Young people talk about mental health challenges of the pandemic

Young ambassadors for a Reading youth counselling service have produced a series of videos discussing mental health issues related to the pandemic.

No5 counselling service for children and young people has joined forces with Reading Borough Council and Brighter Futures for Children (BFfC) to make the short videos to offer support as we come out of lockdown.

The four young ambassadors from No5 have reflected on the past 16 months and what it has meant to them and described how they have managed to get through it.

In the videos, Tia talks about the difficulty of starting a new school during the pandemic and how she dealt with feelings of anxiety and lack of motivation. University student Gemma tells how she changed her mind set to turn an unexpected Christmas away from her family in Italy into a positive experience. And Angie describes how we should spend more time taking care of ourselves, as we would a child.

Also, Abbie explains why it is okay to admit you are struggling and to ask for help; discusses dealing with anxiety about the future and tells how she felt nervous about going back to work in retail.

You can watch the videos and find more information and resources regarding mental health and wellbeing, at: and follow @readingyoungpeople on Instagram.

Deborah Glassbrook, Executive Director of Children’s Services, said: “The last year has been a particularly difficult time for our children and young people. They have had to cope with the anxiety of staying away from school, friends and family members and have faced uncertainty in all aspects of their lives.

“The No5 young ambassadors share fascinating stories in their videos and give some great advice about how they have dealt with different situations. As we enter the long summer holidays, I am sure it will be a big help for young people to hear about the real-life experiences of their peers and to think about their own mental wellbeing.”

Cllr Graeme Hoskin, Lead Councillor for Health, Wellbeing and Sport, said: “The COVID pandemic has significantly impacted many people’s wellbeing over the last year, and for young people, getting back a normal life may feel far away. I’m proud that work done by Tessa Brunsden, Community Alcohol Partnership Officer, with local secondary school children earlier this year was able to inform this collaborative project. Her presentations and discussions with the pupils highlighted that many young people’s anxiety surrounding COVID wasn’t just related to physical health and following the local Government guidance, but also in maintaining friendships, planning for the future, and concerns for their family members.

“The young ambassadors at No5 are trusted faces for many young people in Reading, and they have created some excellent videos touching on specific issues raised in the school sessions. As Reading follows the rest of the country in leaving lockdown restrictions, the videos are an important reminder to take the next step at your own pace, as even a positive change can be different for everyone.

“I’d encourage everyone to watch the videos when they’re shared on our social media platforms each Sunday, or take a look at the full playlist here:”

No5 is a community-based organisation offering free, confidential, specialist counselling and mental health support to children and young people aged 11-25. Visit the website at:

Carly Newman, Operations and Relationships Manager at No5, said: “Our Young Ambassadors provide fantastic insight into the experiences and struggles of young people over the last 16 months, and it is so important that local young people hear their messages and know that they are not alone. We are so glad to work alongside our statutory partners to share these messages and help support local young people.”

The six short videos are also being shared on Brighter Futures for Children’s and Reading Borough Council’s social media channels over the summer.

Quality of care for children & young people with SEND in Reading improving

Brighter Futures For Children,  Berkshire West CCG & RBC Press Release

The quality of care and support for children and young people with special educational needs and/or disabilities (SEND) in Reading is improving, with leaders across the area working well together.

This is the inspectors’ view following a recent joint Ofsted and Care Quality Commission (CQC) local area SEND inspection in Reading.

The inspectors recognised that leaders have acted swiftly to address issues which affect children and young people with SEND in Reading and have a clear view of how they will continue to improve services.

The joint inspection took place between 21-25 June and involved health services and schools in the borough, Brighter Futures for Children and Reading Borough Council. Inspectors also spoke to children and young people with SEND and their parents and carers.

The report from Ofsted and CQC, published today, does not give an overall ‘judgment’ but details the positive findings of the inspection.

The main findings say the quality of care for children and young people with SEND in Reading is improving and recent actions taken show the determination of leaders to make Reading a good place to be for children and young people with SEND.

Leaders also recognise the concerns of parents and have plans under way to address the issues that worry parents most, such as the availability of specialist school places.

Inspectors recognised that many professionals work well together and there is better – and earlier –  identification of children with SEND. They said co-production and joint working is well established in Reading and there are many examples of how this is helping to identify children’s needs in a timely way.

