News and Blogs

Social Anxiety

This post is written by Ahmad – one of the young people being mentored through our Aspire programme


Today I am writing about social anxiety, a common mental health issue among young people. In simple terms, social anxiety is a fear and nervousness of being evaluated or judged in a negative sense. Most young people like to hang out with friends and go out with mates, but with socially anxious youth, their fear of being judged can hold them back.

The thought process:
A socially anxious person may come across as shy, quiet, unfriendly, nervous, withdrawn and disinterested. But in reality, they will be going through a barrage of thoughts; Does my hair look ok? Should I talk to her/him? Are they talking about me? What are they thinking about me? What if I do something silly or say the wrong thing? These questions might seem illogical to you or me but they can take over a young person’s life.

Triggers/Symptoms:
What are the triggers? Being introduced to new people, a bit of teasing or criticism from someone, being the centre of attention, being tested or watched.

Some symptoms that an anxious person will have are obvious, such as blushing/sweating, shaking/trembling, having palpations and avoiding eye contact in conversations.

At other times, a person may be very anxious or nervous internally, thinking a 1000 thoughts, but don’t show anything externally.

How can you help?
There are few different ways you can help someone going through this. Accepting them as they are and being enduring, patient and kind even when the thoughts seem irrational. When someone is distressed, calmly assuring them that the feelings will pass.

  • Giving the young person room or space to express their fears. Listening to them without judging them. Being there for them.
  • Suggesting healthy distractions like a walk, reading a book or playing simple games.
  • Encouraging them to seek professional help if things are getting really difficult.

Mentoring Stories – 04

I have been mentoring with Starting Point Aspire for about a year now and I consider it a privilege to be involved with a young person’s life.  My experience so far has given me a great boost knowing I have helped a young man feel better about himself.

Mentoring a young person has opened my eyes to the stresses and challenges young people today face on a daily basis.  Mentoring has given me a focus and kept me thinking about how I can help in widening the options for my mentee which has involved a lot of research concerning anxiety and eating disorders.  Mentoring a young person encourages you to challenge your own perceptions and ideas.

So far I have helped him overcome some emotional and practical issues. We have met up safely during the pandemic and had long walks in the cold eating sausage rolls!   During this time we have discussed all sorts of issues including education, relationships, eating disorders, anxieties, the benefit system and VARS use in the Premier League! We respect each other’s views and standpoints but know we can challenge each other’s ideas and football team choices! We have built a good relationship and whilst we don’t always agree we both know that ultimately we can discuss and think about the options and which is the best course of action. 

I have seen him grow over the year and it gives me a great deal of pleasure to see the now confident young man he has become.  He now has the confidence to apply for jobs and benefits.  He is still not the best at accepting ideas, like staying in education next year,  but he is aware that it is his decision in the end and only he can make it.

I truly believe that in giving a little time to a young person you both grow and become the best people you can be!

Anyone considering mentoring should apply – mentoring has an enormous effect on the mentee but also gives you an increased feeling of self worth, immense satisfaction and keeps you young!  Young people look at the world differently and this is refreshing.  I am really happy that I decided to volunteer with Starting Point.

Mentoring Stories – 03

When asked to put a few thoughts together around why I became a mentor, a number of ideas came to mind that I would like to share. Having brought up three children as a single parent, two of whom are now at university and one will start A levels in September, I believed that the skills I had developed with my own children would be transferable in supporting others. In a world that is often harsh and challenging, there are environments where support and guidance are freely given. I believe that the education system, although it is far from perfect, is one of them and despite the struggles that many young people encounter whilst at school, I firmly believe that staying engaged in the education system in some way if possible is a good course of action. Holding on to this belief, I was delighted after a bit of googling to discover Starting Point, a Reading based charity who offer a number of different mentoring schemes. The Advance programme jumped out at me, as the focus here is so aligned to my personal beliefs in supporting young people from aged 11-19 to see the benefits of remaining in education.

