Boys in Mind Meets...
An Interview with Phil Walters
By: Kit Cooper-Harrison
My name is Phil Walters and I’m the director of Off The Record Bath & North East Somerset. I started out working as a volunteer with projects that were helping vulnerable and disadvantaged young people in deprived and challenging parts of London. I did activities with young people around sport and music. At the time I was doing some DJing so did a bit of that with young people and a bit of one-to-one mentoring. It made me feel like I was doing something useful while being a student. After graduating, I was offered the chance to carry on doing that in a full-time capacity and haven’t looked back.
At Off The Record, we really value and involve young people. They are the people that we’re serving so we want to hear from them and make sure they’re fully involved. A real cornerstone of all local charities is having service user involvement. It’s challenging to do it well and not make it tokenistic. We’re in the process of recruiting new young trustees. We need younger people on our board. Running an organisation, making decisions about how we spend our money, how we safeguard other young people, our strategy for the future; all these things are critical, and the young trustees will be fully involved. I know Boys in Mind is passionate about doing that too.
We want to create safe spaces for young people to have their voices heard. We have some key values as an organisation: creating that safe space and focussing on young people’s emotional health and wellbeing and ensuring that young people are able to have their voices heard, through counselling and one to one support, but also in other in other settings. We support young people to influence change in their world, whether that’s policy development within government or petitioning local authorities to change. We see ourselves as servants to young people in the sense that we will enable them to have that platform and have their voices heard.
We’ve got a youth forum that meets every week at Off The Record. They are influencing the local authority around how they can improve services for young people. We’ve also got a really engaged LGBTQ+ group that meet every week. The groups are really helping us shape our response to the lockdown and to COVID-19. We made the decision quite early to start working remotely. Most of our work is provided in a one-to-one space which lends itself to doing it on the phone, through a video call, or through messaging. We want to get the message out that our services are still open. The lockdown is impacting all of us and our mental health.
We’ve gone from supporting just over 1000 young people a year to over 4000. In the last census, there were 60,000 young people living in B&NES. We know roughly that 10% of young people have some form of mental health need. The service we offer is very much preventative, we want to stop people progressing to a more significant mental health need. 10% of 60,000, you’re looking at over 6,000 young people who might need a safe space to get support with their mental health. There are some fantastic organisations out there offering support, like Boys in Mind, like Mentoring Plus. The voluntary sector in B&NES is brilliant, we’ve got fantastic organisations for young people.