Schools and early years settings are well supported by both education and health services, says the report, and a number of schools have collaborated to make sure the curriculum supports all pupils to learn, including those with SEND.

Looking at the effectiveness of the local area in meeting the needs of children and young people with SEND, inspectors said: “Improvements to services are planned and delivered in genuine partnership, with parents and young people included as standard.”

The Family Information Service and Reading SEND Local Offer were recognised for providing good information for parents and carers of children and young people with SEND and there is widespread awareness among families of where to go to find information and advice.

The report says the local area is improving outcomes for children and young people with SEND. This includes a reduction in the number of pupils being excluded from schools, which has improved by the adoption of a therapeutic thinking approach now being delivered in most schools.

Outcomes for pupils with Education, Health and Care Plans (EHCP) are in line with, or above, the national average by the time they leave primary school. In secondary schools, pupils with SEND in Reading attain better results than their peers nationally.

Inspectors highlighted some areas for development but did not issue a written statement of actions, which is a strong indication of the level of improvement in the Reading area.

Deborah Glassbrook, Executive Director of Children’s Services in Reading, said: “I am delighted inspectors expressed confidence in the leadership in Reading and recognised the willingness to continue to improve services for children and young people with SEND.

“The report gives a clear demonstration of how our different services and organisations are working well together to deliver the best possible outcomes for children and young people in Reading. “

Niki Cartwright, Interim Director of Joint Commissioning for NHS Berkshire West Clinical Commissioning Group, said: “We know we still have much to do but we are aware of the issues and what needs to be addressed and plans to action these will be in our forthcoming and revised joint SEND Strategy.”

Cllr Jason Brock, Leader of Reading Borough Council, said: “I would like to thank everybody who was involved in the joint local area inspection and in particular our staff, everyone at Brighter Futures for Children and our partners in the NHS and Berkshire West Clinical Commissioning Group for their input and support.

“I’d like to extend all our thanks to the leaders and staff of all the organisations involved in the delivery of services, and the schools, local forums, parent carers and young people themselves who were interviewed or gave their views to the inspectors.”

The full Ofsted and CQC report can be viewed at:

It will be published on the Ofsted website on 4 August.

Summer activities for children and young people across Reading

Activities ranging from basketball to a teddy bear’s picnic are being offered to children and young people in Reading by Brighter Futures for Children (BFfC) this summer.

Our children’s centres and youth teams have put together a busy programme of events for all tastes and ages during the school holidays.

And even more activities are being offered to children and young people through the Holiday Activity and Food (HAF) programme.

Children’s Centres

Reading’s children’s centres are offering a selection of face-to-face and virtual activities from Monday 26 July to Friday 27 August. They include Yoga and Movement in Palmer Park; Getting to know your Bump (for parents-to-be) in Southcote Children’s Centre and Storytime in the Park at several locations around the borough.

There are also regular Buggy Walks in Caversham, Cintra Park and Coley Park, Toe to Head baby massage and Rhyme Time at centres around Reading. Find out more at:

Youth team

Each week our youth team will be out and about in the borough as well as holding some special summer activities. These include a basketball tournament, archery, frisbee golf, giant Jenga and Connect 4, football, cycling, a bike and scooter festival and summer community festivals to mark the end of the holidays.

Visit the Young People’s Zone on the BFfC website for details.

Holiday Activity & Food (HAF) programme

Brighter Futures for Children is co-ordinating the HAF programme throughout the school holidays on behalf of Reading Borough Council. These activities are available to children who are eligible for benefits-related free school meals.

There is a wide variety of holiday camps and clubs across the borough and they will also provide a nutritious lunch every day.

Organisations offering activities include Get Active Sports, Nature Nurture, Energy Kidz, Face Adventures, Reading Football Club and many more.

Eligible families who have not already registered for a free place can still do so at:

Also, the Family Information Service has a page of activities and events for families over the summer and it will be constantly updated.

Deborah Glassbrook, Director of Children’s Services at Brighter Futures for Children, said: “We are delighted to be able to offer such a wide range of activities and events for children and young people in Reading this summer.

“Our children’s centres and youth teams have continued to be there for Reading’s children, young people and families throughout the pandemic, even if it has sometimes been virtually.

“They will continue to provide fun, energetic activities remotely and face-to-face throughout the summer to make sure as many people as possible can take part.”