I then had to summon up the courage to reach out and offer my support. All the usual self-doubt crept in, why did I think I would be any good at this, how would I be able to help? So I quietened the voices and made the call and goodness I am so glad that I did. After a couple of warm and reassuring phone calls, I found myself signed up for the compulsory training sessions. The journey had begun! The sessions were informative and thorough and then I was ready to go. There is great emphasis put on matching the mentee and mentor and it was a while from when I completed my training to being matched with my mentee.

I was so happy when I received the call to say that Starting Point would like to introduce me to a young person, but equally filled with self-doubt whether I would have anything to offer. But taking things a step at a time, we were invited to meet and have a chat and that is exactly what we did. I warmed to my young person immediately and was interested by what they chose to share with me on that first meeting. It is up to the young person to decide whether they continue and after a few anxious days I received the green light. We meet each week and I look forward to our time together. A lot of the time I listen because I realise that my role isn’t really to fix anything, it is just to be there and support the young person on their journey.  Everybody is different and each week is different. My young person is now signed up for a college course for September, is actively looking for part time work and talking about starting driving lessons. I am so proud of them feeling the fear but doing it anyway and can see what a wonderful future they have in store. Just taking one step at a time and giving things a go. Some of it will work and some of it may not, however if we don’t have the courage to try we will never know. A bit like me needing to take a leap of faith into my mentoring journey.

Mentoring Stories – 02

I have been volunteering as a mentor with Starting Point since the beginning of 2021 and being part of the Advance Mentoring team has been a really great experience so far. The Advance team mentor young people aged 11-19 years to help them with staying in education or deciding what to do once school is finished.

Mentoring young people is challenging but also incredibly rewarding. I support my young person through regular catch up sessions and we have spent a lot of time chatting away and getting to know each other. Watching her develop and grow in confidence has been wonderful and makes each week even more enjoyable. As our relationship grows we have been able to make plans towards the future and figure out what ambitions and goals she wants to set for herself. Discussing college routes, work experience opportunities and possible career paths helps increase her motivation and keeps her focused. I feel really proud watching my young person get excited about the future and developing a positive outlook on what adulthood may bring.

The support I have received on the Advance team is great and there are plenty of resources to help plan out sessions with my young person. I also feel mentoring has been a valuable experience for my own personal development and has also helped me to build my own confidence. There is a huge sense of achievement seeing your young person develop their social skills and boost their self esteem!

Mentoring Stories – 01

I had always wanted to do some variation of volunteer work but this struck me particularly hard during the pandemic last year. As I have lived in Reading for the majority of my life I wanted to do something that would have a positive benefit on our community specifically. I’ve been lucky enough to benefit from a loving family and tertiary education but so many young people in Reading do not have those experiences. 

After doing some research about volunteer groups in Reading, Starting Point looked like a great choice as not only would I be helping someone else, but also learning new skills myself. The whole team are incredibly friendly and set you up with all the tools you’ll need for mentoring, including formal training. You also have access to all the other mentors which is a lovely community to share with and learn from. 

I started with my mentee in November 2020 on the Aspire programme and it’s been very rewarding (and at times challenging)! Just being able to build a friendship with your mentee is such a great feeling and achievement. I’m not only able to support him but I’m also learning a lot about myself and what’s important to me. 

It’s certainly pushed me outside of my comfort zone but ultimately knowing I am bringing value to someone else’s life is incredibly rewarding. The Starting Point team are always there to help you and I’m really looking forward to the next few months with my mentee. If you’re looking to give back to the community and feel you could support a young person during a challenging time in their life then I’d definitely recommend exploring the options at Starting Point. 

If you’ve been inspired by this story, find out more about mentoring with Starting Point here: https://startingpoint.org.uk/get-involved/volunteer-mentors/

10 reasons why you should get a shelter dog

This article has been written by one of our young people from Milton Keynes.


