£10million lottery fund to help resort’s children

Blackpool youngsters celebrate after securing �10m of Lottery funding for the town's Headstart programme.  Pictured are Oliver Gibbs and Sophie Ellis.
Blackpool youngsters celebrate after securing �10m of Lottery funding for the town's Headstart programme. Pictured are Oliver Gibbs and Sophie Ellis.

It would be nice to think everyone’s childhood is all “fine and dandy” – but sadly for many youngsters in Blackpool, it just isn’t.

Family break up, questions over their sexuality and bullying are just some of the anxieties faced by today’s teens.

Blackpool youngsters celebrate after securing �10m of Lottery funding for the town's Headstart programme.  Pictured is Taylor Morrison-Eaves.

Blackpool youngsters celebrate after securing �10m of Lottery funding for the town's Headstart programme. Pictured is Taylor Morrison-Eaves.

For some youngsters, the trigger is changing schools or being isolated from a friendship group.

Either way, if the situation is allowed to spiral out of control the result can be years of suffering, self-harm or even suicide attempts during what should be the most carefree days of their lives.

Here in Blackpool, for the last two years, the challenge has been to try to change that bleak outlook and create a better future.

The HeadStart project has already helped 1,200 young people thanks to a £500,000 pilot project.

Blackpool youngsters celebrate after securing �10m of Lottery funding for the town's Headstart programme.  L-R are Jonathan Hillier, Bethany Whipp, Courtney Ward, James Hussey, Courtney Staff and Sam Steele.

Blackpool youngsters celebrate after securing �10m of Lottery funding for the town's Headstart programme. L-R are Jonathan Hillier, Bethany Whipp, Courtney Ward, James Hussey, Courtney Staff and Sam Steele.

Such has been the success of the initiatives, that this week a massive £10m of Lottery funding was awarded to the programme in order to extend its work and reach out to every single one of Blackpool’s 10,937 10 to 16-year-olds who might need help.

The aim is to help them build up resilience to the tests that life throws at them.

Children as young as 10 and 11 have accessed services.

Pupils from Claremeont, Roseacre and Marton primary schools joined in the celebrations to mark the award of the £10m grant.

Crucially, young people who have suffered mental health issues themselves have helped shape the way forward, setting up the Young People’s Executive Group.

They have bravely spoken out about their own experiences in the hope of breaking down some of the stigmas surrounding mental health, and encouraging other young people to seek the support they need.

Here are their stories in their own words.

Taylor Morrison Eaves, 18, from Grange Park.

“My anxiety started when I was around 11 or 12, due to my changing school.

“I went to primary school in South Shore and only myself and one other child from my school were going to the same high school which was Collegiate.

“At the same time I was also questioning my sexuality and just bottling things up.

“It would be nice to think things are all fine and dandy when you are growing up, but in reality it isn’t.

“I started self-harming, cutting my arms and wrists and stomach and about three years ago I took an overdose and ended up in hospital.

“I began seeing my school counsellor in high school, as well as going to CAMS (Child and Adolescent Mental Health Service), and I was diagnosed with adolescent psychosis.

“This is when someone’s symptoms can be psychotic mental health issues but they are also going through puberty, and so symptoms can also be due to hormones.

“I have been with HeadStart since January 2014 and it has made a real difference to my life.

“There hasn’t been a decision made without the Young People’s Executive being involved. Things like ‘Walk and Talk’ mean instead of sitting in a room for a counselling session, young people can make a decision about where they want to go.

“So their counselling session could take place as part of a walk in the park.

“We’ve also introduced arts and equine therapy, where young people get to work with horses and care for them for the day.

“Horses can sense emotions, and if the horse is agitated, it makes you consider whether that is a reflection of how you are feeling.

“I’ve also had lots of support from my family, including my mum Carolyne, every step of the way.

“I’m now off my psychotic medication and have been discharged, and I’m going to go to the University of Cumbria to study Youth and Community.

“That’s something I could never have imagined happening a few years ago.”

Oliver Gibbs, 18, from South Shore.

“I was born a female but am now transitioning into a male.

“I knew when I was a child that I wasn’t a ‘girlie girl’ and I was always playing with my brothers, but I didn’t know what it was until I was about 12.

“Then when I was 16, I came out to live as a boy.

“At the time I was at college, and everyone was very supportive, including my parents and my tutors.

“My mum and dad said they knew from when I was very young.

“But I bottled a lot of my feelings up for a long time and it was difficult going through it.

“I got involved with HeadStart nearly two years ago and it has really supported me.

“There is a lot of stigma around mental health, but HeadStart is something different.

“It is fun and you build up resilience without even knowing it.

“Now I am going to the University of Cumbria, also to study Youth and Community.

“I just hope I can give something back to other young people, the way we have been helped.”

Sophie Ellis, 17, from South Shore.

“I have been in foster care for nine years, and with the same foster family for that period of time, so I have been very lucky.

“I’ve just finished sixth form where I got a triple distinction in health and social care, and I am now going to study childcare and want to be a children’s nurse.

“But when I was 14 I was diagnosed with anxiety.

“I was nervous all the time, I didn’t want to go out on my own or meet new people, and became very reserved.

“My friends would invite me to parties and I didn’t want to go because I had no confidence.

“I saw a psychologist for six months who gave me a strategy to help me cope and I joined HeadStart in January 2014.

“Now I am a different person.

“Through HeadStart I have built up whole new friendships and have a much more positive outlook on life.

“I came out as gay a year ago, but I wouldn’t have been able to do that if I hadn’t felt comfortable with who I was.

“I think HeadStart will help a lot of children.

“The majority of children who go into care have mental health problems and if a project like this can intervene early on, it will hopefully mean fewer children going into care or being excluded from school.”