Clearing 2021
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Award-winning documentary about life during the pandemic will shape children’s services

  • Date

    Thu 10 Jun 21

A documentary exploring the lives of four Essex teenagers living through the pandemic will help shape future services for vulnerable children and has been hailed as an example for others to follow.

Last summer Essex County Council joined forces with academics from the University of Essex to discover what life was like for young people during the pandemic. In-depth interviews covering a range of topics including mental health and wellbeing, relationships and education uncovered a real concern about returning to school after six months of lockdown.

To capture this transition back to education, the academic team recruited four young people and their families to film their lives over a two-week period – the week before they returned to school and the first week back.

In the resulting film ’We’re in this too’ the teenagers provide searingly honest accounts of their lives, sharing their thoughts, hopes and concerns. The film, which has been shown in schools and to professionals working with young people across the county, has now won a national award.

Nic Blower, from the Department of Literature, Film, and Theatre Studies at Essex was part of the team. He explained: “By using a self-shot documentary and allowing the young people to tell their own unique and authentic story, we successfully captured the attention of both professionals and young people across Essex.

“The insight this film has given to the professionals working with young people will help shape and inform future policies and decision making. But one of the most powerful things to have come out of this work is the impact the documentary has had on young people. Actually watching other young people their age talk about difficult issues, and be open and honest about their feelings, has empowered them to speak out, share their feelings and even seek support where they wouldn’t have considered it before.”

Dr Andrew Hammond, a sociologist at the University, said: “The film also highlights that lockdowns were not necessarily bad for all young people and that school is not always unquestionably a happy place. We have some evidence from this project that lockdown could in some cases have helped siblings and families build stronger connections while not necessarily bad for mental health."

Gemma Warsap from Essex County Council, added:  “The documentary has become a ‘call to action’ and the insight from the film, and resulting workshops, have been used to shape and inform several programmes of work including, the county council’s post-COVID-19 recovery plans, the development of the new mental health strategy for children and young people, the new early years strategy and young people’s personal development programmes across Essex secondary schools.” 

The film won the award for ‘Most engaging communication of local area research or analysis’ in the LARIA awards – the Local Area Research and Intelligence Association. The LARIA awards are specifically designed to showcase best practice with award winners demonstrating “excellence in research and analysis that is making a real difference to the people they serve.”

The multi-disciplinary project involved academics from the Department of Psychology, School of Sport, Rehabilitation and Exercise Science, Department of Language and Linguistics, Department of Literature, Film, and Theatre Studies and Department of Economics. It was funded by the Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC) Impact Acceleration Account.