Pros from buying from a breeder:

  1.  You can see your puppy’s parents so you know how they are going to look like as an adult dog.
  2. You know exactly what you’re getting.
  3. You have the opportunity to mould your puppy as it grows.
  4. If you’re buying from a good breeder it will already come well socialized.
  5. Breeders will offer you a genetic health test.
  6. Most breeders not only breed for conformation, but for solid temperaments. 
  7. Breeders are essential if you are planning to take your dog to the show ring.

Cons for buying from a breeder:

  1.  You’re buying a puppy. They are a lot of work just like a human baby.
  2. You are responsible for training your puppy.
  3. Breeders are usually more expensive than getting your dog from the shelter.
  4. Puppies need multiple vet checks and vaccinations during their first year of life
  5. Finding a truly reputable breeder that cares more for about the quality than quantity can be difficult.

A word about backyard breeders
Anyone can throw a male and female dog together to produce puppies. This doesn’t mean that they should. When dogs are bred without the proper knowledge of genetics, you often get unhealthy dogs with issues. Most backyard breeders don’t do any research on breeding. They just think that two dogs would pair well together and take it from there. Novice breeders are also unprepared for the amount of work required to care for puppies and the cost of vet care. They may want to watch the miracle of birth. However, once they have ten extra dogs running around making messes and chewing up the carpet, they get overwhelmed. These puppies often end up in shelters. If breeders aren’t breeding to improve the breed standard, they are just adding to the huge pet overpopulation problem.

Puppy mills
Puppy mills are commercial dog-breeding facilities where dogs are simply tools to run a business. I wouldn’t even put them into the category of “breeder.” However, it’s important to understand this awful practice in depth so you don’t unknowingly support it. It is estimated there are over 10,000 puppy mills in the US. Sadly, fewer than 3,000 are regulated by the US Department of Agriculture. This means that a lot of abuse goes unchecked. Many puppy mill owners keep their adult dogs in cramped, soiled cages standing on wire so that the urine and feces can fall through the openings. They usually deny them adequate mental stimulation and physical exercise. Many never leave their kennels except to be bred. These dogs are also not given decent veterinary care. They live truly awful lives devoid of kindness or empathy. While the puppies from these dog factories come out looking pristine by the time they reach the customer, they start life in horrible conditions. Many puppies die before they are weaned.

Often, since there is no genetic guarantee, you will find some issues that develop as the puppy gets older due to irresponsible breeding practices, such as bowed legs or hip dysplasia. The adult dogs often never escape; and may eventually be allowed to starve or are killed when they are no longer able to produce puppies to cut down on the cost of feeding them. This practice is illegal. Yet, if you look at past cases of these operations that were blown open by under-cover agents or whistleblowers, it is sadly all too common. Even if the puppy mill follows the rules, they are not required by law to treat these dogs as pets. They are only regulated – often very loosely – by the government to provide for their basic physical needs. If you take issue with dogs not being able to live with a family, but simply living their entire lives in cramped cages used as tools to create a product, then please don’t use your money to support this practice.

Sadly, most pet store puppies come from puppy mills. Please do some research on this before buying your puppy from a pet store to ensure you aren’t supporting this abusive system. If you buy dogs that are bred by people more concerned with turning a quick dollar than furthering the breed, you also contribute to that problem by rewarding the behaviour. If enough people stand up to this practice and they can no longer make a profit, they will stop this abuse. Puppy mills are a horrible place for dogs to spend their lives. We should demand better for these poor animals than simply being puppy factories for the greedy.

10 reasons why you should get a shelter dog:

1.     You save a life – this is maybe the biggest reason of all! By adopting, you’re giving a dog another chance at life. Some have terrible pasts, and have been abused, abandoned or left to fend for themselves on the streets. You are giving a dog a happy and safe home where they can learn to be a dog again!

