Longleigh lockdown stories: the Alcohol Education Trust

Charity Lockdown Story The Alcohol Education Trust

In this Longleigh Lockdown Story, it’s the turn of the Alcohol Education Trust (AET) to tell us more.

Here, AET’s Chief Executive, Helena, introduces herself and the work of AET…

Myself and group of dedicated teachers with an interest in health and pastoral care, founded the Alcohol Education Trust a decade ago now, out of a frustration of there not being any preventative or early intervention work with young people about alcohol – we felt every young person should know how to keep themselves and others safe around alcohol. 

80% of adults drink in the UK and everyone has to learn to navigate drinking as part of their social lives whether they choose to consume alcohol or not – it is one of those rare things that if used responsibly can bring pleasure and conviviality. But if misused, can lead to misery, accidents, injury, dependency and ruined lives, especially when drunk at a young age and/or to excess. 

We all gave our time and raised enough money (just £15,000) to employ a part time administrator to write to every secondary school across the UK once we’d piloted, trialled and adapted the best evidenced elements of engaging alcohol education programmes from across the world. The result was the ‘talk about alcohol programme’, now used in over half of secondary schools across the UK. 

How we’ve grown since then too, having developed targeted games and activities for young people most at risk of alcohol related harm, developed an online learning zone and expanding our work into children’s homes, PRU’s, youth and sports clubs for example. We are still small with nine part time staff supporting over 500,000 children each year in 1,400 schools and organisations free of charge. Do take a look at our impact report via: www.alcoholeducationtrust.org/teacher-area/evaluation-case-studies/

The key challenges we’ve faced during lockdown…

To give you an idea of an average week at the AET, the week before lockdown happened, we would have held workshops and training for more than five thousand young people, teachers and parents, all across the country.

Suddenly everything was postponed or cancelled and we, like so many others, were left like fish floundering on the shore, the rug pulled from under us. None of us could imagine how long lockdown would last but we knew it would probably be an awfully long time before we would be able to engage face to face with young people or adults in groups. 

Necessity is the mother of invention, and as you know, the majority of schools haven’t closed – remaining open for the children of key workers and the most vulnerable – so we have continued to ensure that young people have had access to our Talk About Alcohol programme and our support throughout lockdown. Fortunately, we had realised some years ago that a crucial way to engage effectively with young people was digitally, through games and online. So, our main task was to adapt our training, workshops and parent support seminars, that would normally be delivered face-to-face to be suitable for use online. All our lesson plans, film clips and resources are freely available for teachers and youth professionals via www.alcoholeducationtrust.org

We had to make a tough decision, in order to preserve designated funds from grants for supporting young people, to furlough our regionally based schools, parent and young people coordinators, effectively reducing our staff by 30%. This has put a huge burden on our already overstretched team who have had to take on additional responsibilities and not only maintain, but adapt our seminars and workshops for remote delivery. 

Thank goodness for Zoom and Microsoft Teams, for Google Jamboard and other brilliant tools to make remote learning engaging and interactive. We’ve had to learn fast and there have been tears of frustration and we’re still improving! 

Remote learning will never replace our day to day work, but it has increased the numbers of ways that we can engage. We can’t wait to get back out into the field and away from our laptops to resume doing what we do best: nudging young people into wiser decision making, equipped with the knowledge, skills and resilience to keep themselves and their friends safer around alcohol.

On a personal level it has been an anxious and quite lonely time, having to reduce our budgets and staff hours by 20% to realistically prepare ourselves for a tough couple of years ahead. Although we have only lost one funder to date, we have been unable to do any community fundraising and it doesn’t feel like the right time to ask for funds with pressures on front line services and large charities who have lost revenue from charity shops and huge fundraising events. Without the adaptable furlough scheme, we would have faced redundancies so we are extremely grateful for that. We have balanced the books but do worry about income in a years’ time.

As a people person, I have really missed our close team and meeting hundreds of people each week, including the other charities and organisations that we work closely with. There have been the extra strains of juggling family home and work in the same space but we’ve more than survived, and cherished the time. I do wish I could have taken some time off to really appreciate our older children being home with us as it was really special.

The unexpected highlights during lockdown… 

In the early days of lock down the unexpected highlight was stepping off the hamster wheel and being able to look very carefully at what we do, how we do it, our effectiveness, efficiency and impact. We came out of that audit with the wonderful help of Trustees, key staff and mentors very well and it was a reaffirming process. Although it was prompted by survival and sustainability it really was positive and has given us an adapted roadmap going forward.

Lockdown also coincided with our starting, thanks to the Longleigh Foundation, a very exciting new extension of our work to include 18-25 year olds and to cover topics such as combined alcohol and cannabis use for the first time. Involving the development of a new workshop, new games and resources in new settings (wonderful Foyers) this is a big task and it has been wonderful to be able to really focus on this with less rushing around geographically. 

We have loved the development of a strong on line community and experience sharing during lockdown – very locally through our voluntary 0-25 youth network and the local Council for example, the cuppa and a chat sessions with other CEO’s of small charities facilitated by Longleigh, Charity Digital and The School for Social Entrepreneurs. They have really helped by us sharing and solving the similar issues that many of us are facing, strengthening partnership working and ways forward – ensuring that we can build back – and communicate better!

What we’ve valued or found helpful from Longleigh, as a funder, during this time…

One of the unexpected highlights of this crisis has been the wonderful support of some funders as well as Trustees and mentors. The Longleigh Foundation has facilitated a rare opportunity for the dozen or so organisations with which it is working to talk openly and freely about the issues and challenges, both good and bad that we faced on initially a weekly, moving to a fortnightly basis and led thoughtfully by Andy Peers with a wealth of experience after 20 years in the charitable sector. We have shared best practice, new developments, future plans and brain stormed how to ensure better joined up thinking and delivery at both local and national level. We have all voted to continue our meetings ongoing which is testament to their value to us all. Andy, makes you feel he wants to be part of your journey and is always happy to discuss not only your project but any issues you may be facing which is greatly appreciated.

Our hopes and aspirations are going forward…

Our hopes moving forward are for a better ‘normal’, whatever that may be, where communities keep the connections and relationships that they have built during COVID 19, giving more freely and appreciating more the work of the myriad of small charities that work so hard to try and improve outcomes for not only the least privileged and most vulnerable in society, but for us all. As the leader of our local volunteer network in our Dorset village as well as at grassroots level running a busy, highly connected charity, our by-words are and will continue to be ‘partnership and sharing’ – you get so much more done, and we can improve the outcomes for so many more young people whose aspirations and opportunities have been worst hit by the coronavirus.


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