A shared project by Citizens Advice Northumberland and Silx  Teen Bar 


As a result of the invitation given by the Lords COVID-19 Committee,  joint research was undertaken by Silx Teen Bar, in Blyth,  Northumberland, and Citizens Advice Northumberland. 

The aim of the work was to enable young people who use Silx, youth  workers and advisors at Citizens Advice, to identify the impact of the  virus on young people’s lives and their perceptions of life in a post COVID world. 

The partnership 

Silx Teen Bar has been in existence  for twenty years. Traditionally, it has provided a safe  

environment for young people, 11 to 19 years old, to  

meet friends and youth workers, and for 16 to 25-year-olds to receive  employment support and guidance from an experienced and qualified  staff team. Most of the young people with whom Silx interacts live in, or  close to, Croft Ward, one of the most deprived electoral wards in  England [Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government 2019]. 

Citizens Advice Northumberland started in  

1939 and has constantly offered a wide range of  

free, independent and confidential advice ever  

since. Today it operates from 10 locations covering all of  Northumberland – a county of over 3000 square miles with a population  of 322,000. The pandemic has generated an increased need for the  services of this organisation. This will probably be the case for some  considerable time as the economic damage of the pandemic is felt by  more and more people. 

As a result of the pandemic both organisations stopped their primary  method of face-to-face engagement, towards the end of March 2020,  and diverted full delivery of their service to digital technology routes, 

websites, social media, telephone and webchats, video blogs, amongst  other means. 

Just recently, Silx also resumed its street work and introduced limited  one-to-one appointments on its premises. The youth workers fully  operated within recommended guidelines. 

The videos 

Eight videos have been made which include individual and group  interviews. They were filmed within Silx premises, outside in the open,  and on Zoom. Twelve young people, aged under 18 and over, are  included with an approximate split of 50% male and 50% female. Two  young people on the Zoom interview are anonymous and gender can  only be assumed through their voices. Three youth workers were also  interviewed. Social distancing guidelines were closely followed. 

The video findings: questions & answers 

When asked about specific issues there were, generally, more negative  answers than positive, although some individuals may have been  influenced by their friends. The findings, although taken from a small  group of people provides qualitative data about the experience of young  people in Blyth. The answers below closely reflect the responses of the  young people, but do not provide a full record of the exchanges.  

In the brief video summaries, the use of the word ‘positive’ denotes an  acceptable or accepted consequence of lockdown. The word ‘negative’  means the opposite. There are also references to age groups 20-24 and  20-25. Silx will work with young people with a maximum age of 25,  although common referencing of this age group stops at 24. 

Question 1: Has COVID-19 made a difference to your life? 

One young person said they had recently left an abusive relationship  and another said lockdown had given them more time on their Xbox.  Others had developed a more confident outlook on life and felt they had  grown more independent. 

On the reverse side, there were examples of lost motivation, missed  GCSE’s, and the annoyance of not being ‘able to go out like a normal  person’.

Question 2: Has it changed how you think about people? 

Although positive responses included a general ‘no’ from one group, others said they were ‘still getting on with everyone’ and even making  efforts to reconnect with previously little seen acquaintances. Negative answers indicated that some had lost contact with friends, had  missed going out every day, and had lost trust in people. 

Question 3: What do you think it will be like when you go back to  education? 

There was a general negativity in response to this question. Although  some people were pleased to be re-acquainted with fellow students,  they were generally unhappy about the new distancing measures. It  wasn’t going to feel the same and it would be ‘weird wearing a mask’.  The sheer number of other people would also make social distancing  impossible to comply with. One young person felt distinctly nervous  about returning to school and another just thought it would be ‘boring’. 

Question 4: Has it affected your home life? 

A few young people said lockdown hadn’t affected their home life. Two  others were pleased they were now able to see more family members.  However, on the negative side, there was a comment that life had just  became more ‘annoying’. There were examples of young people being  in a stressed relationship with other family members, due to close and  

constant proximity, or not receiving any support from family when it  came to caring for younger siblings. 