2.     You won’t be supporting backyard breeders – many dogs are forced to breed as often as possible, and kept under cruel conditions in puppy farms. By choosing to adopt, you are avoiding these organisations and supporting animal welfare in the process.

3. You help stop pet overpopulation – by choosing to adopt rather than go to a shop or breeder for a specific type of pet, you are caring for a dog that already needs support instead of bringing another puppy into the world.

4. You might find your dream pet – with thousands of shelters, there’s bound to be one near you that might currently be home to the dog that is perfect for you and your family. After spending time at the shelter, you may fall in love with a completely different dog to the one you thought you wanted.

5. You gain the advantages of an adult dog – many dogs in shelters are adolescent or adult dogs rather than young puppies. But this means they’re likely to already know some basic commands or be housetrained, making your life a lot easier when you bring your dog home!

6. You get the lifetime support of shelter employees – no one knows more about the dog you are adopting than the people working at the shelter each day providing care and support for them. They will be able to assist you with the move and help you carry on any training or behaviour work.

7. You support a valuable community and charitable institution – it’s always good to show support and help out a local organization, and these shelters are providing a valuable service to the dogs in their care so by adopting one, you’re also helping provide for the ones left at the shelter.

8. You adopt a healthy pet – by adopting from a shelter, you can be assured that your dog has had excellent medical treatment, received any necessary vaccinations and may have even already been sterilised or microchipped, meaning it’s a perfectly healthy pet. 

9. You encourage others to do the same – people are sometimes wary of new ventures, but it only takes one of their friends to adopt a shelter dog and they’ll be assured it can go smoothly.

10. You’ll be rewarded with so much love and gratitude – many dogs up for adoption just want to find a loving home and their forever family, and are more than willing to show you bundles of love if you take the time to get to know them properly. Knowing you’ve saved a dog from an unhappy background brings eternal gratitude from your new loyal companion.

Safer Internet Day!

The internet is not a safe place so it is your job to keep yourself safe.

Here are three simple facts to remember when using the internet and social media, to care about what you share!

1) ITS FOREVER – Photos, comments and messages…whatever you share will be thereforever. Just because you might havedeleted it, doesn’t mean it’s gone.

2) IT TRAVELS – Once you share, you lose controlso it can be shared again byothers and travel to anywhere.

3) IT’S SPEEDY – Your information travels fast.Something you shared with afriend can quickly be shared withthe whole school, just like that.

Children and young people in care can take part in a survey to support Internet Safety Day and enter a prize draw here:
https://www.guardiansaints.com/guardian-saints-ypc-survey-supporting-safer-internet-day-2021

JENNY’S LOCKDOWN STORY

These last few months in general have been a time of uncertainty, stress and worry for everyone in their individual ways. For myself, it was a time of working from home and living alone, so could go weeks without seeing a single person.

For my mentee, her responsibilities changed dramatically – living with a vulnerable adult which meant isolation for four months and counting…

Although our circumstances were drastically different, we still had the common ground of feeling a lonely and overwhelmed. In that time, my usual mentoring ‘style’ changed – No longer did our conversations focus on applying for jobs and CVs, but instead all about our wellbeing and mental health.

Face-to-face mentoring stopped and weekly phone calls commenced, and since March we have spoken on the phone almost every week, catching up on how we are feeling and making sure we’re accountable to one another. My mentee knows she can talk to me and ‘vent’ on a weekly basis if she wants, but she has been a huge support to me to when I was lonely during lockdown.

This lockdown has taught me that mentoring isn’t solely about ‘the work’ but also about the relationship and we have built a much better relationship as a result.

My Story – Calum Harbor – Part 2

Hi, I’m Calum. If you don’t know me or haven’t read part 1 of my story, then I’ll indulge you in a quick recap: I came to Starting Point as a mentee in the spring of 2017 due to a plethora of mental illnesses including social anxiety, lack of confidence and motivation, and possibly depression. They matched me with a mentor and gave me opportunities I could only have imagined at the time. If you’d like to find out more, follow the link here to the first half of my journey.

