12/08/2021 - Published by

Today is International Youth Day, a day dedicated to recognising and celebrating the contributions young people make to our communities and across the world. Today we want to share a new and exciting project we’ve been working on over the past few months with young people.

You might have seen us introducing some new intergalactic friends on our Twitter and Facebook pages recently. Have you figured out what on earth we’re doing this for? Well, let’s start from the beginning.

It feels very much like stating the obvious, but Covid-19 has had and will continue to have long-lasting effects on society. We know in particular that it will be young people who are affected for many years to come. We also know that to support young people and societies to flourish and prevent conflict, we have to respond early and be proactive. For us, that means working with young people to develop key skills to support them in their healthy future development.

Lockdowns and covid restrictions have affected children’s and young people’s socialisation, educational, cognitive, and emotional development. With nearly 9 months out of the school environment and disruptions to their learning through the collapse of ‘bubbles’, young people’s access to school has been highly inequitable.

Add to this the variety of different situations young people face outside of school, such as poverty, instability, and violence in the home. Whilst these issues are not new, the very sad fact is that young people throughout lockdowns have been forced to endure prolonged exposure to awful conditions. From violence and abuse to hunger, through to limited interaction with their peers and access to learning materials.

Evidence states that “Children who feel threatened or unsafe may develop physiological responses and coping behaviours that are attuned to the harsh conditions they are experiencing at the time, at the long-term expense of physical and mental well-being, self-regulation, and effective learning.” [https://developingchild.harvard.edu/resources/connecting-the-brain-to-the-rest-of-the-body-early-childhood-development-and-lifelong-health-are-deeply-intertwined/] Intervention to support children in these formative years is incredibly important to their future development.

Schools and other community initiatives have done incredible things to support young people and their families over the past 18 months and continue to do amazing things. Schools we have been working with have expressed all of this and more in their care of their young people.

One of the areas affected greatly by restrictions was the Liverpool City Region. We have long had strong relationships with primary schools in the region. So when schools returned to face-to-face learning staff realised that their young people needed additional support to reacclimatise to classrooms, and so we launched the Steps Programme.

As part of the Steps programme, we deliver our Tiny Steps and Small Steps for Peace projects, which aim to support primary aged students, as young as 6, to develop healthy social and emotional skills, as a way of creating a healthy foundation for their educational, cultural, and health attainment in later life. These projects support young people to understand and express their emotions positively, learn problem-solving skills, and develop strategies to respond to stress and conflict in their lives in positive and non-violent ways.

You can learn more about the Steps Programme here.

However, when schools returned, staff were also expressing concern about some children showing signs of trauma and struggling to cope with emotional and behavioural issues from prolonged time out of school.

In our session rooms, we noticed changes in the way some students were interacting with each other, how they found it difficult to express how they were feeling, and how that would lead to challenging behaviours, or low self-esteem and confidence.

And so, We come in Peace was born.

We know that effective programmes require time. There are no quick solutions. We also know play and creativity are two very important tools for learning. As we always did, we went to the drawing board. Our question: how can we explore learning around togetherness, overwhelming emotions, problem solving and aspiration, in a creative and fun way?

A board game of course.

Board games offer many things, there’s often a structure, there are certain rules and boundaries, and the task is to find ways to work within these, whilst listening to instructions. They furthermore, promote communication between those playing, in addition to working together, and having the opportunity to see how others think and interact.

Our work is always interactive and experiential; we use games and theatre/drama-based activities to simulate real-life scenarios, to understand how we behave and react to different stimuli, and develop strategies and techniques to respond constructively. We, therefore, wanted to create a board game that included space for our experiential and play-based activities, combined with a more focussed structure for navigating the challenging topics we knew we would be coming across when working with young people on the programme.

At this point, we have to give a special shout-out and thanks to Agent Marketing for turning what were some very basic beginnings (see pictures below) into something immersive and creative.

(Basic beginnings, on top. Beautiful and creative by Agent Marketing, below)

We come in Peace is a physical, table-top board game, structured around a story of four Cosmological Navigators sent out on a mission to find the key to Peace!

And this is where we bring in our new friends. Aspiro, Fixit, Ammi, and Buddi.

This curios quartet makes up the team of Cosmological Navigators. Not all goes to plan when they set out on their mission, however, and they, unfortunately, crash land on an unknown planet. The pieces of their ship are scattered across the four lands of this strange new world. And so, our friends set off on a journey to fix their ship and return to their mission. Their journey does not come without further challenges, and they’ll need help along the way. But when faced with these challenges, they soon realise that working together, thinking creatively, communicating, and having fun on the way, may just be the thing that they are looking for on their mission.

The board game is played over a 4–6-week period. Each week and session, the group will lead our curious quartet through the four lands. Each land last’s approximately an hour, and is split into three key parts, following a simple but important structure:

  • Story
  • Activity
  • Reflection

Through playing the game, students have the opportunity to express themselves and discover more about their own emotions, others’ emotions, how they behave in certain situations, and strategies and tools to work through moments of frustration, stress, or lack of self-esteem and confidence.

One of the students who took part in the development of the game and sessions wrote a letter to one of our facilitators at the end of the project, thanking them for taking part. This student was shy and struggled with his confidence. In one of the sessions, he expressed that he wanted to get better at football, but didn’t know how which frustrated him. He didn’t have anyone to practice with. Through the sessions, we explore the topic of togetherness and community. In response to him expressing this want to practice more but his frustration over having no one to practice with, or a lack of ability to join a team (money and time, which his carers couldn’t meet) the rest of the group offered to help and agreed to meet outside of school time to practice with him. It is a testament to the group that they did just that – they met up outside of school. It might seem quite innocuous, but to this young person, it is clear that his need to participate and to have fun, and be creative was lacking. To have this need met was transformative.

This past year we have been working with eight primary schools in the Liverpool City Region, and two in Blackpool to develop this board game. It was incredibly important to us that we developed the game in collaboration with young people, to understand and meet their needs in this project.

We are now excitedly looking for other schools to help pilot this game further. If you’re interested, to know more about the game and how it could support your students and to chat about partnering with us, get in touch at commissions@peace-foundation.org.uk.

Finally, we know that in order to offer effective support, it requires partnership. That’s why we are incredibly grateful for the support of not only the schools with whom we have worked during this first phase of development but also in particular to the Steve Morgan Foundation for funding this. This funding from the Steve Morgan Foundation recognises that developing these social and emotional capacities in young people at an early age can support their healthy development in later life.

Whilst the past 18 months have proved challenging in many ways, we have also observed amazing work taking place, and as ever, young people continue to show great strength, curiosity, and kindness. It is our role to continue to support them and lift them up.

Stay tuned for more news about We come in Peace soon.