Question 5: What do you think the New Normal will look like? 

A number of questions and answers fell into the theme of the post COVID world and tended to be wider ranging than their own personal  lives. 

There was a shared agreement that their world would be a changed  place and it would be harder to find employment – ‘it’s not going to be  the same, as the economy has been hit’, said one young person. The  consequence of this was taken up by someone else who said, ‘…so  many people have lost their jobs, there will be so many looking for one’. 

They had already seen other unwelcome signs of change symbolised by  face coverings, social distancing and sanitisers and tended to assume  these would remain for the foreseeable future. One young person’s  personal dislike of the, often, uncomfortable face masks was reflected in  their belief that the world would be a ‘sweatier place’.

Youth workers: through their eyes 

Sarah, Kelly, and Chris, the three youth workers interviewed, agreed that  COVID-19 had brought about major, negative changes to the lives of the  young people with whom they worked. The only noticeable positive  change is made in the reference to a family sitting down together to  watch Netflix. 

Sarah and Kelly were aware that those young people who had followed  the lockdown guidelines had seen a complete breakdown in their  otherwise normal and busy lifestyles. They felt they were already seeing  negative impacts on their mental health and in relationship breakdowns  within their families. On the other hand, some of those who had ignored  lockdown may well have been involved in law-breaking behaviour, at  times when they should have been at home. 

Chris believes that many young people have become demotivated and  have given up hope when they consider how jobless and bleak their  futures might be. The lack of motivation is most apparent in the 16 to 25  – year-old age group. One section of this age group, sometimes referred  to as NEET – Not in Employment, Education or Training – is a group  who, in Blyth, will be more in need of employability advice and guidance  from Silx than ever before, said Sarah. 

Citizens Advice Northumberland: national and regional picture 

With government protection of jobs and finances ending soon, Citizens  Advice Northumberland anticipates a wave of public enquiries as the  wholesale damage of COVID-19 on jobs, incomes, and relationships  becomes clearer. Throughout the pandemic 6 million UK adults have  fallen into debt for rent, or council tax, telecoms services, or some other  household bill. When the temporary protection from aggressive debt  recovery ends, the problems for many will probably escalate. The age group 16-24, who, overall, constitute 8% of workers on zero  hours contracts [Scottish Parliament Information Centre 2018] are particularly  vulnerable as UK employment drops. 

The financial impact of COVID-19 is overwhelmingly concentrated on  young people and those in insecure work – the two certainly go together  with regard to zero hours contracts – and people with health risks.  

Citizens Advice Northumberland believes the scale of COVID-19 impact  on people’s lives, means it’s vital that the improvements introduced to  improve the processing of benefit claims (young people are at particular 

risk here) and increased support in parts of the system are built upon to  ensure the relevant support is in place for all groups. This includes those  facing a temporary income shock, but also groups who risk facing  longer-term and more severe economic detriment. The need to act  becomes all the more critical as the existing measures introduced to  protect people’s finances gradually come to an end. 

In Northumberland, from March to August, 2020, 15 to19-year-olds  raised 252 issues, despite overall enquiry figures falling considerably.  This was up over 42% for the same period the previous year – Universal  Credit being the big topic for both years. However, the single largest  enquiry concerned employment and, in particular, dismissal which went  up from 5 [2019] to 35 [2020] – a 600% increase. 

The 20-24’s raised 1385 enquiries in 2020 – up 32% for the same period  the previous year. Most increases included employment queries about  pay, entitlement and dismissal. Queries about food banks and other  charitable support more than trebled between 2019 and 2020. 


The comment of one youth worker may well encompass the general  consequence of COVID-19 on young people – ‘their entire routine has  been tipped upside down’. At the very least, many have been absent  from school or college for months, social activity may have been brought  to a halt, contact with close companions was relegated to a phone or  laptop screen, and family relationships may have been stressed to  breaking point. In addition, the gloomy news of continued job losses and  reduction of opportunities for work provides a bleak vision for young  people seeking a stable and financially secure future. 