Cllr Liz Terry, Reading’s Lead Councillor for Children’s Services, said: “It has been another difficult year for our children and young people and I hope this programme of activities will help make it a summer they can really enjoy.

“I am particularly pleased to see the great range of holiday camps and clubs on offer free of charge through the Holiday Activities and Food (HAF) programme.

“I would encourage as many families as possible to take advantage of these excellent summer activities.”

Supporting Reading schools to make ‘green’ learning fun

Inspiring and fun ways of teaching Reading pupils about climate change and the environment are featured in a new newsletter for schools published by Brighter Futures for Children (BFfC) and the Reading Climate Change Partnership (RCCP).

The Reading Schools Eco Newsletter includes offers of free teaching resources, help to make outdoor spaces greener, sustainable travel advice and membership of a schools’ climate action network.

The quarterly newsletter is also packed with local environment news, tips and advice for schools, pupils and students.

BFfC’s climate change lead practitioner works with RCCP on the publication which in this edition offers schools the chance to borrow renewable energy kits recently acquired by BFfC. The kits are a fun way of demonstrating to pupils how the sun’s energy is used to heat water and produce electricity and how wind energy is used to produce electricity.

Reading Climate Action Network (RCAN), which is run by RCCP, also offers free advice to schools on how they can make their outdoor spaces greener. And a Reading Schools Climate Action Network (RSCAN) has been created for primary and secondary school staff so they can link-up and share ideas.

The latest edition of the school’s eco newsletter also includes top tips for individuals and schools on topics ranging from energy saving to recycling, and from transport to water and waste.

Prof Dr Kate Reynolds, Director of Education at BFfC, said: “It is vital children learn about climate change and the environment at a young age and we want to help Reading schools teach these subjects in a way that excites and inspires pupils.

“The Reading Schools Eco Newsletter is a brilliant way of letting teachers know what support is on offer and arming them with lots of useful information and fun resources for lessons. It is also a great example of joined-up working with our friends at the Reading Climate Change Partnership.”

Cllr Tony Page, Reading Borough Council’s Lead Councillor for Strategic Environment, Planning and Transport, said: “The Brighter Futures for Children (BFfC) and Reading Climate Change Partnership (RCCP) Eco Schools Newsletter is great resource for our schools, to support their work on environmental education and climate change.

“Climate change is one of the most significant challenges we face and these resources will help to inform, inspire, and empower young people to learn more and to make a positive difference for their futures.”

Thanks to the Virtual School

I stood there in the doorway, butterflies in my stomach and I took a moment to reflect. When I came into care at the age of nine I could barely read or write.

My journey here, to this point, has been a roller coaster of highs and lows. The baggage I came with and couldn’t shake, the anger, the tears of frustration and despair, the happiness, the joy and the pride.

I remembered the butterflies in my stomach on August the 23rd as I held my brown envelope, surrounded by people screaming, shouting, laughing and crying as they discovered their GCSE results. I started to panic because I knew I needed certain grades if I was going to realise my ambition to become a nurse.

My Mum (Foster) was waiting outside and I didn’t want to let her down even though she always said that it didn’t matter what the results were, it was my journey that made the difference and as long as I tried my best she was proud of me.

The Virtual School has supported me every step of my journey. When I struggled they provided tutors to give me that extra help and without that I could not even imagine taking GCSEs. They made revising slightly easier once I acknowledged I needed that extra help and the tutors were great and I loved every minute of it – even Physics!

My Foster family were always there supporting and encouraging me, even when I knew I was being quite horrible to them. After I had sat the exams, I felt like I could finally breathe again. I knew that I had put my full effort into the exams and the revision that went with it. My Mum (Foster) however didn’t allow me to just relax – she had organised work experience in a nursery for a week and signed me up for National Citizen Service.

For five weeks I forgot GCSEs and focused on me – facing new challenges, building new friendships, learning new skills - a fantastic experience. I took a deep breath and tore open my envelope and felt in an instant happiness and then despair. My Mum (Foster) looked at my results and hugged me and I saw in her face how proud she was. 7 GCSEs – 5 6s and 2 4s but I had just focused on the one I had failed which I needed for Photography A Level at my current school.

