  

We have also become more active on our social media. This has allowed us to spread the  word about the charity and the work that we do.

What difference has this made to people? 

I think Seal being able to continue to deliver groups online has made a big different to the  group members. We have kept weekly contact with our group members and have  continued to deliver groups around social and emotional wellbeing. We have also had a  specialist on our group zoom to deliver a mindfulness session for our group members, who  gave our group members tips on coping strategies and lots of other mindfulness exercises.  We had lots of positive comments from parents/carers about how much their group members enjoyed this session/ how much they got from it. I also think communication with the parents/carers has made a big difference to whole  families. Seal group leaders are there if the parents/carers have any concerns or questions.

How did this make you feel?  

I am really pleased with how we have been able to continue to support our group members  virtually. We are still adapting and changing things and are becoming more confident in  being able to deliver.

Reflecting on your experiences what have you learned? 

As a charity, we have learned a lot over lockdown. We have learned that engaging young  people online can be challenging at times. We have also learned how important frequent  contact is to the children and young people that we support. When all other clubs were  closed, for some children and young people, Seal groups were the only opportunity for  them to socialise and talk to someone else their age.

What difference has it made to you to tell your story as part of this project?  

I have thoroughly enjoyed reading all of the other stories. Telling Seal’s story has given me  the chance to take time to reflect on how we have adapted to the barriers posed by covid.