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Positive partnerships: Teens Unite


Lucy Scott
4 min read

Every year, over 2,500 teenagers and young adults across the UK are diagnosed with cancer. As well as being a frightening time, it can also become very lonely. Without school, college or social lives, they can find themselves falling out of touch with their peers.

Teens Unite is a registered charity that provides these young people with essential social, emotional and physical support. How? By creating opportunities to connect with other people their age who understand what they’re going through, and giving them the tools they need to help them get back on track once they’re well enough.

Staff Skills Training has supported Teens Unite since 2018. I spoke to Lesley Lowden-Smith, Teens Unite’s Trust Income & Operations Manager, about the work they do and why our online courses are a core part of their offering.

Young people with cancer need a dedicated community

Most young people receiving cancer treatment are either put in adult-only wards or find themselves in rooms with much younger children. If you’re aged 13-24, neither is ideal. While there are some excellent teen-specific facilities in the UK, they’re few and far between.

That’s where Teens Unite comes in. Formed in 2007 and run by 8 full-time employees and a team of volunteers, their mission is to help young people with cancer live their best lives with the support of a like-minded community. While other charities search for a cure, Teens Unite runs weekly face-to-face and digital events, ranging from rock climbing and city meet-ups for those who can travel, to online cookery sessions and games nights accessible to all. There’s something for everyone, regardless of location or stage of treatment.

Most importantly, events give attendees the opportunity to get to know other people in similar situations – and form new friendships.

As Lesley says, this is vital because their existing friends may not understand what they’re going through, “Cancer has a massive impact on mental health and emotional wellbeing. About 80% of these young people will suffer from anxiety. They’ll also suffer from loneliness and isolation. Almost half will suffer from PTSD. At Teens Unite events, there’s a common understanding: when they get together, they don’t have to talk about their cancer. But they’ve got someone there who understands them if they do.”

Why online courses are central to the Teens Unite toolkit

As well as feeling isolated during treatment, young people impacted by cancer often have to step away from education or early employment opportunities because they’re too unwell – which can leave them feeling derailed. Staff Skills Training’s partnership with Teens Unite is helping bridge this gap.

As part of Teens Unite’s digital offering, young people have full access to our library of online courses. Lesley and her team encourage them to sign up for a couple at a time and see how they get on. And the results are overwhelmingly positive.

“Before their diagnosis, they might have a particular career path in mind. Then, when they get told they have cancer, they have to have a total rethink. By being forced to take a step away from education, they’re missing out on a lot of opportunities. That’s what I love about Staff Skills’ courses – they’re given a choice. This is a taster of what they could pursue further in college, or even start their own business, once they’re well enough,” says Lesley.

Giving purpose to patients – and hope for the future

Being online has clear benefits too. The courses can alleviate boredom and isolation, as well as provide a sense of purpose, “They can log on at any time, they don’t have to meet anyone in person, they can go at their own pace, and there’s no pressure to complete courses in a set time frame – all things you’d have to deal with if you were in school or at college, things that might overwhelm them in their current situation. Plus, the range is incredible; you don’t have to have an academic bent, you can go and do creative, craft or business courses. There’s literally something for everyone.”

According to Freddy – one of the Teens Unite community – it’s a no-brainer. He’s completed 40 courses and counting. “Why wouldn’t I? I can then show a potential employer all these things I’ve done!”

Helping a growing charity stay compliant

Teens Unite has grown from just hosting face-to-face events to having a full digital offering, online courses, weekly in-person and online meetups and, most recently, bringing a shop and café into the mix. And all without receiving any statutory funding.

“From our point of view, this partnership has been a total game changer. We need to stay up to date with our regulatory training – safeguarding and first aid – so we do this through Staff Skills Training.

“Some of us want to know a little bit more, so we’ve also done the mental health awareness training so we can recognise the signs and know what to do when people are struggling. And when we opened our café, everybody needed to have food hygiene training certificates. This could have cost us an absolute fortune, but all our volunteers have done their food safety training and renewals this way too.

“We couldn’t do what we do without Staff Skills Training. Every penny we spend on those kinds of things is money we’re not spending on the young people. So, through this relationship, we’re able to help more young people.”

Staff Skills Training is proud to support Teens Unite. If you’d like to read more about the valuable work they’re doing, you can find out more here. And if you work with young people in need, or other vulnerable individuals, please get in touch with us at support@staffskillsacademy.co.uk or book a call with us today.

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