She picked me up and help me realise how proud I should be of my achievement. I had made it into 6th form. I have learnt that when you are faced with setbacks there are always other opportunities which open up. My Foster family helped me take ownership of my initial disappointment, to focus on the positives and push myself outside my comfort zone.

I applied for different A Level options at different schools and was accepted by one which allowed me to follow my interest in Photography, as well as Medical Sciences and Geography at A-Level. I could also study Drama.

I could not have reached this point without the support and encouragement of my Foster family and the Virtual School. I am happy and proud of what I have achieved. Some of my achievements that the virtual school has helped me with - 7 GCSEs, Level 1 Flute, Level 4 in Climbing and numerous badges and certificates for swimming and challenges through Guides.

I am happy to say I am attending 6th form. It is very different to school. You are not spoon-fed information, you are expected to work more independently, which is a bit of a shock and there is a step up in terms of the work needed. You are given more responsibility for learning, but you are studying subjects that you enjoy. Teachers talk to you as adults and you’re expected to behave as such. It is fun being able to dress how I want each day and I enjoy dressing up in business smart clothes on Fridays.

So here I stand, the butterflies this time are excitement and anticipation, looking forward to facing the challenge of a new school and a whole new type of learning. It’s down to me now. I confidently pull open the door and enter.

My school story

In 2017 I joined All Saints Junior School. I moved from my old school and joined the year 6 at All Saints School. It was a little weird at first but everyone was really kind.

The good thing about it was the learning. Initially, it was hard to get into friendship groups because everyone else had formed friendship groups but eventually I made really good friends that I still stay in touch with some times.

My teacher was really supportive of me and my headteacher wasn’t sure I would do well but I did really well. In May 2018, I had one of the biggest tests in my school years “MY SATs”. I got greater depth in all my subjects and I got full marks in SPaG.

My headteacher was very pleased with my results and supported me in getting into my new school.

I had to do the entrance test for Leighton Park School which I passed but they didn’t tell me my score. That was my final year in primary school. The transition was really smooth to LP. Leighton Park is a big school that is rated outstanding. A new Music Centre is being built and almost finished. I can’t wait to see the finished brand new music building.

My first half term was brilliant at LP. They have really good hospitality and I felt like part of a family. The food in LP is brilliant and the teachers are really friendly and they help you get along with everyone else.

We have Collects which are about things in real life and we reflect about the things we have talked about during the morning session. My favourite lessons are Computer Science, Maths, English, Drama, History and Geography.

I have made a few friends, I also play games with them and I also go to after school activities. In conclusion, I am enjoying this opportunity to learn and experience school life.

Studying A Levels

“Where is your essay?!” “Have you done your homework?” “Deadline’s in two days!”

Imagine hearing, reading, dreaming these words almost every day, ceaselessly for two years. These words overload and override your brain; torment you daily and nightly; an attack on your conscience which threatens to crack under the strain and stress of everything SCHOOL.

I, for one, can relate. Beginning my A Levels made me feel so grown up, ready to take on the academic and personal challenge of sixth form life. The resolve with which I begun my A levels slowly crumbled over time, and if it weren’t for my teachers, family, and social workers constantly encouraging and reminding me, I would not be where I am now.

As an English Literature student, I was expected to write multiple essays and complete coursework, which were integral to my overall grade. I began to procrastinate, pushing away all my responsibilities until it was too late. Or so it seemed to me as I became hopeless, ready to give in to the very real possibility of being kicked off my course.

But! Alas, my knight in shining armour (aka both of my English teachers AND my registration tutor) all came galloping to my rescue, upon their majestic white horses of unlimited wisdom and knowledge! You can empathise when I say that I absolutely did not want to comply with my teachers.

Despite this, they persisted, and somehow managed to convince me to stay after school every day for two weeks (!!!) and work on my coursework with them. Once I had finally completed this very important piece of work, you can imagine how optimistic I began to feel about the world again. It felt as though I’d been at the gym for too long and had finally put down the 80kg weights I was lifting, finally able to smile again in class, finally stopped avoiding my teachers, finally stopped bursting into tears at every silly situation. Finally I could move forward.

And so, I spent hours and hours working excessively in the art block (where I felt most comfortable) finishing off yet another important essay, and writing my personal statement for university. Yes! I wouldn’t be suspended from my course, I would achieve my highest potential and I would go to uni!

