YOUNG people often learn more effectively when they can listen and share opinions and concerns about personal and social issues with other young adults, writes Alex Purbrick.
This is referred to as Peer Education and is a method used by the Open Peer Education Project (OPEN), a group within Voluntary Action Shetland, based at Market House in Lerwick.
In operation since 2011, OPEN trains and supports young people aged 16-25 years to become ‘peer educators’, delivering workshops and training to other young people throughout Shetland on a range of issues varying from sexual health to drug/alcohol harm reduction, mental health awareness and online safety.
Last year, the peer educators in OPEN have led 81 workshops for 1,335 young people aged 12-16 years in all seven of Shetland’s Junior High and High Schools, raising awareness of issues that may be delicate for young people to speak about openly.
Currently there are 17 peer educators but OPEN are hopeful that more, young folk can become volunteers on the project and are inviting anyone aged 16-25 to commit to one year of training and work as a Peer Educator.
Peer educators meet at Market House on Tuesday evenings from 6pm-8.30pm and participate in training as well as discussing informative and interesting subjects relevant to young people.
As well as volunteering with OPEN, there is the opportunity to work towards gaining a Saltire Award which is certified recognition of the invaluable work young people achieve in the local communities throughout Shetland.
One of the main issues facing many young people in Shetland is accessibility to a venue where they can socialise and be safe and warm. To address this need, OPEN have started the OPEN UP initiative that is run by volunteers with the aim to take over ten cafes throughout Shetland from January to December this year.
Wayne Leask, peer education trainer and mentoring co-ordinator for OPEN explained what the OPEN UP cafes aim to achieve.
“Hopefully they’ll provide a space for young people aged 16-25 that they can go to and socialise,” he said.
“We feel there’s a need for somewhere that young people can go to that’s warm, got Wi-Fi, free refreshments and they’re informal and most importantly these cafes are somewhere that young adults can meet that’s safe and where they feel valued.”
As well as socialising, the OPEN UP cafes will be a place where young people can have the opportunity to learn more about the OPEN project and become a volunteer as well as be involved in discussion about issues important and relevant to their emotional and mental health.
Wayne also expressed how “so far the cafes have been a success with different venues in Lerwick hosting OPEN UP sessions”.
“This Thursday until the October school holidays we’re taking over the Olive Tree café at the Toll Clock from 6-8pm and after October we’re going to try and have OPEN UP sessions outwith town in places like Sandwick, Scalloway and Brae,” he added.
“Eventually I would like to set up a permanent youth café in Lerwick, a space where young folk can go in the evenings but we would need to secure funding to enable this to happen.”
The OPEN UP project is definitely a positive step in ensuring a youth café can be established in Shetland and helps young people make positive life choices regarding their mental and emotional wellbeing, which ultimately improves their confidence, self-esteem and ability to be a supportive influence in their communities.
For more information on the Peer Education Project and/or the OPEN UP cafes please contact Wayne Leask on 01595 743950 from 9am-5pm.