Ellie Fitton, Tia Clarke, James Read and Abbie Kearney, four students at Darwen Aldridge Enterprise Studio, talk about their involvement with the Amplify Project, part of the Healthwatch Campaign

“We’re Amplify Champions. This means we’ve led on some of their key projects, raising awareness of mental health problems and eating disorders in Darwen and Blackburn. Amplify is part of a Government-funded programme called Healthwatch, that finds out what local people think about health and social issues in their area. As Champions, we’re here to make sure that those running services, and the Government, put people at the heart of care. The Amplify projects are for young people to give their views on health and social care provision. As well as projects we run during school, there’s lots of extra-curricular time: we do project work in our lunch hours, evenings and weekends.

The Amplify project managers briefed us on what they were trying to do and worked with us to write the questionnaires. With the mental health project, we held a bake sale, but instead of paying for their cakes, we asked everyone to fill out a questionnaire in return for a cake. Then we collated the information and produced booklets about the different aspects of mental health and where people could go to get help. We took charge, splitting students into groups to work on research or design and attended a lot of networking events with local councillors, therapists, and clinical commissioning groups.

For the eating disorders group our brief was to go into local schools, get the views of young people and raise awareness of how mental health was a big concern. It can be really hard talking to people about sensitive issues, but we found that face-to-face interviews worked best. We wanted to be on hand to help explain why we were asking the questions we were, and make sure people understood how to answer them.

Both projects required us to give presentations. For the mental health one, we were invited to present our findings to senior NHS officials, and it all got fed into their review of mental health services. For the eating disorders project, we presented to a local primary school. This was tough too, as the kids were only nine or ten, so we struggled to keep their attention. But we used videos and designed activities and found that the younger ones were more ready to open up so we learned to adapt our approach to get the message across. We had to think creatively.

It’s hard to believe we’ve had these sorts of opportunities already. It’s problem-solving in our project groups as well as in the community. We’ve all gained so much confidence, and what we’ve learned and experienced being involved with Amplify has made us start thinking we want to do more for people when we’re older. We’re already making changes in the community at our age, so what might we be able to achieve in the future?”