These are the young people the world can pass by. These are the young  people whose life experiences and potential abilities are unlikely to be  brought to the attention of a Parliamentary group normally. 

The impacts of COVID-19 within a deprived area can be seen in the  references to lack of motivation and the digital divide; the latter a  concern of particular interest to Citizens Advice Northumberland. Many  of the young people have, since pre-COVID days, lacked engagement  with the education system which results in low attainment and few, if  any, qualifications. Although recorded in transcripts, but picked up by  separate engagements with youth workers, some Year 11 students, so  convinced of their own failure, did not return to school to collect their  GCSE grades. In addition, youth workers believe they have seen early 

signs of negative mental health issues. But, the behaviour of others may  have followed a different path – as seen in overnight activity which is  strongly suspected to have criminal motives. Other reports indicate an  increase in the use of illegal substances, easily purchased on the street.  As some of these young people adapt to the changes in their lives, drug  and alcohol use is at risk of increasing among the 16 to 24’s. 

Silx is aware it might be facing problems in attracting some of these  young people back once things become more ‘normal’ and has already  restructured itself in order to overcome this challenge. It will probably  succeed in reconnecting with most. But, some of those young people  may turn against seeking employment support when they believe they  have no hope of getting an eventual job – they have already judged  themselves to be failures. These are the young people Silx needs to  engage with. 

Youth workers and advisors spend much of their time guiding young  people through basic aspects of personal money management. The  need to do this may well increase in the coming months. Both organisations know young people in zero hours contracts who may  be facing impending unemployment. or who are already unemployed.  Now and in the future trying to find employment is that much harder.  There will definitely be greater competition for fewer jobs. Low  educational attainment, lack of motivation, and even possible mental  health issues, will lead to a tougher search for work. Silx youth workers  reported that many young people no longer felt obligated to job search  while still receiving benefits and may have developed a ‘so what?’  attitude. 

Whichever way their lives develop, it may not be all doom and gloom for  the young people living in this one small part of Blyth. Most, we hope,  will bounce back. For others, there may not be such a positive outcome. 

Although Silx can provide invaluable, focused, support to young people,  Citizens Advice Northumberland can help with the wider range of advice  throughout their lives. Beneficially different, both organisations are now  considering closer working and ensuring young people in Blyth, receive  the best possible support and guidance. 

Many of these young people are millennials – most have never known a  time other than the 21st century – and, like most young people, [from an  adult’s perspective] seem to adapt easily to changing technology,  whether it’s an Xbox or an iPhone. The experiences of working through  COVID-19 has helped both organisations grasp the expanding 

advantages of online communication with their users. In neither  organisation does this detract from the long-term benefits of face-to-face  conversation, but provides an extra avenue of engagement. It enables  future users’ easier and more secure accessibility to their services, in  times of need. The common ground created by greater use of  technology is already proving its worth. Silx switched to a digital path  within days of closing its doors and now is in daily contact with several  hundred young people. Citizens Advice Northumberland was already  developing this way of engaging with ‘remote’, geographically hard-to reach clients, and has already seen a noticeable increase in online  contacts through lockdown. 

None of the young people taking part in this research gave any  impression the situation was hopeless. At its worst, just difficult. But,  general observation by youth workers and advisors with Citizens Advice  Northumberland indicate issues such as increasing drug use, lack of  motivation, impending mental health concerns, fractured relationships  (particularly between young people and their parents) and major  damage to personal and family finances, may pose serious problems in  the months to come, both for them and the community as a whole.  These are of particular concern in an area known for high levels of  deprivation. 

Above all, we see a vulnerability in young people which can be masked  by their behaviour and our adult perceptions, which may impact  markedly on their view and experience of Life Beyond COVID.