I’ve chosen to write this second blog about my journey for a number of reasons, some personal and private, others to inspire people young and old – you may choose which of those two categories you call home. So please sit comfortably for the second half of my tale. Ready? Let’s go…

Picture it: Reading town centre, January 2019. I met with Sam (Starting Point’s project manager) and my then mentor, Hannah, for a meeting at Starbucks to discuss my journey so far. We all agreed it was time to change gears – we had worked on my confidence, now it was time to land me a job. This meant a change of mentors was needed. Sam described to me a new mentor who’d recently joined Starting Point, Emma. He believed us to be a perfect fit and set up a meeting for the following week. Whilst it was sad to say goodbye to Hannah, we both knew it was time to move on.

I met Emma the next month. I was anxious about meeting her, but it turned out I had nothing to fear – we really were a perfect match. Whilst she was much more extroverted, our humour was on point and we clicked almost immediately. She was what I needed at that moment – someone who wasn’t afraid to push me, but would also listen and be patient. She was also great at the job searching side, finding me applications and helping improve my CV to include my journalistic and social media skills I gained through doing Starting Point’s feed. This all led to my first interview in almost three years – an apprenticeship for the Maidenhead Advertiser. Whilst I ultimately didn’t get the job, from the feedback they provided, it sounded like I was close.

Two months pass and I’m starting to lose confidence again. Though Emma reminded me how young I was (24 at the time), I was still ashamed of never having paid work though my CV was chock full of voluntary experience. I felt pathetic, a disappointment to myself and my family. Then came a miracle…

I filled out an application for John Lewis in and was lucky enough to land an interview in July 2019. It was half group assessment, half formal interview. I don’t know how I did it – perhaps luck or natural ability and sincerity? – but I got the job. My third interview ever and I’d succeeded. I got the offer the next day and my family were ecstatic. It was like a great weight was lifted from my shoulders. After two years of mentoring, after six years of not feeling good enough, after six years of thinking I would never be employed, someone gave me a chance.

I was due to start my new job on August 5th. I was sad to leave my friends and the comfort of my volunteering job in the Royal Berkshire Hospital, but I was glad to have finally left. I was anxious on my first day at John Lewis, not knowing what to expect. I arrived on that first day and was taken upstairs with a small group of other new employees where Induction would be carried out, introducing me to the John Lewis Partnership and its values. On that same day I struck up a friendship with one of the group, a girl a few years younger than myself.

Throughout my probation period, I was scared I’d fail and be kicked out, back to square one. But that didn’t happen. Instead I became extremely likeable to my colleagues. My floor’s Selling Coach took me aside and informed me it was a pleasure to work with me. I wasn’t doing anything special, just working hard like always and keeping my head down. I also became aware of something my colleague said about me: I don’t run away from challenges. I might get stressed, but I always follow the task through to the end and keep my promises.

When my annual performance review arrived in the following January, my manager told me about the potential he and my colleagues saw in me, calling me assertive and imperative, and that he’d like to get me involved in projects. This was a massive boost to my confidence. At one point I applied for a BBC apprenticeship scheme, my chosen location Cardiff. Though I was unsuccessful, I was never scared of the thought of moving away; I was excited.

My mentoring came to an end by the end of the year, having moved into Amber and then progressing to Green. However, I was adamant not to suddenly disappear from Starting Point. I wanted to continue supporting the project and help it grow. Sam contacted me about forming a group of mentees who could help improve the project, wanting me to eventually lead it, and I accepted. I felt honoured that Sam wanted me to act as a leader, being more of a follower at the time. I don’t know what makes a good leader, as there are so many qualities, but Sam obviously thought I had what it took.

