Picture of Lily

Lily encourages young people to share their views, have fun and meet others at SEND youth group

11 May 2021 

We interviewed Lily, a 20-year old student, who is currently on her work experience placement with the youth participation service at Cheshire East Council. 

Lily shared her thoughts and experiences of working with the service who are currently revamping their SEND youth forum – a session aimed at listening to the views of children and young people with special educational needs and disabilities (SEND).

Pictures that make Lily happy

Pictures that make Lily happy, like palm trees, her dogs and the beach!

What/where are you studying?

I live locally, in Macclesfield and I’m studying a degree in Youth, Communities and Families, currently from home, at the University College Birmingham. I’m in my first year and I’m loving it. I always wanted a job where I am helping people in whatever way I can. 

Initially I thought I wanted to work in a school as a teaching assistant, but this course attracted me as it sounded really interesting and could open a few more doors for me – it has helped me to realise what’s actually out there and what I can do to progress.

I’m currently on a placement with the Cheshire East Council youth participation team. I had no previous experience of working with children and young people with SEND . I actually really love working with this age range of young people (13 -25) and adapting to their different needs and ways to communicate.

What things are you working on/helping us with at Cheshire East Council?

I’ve been helping with the SEND Youth Forum or ‘Jigsaw’ as it’s now called.  It’s going really well, as I am helping to develop the group, promote it and basically revamp it.  I’ve been working on the plans for each session, designing icebreaker activities, getting involved in awareness days and developing a SEND contact list for schools. Every task, I’ve thoroughly enjoyed, and I am happy to help out where I can.

It’s been eye opening to hear the perspectives of the young people who attend the group, they have a range of needs and it’s nice to hear their experiences. We’ve had discussions around the EHCP process and autism.

I’ve attended two meetings of the mental health partnership board and also been going to the Utopia group (for LGBT+) every week since January. We had our first ‘in person’ session recently and I absolutely loved it!

Why is it important that we listen to the views of young people?

It’s so important that we listen to their views – these young people are going to grow up and live in this place, Cheshire East. They need to feel they are somewhere that is safe and where they feel happy. They need to have good networks and relationships, particularly with professionals who are there to help them. They need to know how to contact these professionals, where they are and know they will be listened to. It’s very important.

I believe you had a session recently on autism awareness – can you tell me a bit about that?

Yes, it was autism awareness week, so we used this in our session, as we knew there were a few young people with autism attending. We wanted to hear their perspective, not only on what it’s like to live with autism in their day to day lives, but also what they thought about autism awareness week and if they thought it was a good or bad thing.

I did have to pretty much lead this session at very short notice, as the computer of the other youth worker went down unexpectedly – so I had to take over!  I was very nervous – but it went really well.  One bonus is that I needed to lead a session of the youth forum as part of my university course – so job done.

I believe that the new name for the SEND Youth Forum is ‘Jigsaw’ – why did the group choose this name?

The young people felt the word ‘Jigsaw’ represented how they fit in with each other and with society. They felt that children and young people with SEND are not in another section of the community, they don’t want to be excluded. It’s all about inclusivity really, about being all together.

A jigsaw represents autism too, which I didn’t know and is really interesting.  I feel like this is a major issue for SEND , nobody likes to feel excluded or that they don’t fit into society. So, it’s a very important message.

I am working with the group on a logo for the new name, so we can then promote the sessions. We have challenged the young people to go away and think of some designs, so, watch this space.

What would you say to any young person considering coming along to the youth forum/Jigsaw group?

There is such a range of young people that come along, so no matter what interest you have, what appearance, preferences, anything really – you will find someone you can relate to, have some things in common.

You can build up some really important relationships with people. You’ll get to know people that you might not otherwise come into contact with, and people that understand what you are going through.

You can talk to many able-bodied people, but they will never truly understand. So, the benefit is you are talking to other people in the same or similar situation, you feel more understood and more valued

If any young people are anxious about meeting new people, as we move to more ‘in person’ sessions – Microsoft Teams is always there as an option. This pandemic has shown us that we don’t always have to do things face to face. We try so hard to make everyone feel relaxed and as welcome as we possibly can. That’s one of the reasons why we wanted to change the name of the group – a forum doesn’t sound like a place where you have fun. We do a lot of fun things as well as consultations with young people.

I’ve been working on a programme of activities for future sessions including a range of activities focusing of different health conditions or lifestyles – for example a Big Asthma Bake Sale or Bike Week. So, we really look forward to meeting lots of new faces, having fun and hearing what they have to say.

Thank you Lily

For more information about the SEND youth forum, soon to be called ‘Jigsaw’ visit our Local Offer email participation@cheshireeast.gov.uk or call 01625 384320