Bringing hope to young people across Highland Perthshire

Over the past 12 years, The Breathe Project has become an instrumental part of community life in Highland Perthshire, offering a range of support services to young people in a safe and welcoming environment. The project was set up by four young people who wanted to make a tangible difference in their local community, by offering a place of development, learning and sanctuary for their peers.

Breathe is one of seven local youth work agencies that make up The Strategic Youth Work Partnership, a joint funding programme set up by The Gannochy Trust and Perth and Kinross Council in 2019. The partnership  offers support, facilities, and events to help young people aged 11 to 19 to develop and thrive across the five localities of Perth and Kinross. The Gannochy Trust has part funded Breathe since 2007 and the project has also received input from a range of other funders.

Over recent years, The Breathe Project has been focusing its activities in Aberfeldy, Breadalbane and surrounding areas, and has recently expanded its services into Aberfeldy and Pitlochry high schools where they work with S1 pupils. Services include drop-in sessions, where young people can engage in a range of activities, an employability hub with sessions that focus on job seeking and interview techniques and the popular PX2 positive destination course that helps young people tackle negative thinking.

Georgia Brockway is a children and youth worker for Breathe and has been with the organisation for just over four years. She said: “We work with young people between the ages of 8-25, providing a safe space for them to hang out and get involved in a range of activities. We work with secondary schools in the area where we run lunch time drop-in sessions, employability hubs and art classes for pupils. We know many of the young people well and they often open-up about any issues they’ve been dealing with. Breathe is a much about offering a safe place to talk, as it is about making friends or developing new skills.”

Mental health is a key focus area for The Breathe Project, particularly following the Covid-19 lockdown which left many young people feeling isolated and disenfranchised. Many families struggled to cope with the pressures of work combined with home schooling and it was often the young people who were most affected. Georgia said: “A lot of the normal routines went out the window because of the pressures of lockdown. Young people were going to bed later, some were missing school and there was a rise in drug and drink related incidents.”

Breathe’s PX2 positive destination course is one of the most subscribed services they offer. Breathe work with local schools to identify pupils between the ages of 14 and 15 who may be struggling. Working with groups of five at a time, the sessions work on ways to develop effective thinking by exploring the factors that trigger disruptive thought patterns and using techniques to reframe negative thoughts. During the sessions, volunteers also discuss life goals with young people, as well as helping them develop employability skills such as CV writing and interview skills.

Georgia said: “We see a lot of anxiety in young people and some turn to anti-social behaviour as a coping mechanism. We see problems with drinking and drugs, as well as self-harm and other disruptive behaviours. This problem is compounded by boredom. In rural areas there often isn’t the infrastructure or activities available to occupy young people. Pitlochry has quite a few clubs, but around Aberfeldy, Glen Lyon and Breadalbane for example, there isn’t so much to do.”

The Breathe Project has helped many young people to cope during difficult times. One such case is the story of a 17-year-old pupil from Breadalbane School who moved to Scotland from Poland with her family in 2006. She suffered bullying and exclusion when she first arrived, which had a major impact on her self-confidence and triggered bouts of depressions, anxiety and self-harm. She was introduced to Breathe at one of their drop-in sessions after a recommendation from a family friend. The results have been transformative.

Georgia said: “When she first came to us, she was very anxious. She was diagnosed with ADHD in early life which affected her ability to concentrate at school and connect with people. Our first task was to get to know her and build her trust – we’ve known her for nearly five years now and she has blossomed in that time. She has grown in confidence and is now actively involved in several of our committees, including Rock Steady, a primary age engagement programme made up of S1 students who run a tuck shop and a range of activities. She has also developed a passion for graphic design and VR Gaming and is now studying animation and graphic design at Perth College. When you see this kind of transformation in someone, it reminds you of the important work that Breathe is doing in the local community.”

Like many voluntary organisations, Breathe uses a range of innovative ways to deliver its core services. Zoom is a key tool used to run digital drop-in sessions, as well as a range of activities and challenges, including art competitions, scavenger hunts and quizzes to keep young people active and engaged. Activity packs are also delivered to families living locally who can’t travel or visit the drop-in sessions.

Georgia commented: “We use our digital resources to keep connected to young people so we can keep the relationships going, as well as engage them in activities. It’s also a big help to parents who may struggling to cope.”

As with many charitable organisations, for Breathe the future is about building back capacity and re-establishing many of its core services and activities. Georgia concludes:

“We are hard at work developing a committee structure in Pitlochry, reconnecting with schools and building our core services. We have also recognised a bit of a gender imbalance in the use of some of our services. For example, there were many more boys attending our drop-in sessions, so we have been working hard to engage with more girls. It’s a long road ahead and there is still some uncertainty, but with the support of funders such as The Gannochy Trust, we look forward to getting back to business as usual.”