Online engagement is influencing how we do things, but it will never completely replace face-to-face.

That was the view as contributors from across Scotland shared about how digital had influenced their volunteering and campaigning during 2020. The event was one of a series organised to mark #IWill Week and celebrate #PowerofYouth.

Katie Horsburgh of Girlguiding Scotland, Zoe Anderson of International Justice Mission, Maria McGoldrick, an MSYP for the Western Isles and a group from Dumfries and Galloway all contributed presentations about their experiences of how the unusual circumstances of pandemic lockdown had impacted on their volunteering activities.

Adapting to online meetings and new ways of connecting has been part of reality for so many of us, as the pandemic shaped activity during the year. Hearing how young volunteers have responded with innovation, flexibility and creativity is truly inspiring.

Using zine techniques for research

Is “to zine” a verb? We’re not sure, but we loved Katie Horsburgh’s creative approach to gathering the views of young people.

Katie studies sociology at the University of Edinburgh and is going to specialise in feminism, intersectionality and dynamics in womens’ spaces. She is a Guide Leader, having been a member of Girlguiding since Brownies. She also sits on the First Minister’s National Advisory Council on Women and Girls on behalf of Girlguiding Scotland. Over the summer Katie did some virtual research with young people using zine techniques to explore what an intersectional gender architecture in Scotland could look like.

By using creative collage techniques, both digital and traditional, young people were able to contribute their thinking as part of NACWG’s work.

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On a cycling mission

Zoe Anderson works for International Justice Mission (IJM), an anti-slavery organisation, co-ordinating their work with young people in Scotland. IJM is passionate about raising up a generation of modern abolitionists and Zoe explained how 40 million people are in slavery across the world, more than at any time in history.

In Scotland IJM had to adapt their plans during the summer. They were going to build an escape room at a summer festival, helping to raise awareness with young people at the event. Instead, as the festival moved online, they developed a challenge, encouraging them to get outdoors and cycle the distance they would have travelled to the festival – individually or as a group – and raise money through sponsorship.

Here are some of IJM’s tips for helping young people develop their own giving campaigns and raise awareness of this global issue via social media.

Zoe finished with a quote from one of the young people who had been inspired to take part:

“I have been challenged by all the IJM stories this weekend and in the past when I’ve encountered the organisation before. The stories break my heart and I’ve decided to challenge myself to run 50km over August to try fund raise for IJM. (That may not sound a lot to runners or sporty people but I realllllyyyy hate running and am quite unfit) and since I’m not in school and out of a job for now I have a lot of free time to be using my body for good. I’ve started a fundraising page through IJM for those interested.”

Rapid response

When lockdown was first announced, youth work in Dumfries and Galloway wasn’t cancelled. Instead it moved immediately online.

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Lauren Asher is the Online & Communications Youth Information Worker, she contributed to the session along with several young people: Hannah Birse is MSYP for Galloway & West Dumfries, Connor Johnstone is the Youth Councillor for Young People with Additional Support Needs & Disabilities  and Erin Blair is a Digital Peer Educator & Youth Work Services Young Leader. Together they shared about how, with only 24 hours notice, they took a music event that was going to happen at a venue and turned it into a facebook live event instead, getting the necessary permissions, risk assessments and safeguarding issues sorted out in advance of the event.

Dealing with distances

In a normal year, Maria’s volunteering means a lot of travel. She is MSYP for the Western Isles and regularly travels to the mainland for meetings.

Instead of a flight and an overnight stay in a hotel, SYP was, of course, online like everything else.

Maria noticed the way in which Covid was influencing young people and the need to continue to represent young people’s view.

Maria is also one of the Children’s Commissioner’s young advisers and presented at the Defence for Children International event on girl human rights defenders, an exciting opportunity to share views with people across the globe.

Maria was clear that while video conferencing plays an important role, it should never completely replace face-to-face activities. However, the future could include far more opportunities for online meetings. Living in a geographically remote place, it has made it vastly easier to join in.

Maria is concerned that budgets for travel and for physical youth activities might be cut, and that’s not what’s needed.

Digital is part of the future

Everyone who contributed to the #IWill Week session agreed that digital was a fantastic resource. No-one wanted to see it replacing face-to-face – as human beings we really do need those physical connections, but online activities can contribute in all sorts of different ways. The pandemic has provided important learnings and experience around how to use digitally successful and in the future all the contributors expect to see a much more blended approach – the best of every world.

#IWill is a UK wide campaign to support young people who volunteer. ~ #IWill in Scotland is led by YouthLink Scotland.

Watch the whole event