Bring it on!
Visyon held its Annual General Meeting last night. To some degree, this is a formality. We hold an AGM every year and there are certain rules we have to follow, and boxes we have to tick. But it’s more than that. It’s an opportunity for anyone with an interest in what we do to come along, get an update, and have a say. And it’s also a time when we take stock of what Visyon has done in the last year, when we celebrate what we’ve achieved, and plan for the coming year.
There are some phrases that we use (perhaps over-use) every year at Visyon and “it’s been a challenging year” is certainly one of those. We say it every year at AGM time. But that doesn’t make it any less true. Every year at Visyon is challenging, because working in children and young people’s mental health can be tough. And working in the third sector, where we do everything on a shoe-string and battle daily to keep the money coming in, can be pretty demoralising at times.
This year, Visyon has really felt the impact of austerity on the local statutory services. We have seen a huge increase in the number of children and young people coming to us for help. And we have also seen a massive increase in the severity of the mental health issues that these children and young people are struggling with. A high proportion of the young people who are referred to Visyon are seriously self-harming or suicidal. It’s not unusual for us to have 5 or 6 of these referrals in one day.
This presents its own challenges for the team here, as our role is often now less about supporting these young people, and more about advocating to get them the specialist support that they need from the statutory services, support that Visyon isn’t equipped (and wasn’t set up) to provide. The statutory services are under such pressure that they’re doing their best, but that simply isn’t enough. The system is currently stretched to breaking point, and local children and young people are being failed.
Visyon was founded 23 years ago because gaps in local provision meant that several local young people couldn’t get the support they needed, with tragic and devastating consequences. 23 years on, and it’s still happening, and Visyon simply doesn’t have the resources to help them all.
But, last night at Visyon’s AGM, we were far from ‘doom-and-gloom’ as we looked back at 2016-17. In the last year, we know that we have made a significant impact to the lives of the 1200 children and young people that we have been able to work with. We know because they tell us.
For instance, one 16 year-old boy said that Visyon has “been amazing. They’ve helped me through so much and I can’t thank them enough”. A mum of a child we supported said, Visyon has “helped my family more than words can say and I will be forever grateful”. A Gran told us that her grandson “is a far happier and more confident little boy now than he ever was”.
The team here at Visyon are a truly inspiring bunch of people. We’ve all pulled together to affect some massive changes to the buildings we work in, and the services we deliver over the last year. Our base at Congleton is practically unrecognisable, with 4 new group rooms, and a beautiful, bright café space. And this last year has seen the development and opening of Visyon’s base at Crewe. Nobody at Visyon ever says “that’s not my job”, and we can often be seen working at weekends and into the evenings, painting (and sometimes building) walls, sourcing cheap furniture, tiling, as well as continuing to provide the support to local young people that they deserve.
But more inspiring than our team are the children and young people themselves. It never ceases to amaze me how little it takes sometimes for these children to bloom and thrive. Some of the young people who have been attending Visyon’s groups performed at our pre-AGM showcase event last night and it was a proud and emotional moment to see individuals that we have come to know so well over the last few months having the confidence to sing, drum and dance before a crowd of strangers. What was probably most moving was the way that they worked together, and supported each other with such generosity and kindness. It was a real indication of resilience and good, strong mental health.
So it has been a challenging year, but, as always, a rewarding one. I suspect everyone at Visyon comes to work every day expecting to have a challenging day. We expect that we will spend at least some of our time shouting into the wind to try and get the right support for the children who need it. We expect to be able to make a difference to a fraction of the children and young people that ask for our help. But we also expect to make a profound difference to the children and young people that we do support. We expect to be able to help them to take control of their lives, and we expect to be proud, and inspired, and humbled by their resilience and strength.
As Visyon looks forward to the year ahead, I know that we will to continue to do our best to give the best service we can to local children and young people. I’m sure that we will continue to argue for more specialist support from local statutory services, and also better joining-up across services. And I have no doubt we will continue our uphill battle to increase Visyon’s funding base so that we can do more and help more. But, to echo the words of our Chief Executive last night, “Bring it on!”