With my new found confidence, and inspired by my friend at John Lewis who was following her dreams of becoming an illustrator, I took the decision to sign up for singing lessons in March. I’ve always held a passion for performing and wanted to try and pursue it. Unfortunately the dreaded subject of 2020 arrived soon after my first lesson. During this uncertain and expanding time period, I received an email from Sam inviting me to become a mentor on the new Advance Mentoring project, helping mentees aged 11-19. Ever since my mentoring ended, I’d always considered becoming a mentor one day, though not for another year or two. I’ve never thought of myself as a particularly good teacher or role model. But Sam came to me himself and that gave me the confidence to sign on. It’s one thing to volunteer yourself – it’s another for someone to suggest you. I now hold the honour of being the first mentee to become a mentor at Starting Point, something I am extremely proud of.

This past year has thrown me new challenges, (as it has all of you) but it has also given me the confidence I needed to succeed. 18 months ago, I was terrified of applying for jobs, lost in hopelessness, and fearful of the future. I won’t lie and say these fears are completely gone. There are some days and nights I feel low and ashamed of my past, a spider’s web of negative thoughts and memories.

But there are positives I focus on: I now have friends to socialise with, knowledge about household products that will come in useful, money to spend on my interests (mostly books), and the independence I’ve craved for years. I’m slowly but surely leaving my comfort zone. My plan now is to save up enough to move out, perhaps even leave Reading, before I’m 30. I have 4 years before that happens. If so much can change in one, I’m sure I can accomplish this.

I plan on restarting my singing lessons and in September will join a local professional acting group to gain the skills needed before applying for LAMDA. If that fails I’ll go into journalism. A few months ago, a stranger I met during my rounds for the hospital radio believed I’d one day be a star. Call it delusional, but I like to believe she could be right. No one can predict the future though – if we could, we might do more harm than good.

Starting Point was a great experience for me and was exactly what I needed: friendly and patient with opportunities to help me find my way. They truly cared and wanted me to succeed. They made me feel valued.

Whilst I wish it hadn’t taken two years, maybe I needed that time to get to where I am today and wherever I’ll be in the future. And to anyone reading this, let my story and journey be the light that guides your path. I managed to pull myself from the abyss with the help of Hannah, Emma, Sam, and dozens of other people. They reached out their hands and I grabbed hold.

I don’t really know how to end this, so I’ll simply end it with a quote I found on the internet:

“Sometimes reaching out and taking someone’s hand is the beginning of a journey.

At other times, it is allowing another to take yours.”

Vera Nazarian

KATYA’S LOCKDOWN STORY

Fear, uncertainty, confusion are just some of what my mentee was experiencing when COVID hit and lockdown was enforced.  Our mentoring was focused on trying to get out of the house and trying to take steps to get back into school and slowly interact with society again. Anxiety and panic attacks stopped my mentee from venturing out, going to school, seeing friends and now all the work she had been doing and making great progress just stopped. What now? Where do we go from here? What to focus on?  We had to go back to the drawing board and relook at how she wanted to proceed. It was a challenge to navigate at first, but then we started to look at what she could do, what she could influence, how she could choose how to think and choose what feelings she could focus on. Suddenly she became more grounded and realised there were certain things she could move forward with. She focused on what she could do for school and got in touch with her teachers and tutors. It turned out because exams weren’t going ahead this year, she was able to submit all the work she had been doing with her tutors whilst not being in school and that would be enough evidence to get her GSCE’s which she never thought possible. This really shifted her whole outlook and she saw hope and gained motivation to focus on getting herself ready mentally for school in September. The sessions from there on in have been great and just amazing to witness the transformation and to see her start trusting herself.
 
My mentee started an accomplishment journal where she notes down all the small and big things she achieved through lockdown so that she can look back and see that when life pulls the carpet from under you that she can trust that she is resilient  and that it resides within her. That she can get through this and anything else that comes her way. It is just a matter of breaking things down, taking deep breaths and remembering she can choose how she shows up and that she has the power and the strength within her to get through anything.