I became my happy, bubbly and loud self again and threw myself into my work, doing the thing I enjoyed most: painting. The nerve-wracking experience of revising and sitting my A Level exams, the positively turbulent organisation of my art show, which would be reviewed and graded by an invigilator. This was all worth the hassle for the attributes I acquired over the time.

I learnt responsibility, time management, amazing critical and analytical skills which will stay with me forever, and A Level results which exceeded my expectations.

I achieved an A* in art, a C in Psychology and a D in English. Whilst these don’t sound like the best grade combination, it’s important to remember that I did the best I could considering everything which was going on in my personal life, and I did amazingly in the subject that mattered the most. I’m very proud of myself and really encourage every other child out there to aspire to be as great as they can be!

I am now at the University of Sunderland, doing a foundation Diploma in Art and Design, and loving every second of it. Besides that, the best part is I live with brilliant flatmates who make every moment of my life here on forward magical, and I couldn’t have done it all without the help of my teachers and foster family. Thank you for reading my article.

Help with school uniforms

Parents of children who are starting secondary school in September will soon be thinking about buying the school uniform for the start of term.

The cost of a school uniform can be a cause for concern for some families but there is some help available from local charities.

Parents who are facing difficulty buying a uniform should first approach the school their child is going to attend as it may have funds available, offer uniforms at a discount or have previously owned uniforms for families on low incomes.

If the school is unable to assist, there are five local charities that may be able to help with pre-owned school uniforms:

  • New Beginnings, based at The Queens Arms, Great Knollys Street, Reading. Please visit their website to find out more they also have a Facebook page for up to date information. You can also contact them on 07421 998208
  • First Days, based in Wokingham, offers help with school uniforms. Parents need to be able to pick up the clothing from their base. They can be contacted on 0118 921 9338, website:
  • Weller Centre, in Amersham Road, Caversham. Visit their website for up to date information, or their Facebook page or call 0118 947 5828
  • Whitley Community Development Association, in Northumberland Avenue, Reading, has a surplus food and school uniform pop up on Thursdays and Fridays 9am-noon. Contact them directly to check availability on 0118 374 0052 or email:, website:, Facebook:
  • The Cowshed is a Christian charity that provides clothing and other items for individuals and families in Berkshire experiencing hardship. It offers its services to people from all faiths and none. The Cowshed works in partnership with support services such as GPs, health visitors, churches, charities and social service agencies who provide it with referrals. Website:

All these services are listed on the Family Information Service website at: It is worth checking the site regularly as other organisations may also offer support throughout the summer.

The website also contains information about financial help available if you have children at:

Pandemic accelerated a new way of working

The COVID-19 pandemic has spurred us on to try new ways of working which are here to stay, the Board Chair of Brighter Futures for Children (BFfC) says in a newly published article.

Di Smith says working practices have had to change rapidly since she took the reins of the company at the start of the first lockdown in April 2020. And now BFfC is embracing the changes and making them work to its advantage.

Writing in a leadership feature in Children & Young People Now, Ms Smith says the virus has accelerated a move towards a more flexible and agile way of working which will benefit staff and Reading’s children and young people.

Most BFfC employees have been working from home or remotely during the pandemic and that model is set to continue even when restrictions are lifted. There will be no general call for staff to return to the office once its doors are reopened and individuals are being encouraged to make their own working arrangements with their managers.

Office-based staff will have the flexibility to choose how often they go into the office or work remotely as long as it is in line with management and operational requirements.

Ms Smith says in her article: “At Brighter Futures for Children, we have not only embraced virtual meetings but have used the learning from the pandemic to accelerate our commitment to an agile way of working.

“We realised during the first lockdown that standard office hours didn’t always fit with our employees’ own lives. Home schooling, living alone or in a tight space with a large family all present challenges.

“Working flexibly and being trusted to do so can mean staff cope better personally and deliver a better service for children and families.”

Ms Smith explains BFfC’s approach to developing agile working in five headings: keep in touch; listen to learn; focus on the outcomes; have the right kit and work together.

She said: “We have learned a lot over the last year and will continue to explore with our staff how agile working can enable them to perform at their best for the company, and ultimately for the children and young people of Reading.”

The article on Flexible Working by Board Chair Di Smith can be viewed on the BFfC website, is available to read on and appears in the July print edition of Children & Young People Now.