A group of young people who have been invited to share their experiences of mental ill health by presenting at an international conference have launched an ambitious fundraising bid to pay for the trip.
The 16-strong group from the two youth councils of Norfolk and Suffolk NHS Foundation Trust are aiming to raise £36,000 to pay for a "life-changing" trip to Canada to take part in the International Association for Youth Mental Health (IAYMH) conference in October. It comes after the group – all aged between 16 and 25 – attended the previous IAYMH conference in Brighton in 2013 and were inspired by what they saw and heard.
If the group raise the money, they will work with local artists to create puppet versions of themselves which they will use to make a video explaining their experiences of mental ill health and what they get from working with the youth council. The video will then be shown to delegates from across the globe during the three-day conference in Montreal.
Emma Corlett, young people's participation lead at the Trust, said: "This is a really fantastic and life-changing opportunity for these young people, some of whom have never travelled abroad before. They were hugely inspired by the conference in Brighton, and were really keen to get involved and present something next time around rather than just be audience members.
"They will gain a lot from the experience, including improved confidence, communication skills and team working. They will also be exposed to lots of new ideas and – most importantly – will hopefully have fun at the same time."
The Trust runs two youth councils for service users or former service users – one in Norfolk, which has been established for some time, and another in Suffolk which was set up a year ago. Members from both hope to attend the conference, and are now starting to plan their summer of fundraising activities, which will include a mixture of sponsored events and cake and car boot sales.
"We are hoping to be away for 10 days in total, and will look at some other youth projects while we are in Canada and also travel to Quebec for some team building activities," added Emma.
"The youth council is really valuable for council members as it helps them to develop transferrable life skills which they can use at college or in employment or voluntary work. They also go onto make some close friendships through the council, which is really important as mental ill health can leave people feeling quite lonely and isolated.
"We hope that the conference will inspire and motivate them while giving them some new ideas for further improving young people's mental health and wellbeing which we could then bring home to Norfolk and Suffolk.
"We would be extremely grateful to anyone who can help us raise the money we need and make a life-changing dream become a reality for these young people."
Vikki Versey, 18, who has been a member of Suffolk's youth council for over a year, said: "It has taught me some valuable life experience. I have learnt to manage my own health and wellbeing, as well as being able to speak on behalf of other service users to improve the youth mental health services provided by the Trust.
"The youth council has taught me to be articulate, self-assured, positive and professional – skills which helped me into my current job role as Young People's Health Ambassador for Community Action Suffolk.
"I believe that the Trust's youth councils are an essential and integral part of youth mental health services, and should not go unnoticed."
The conference takes place between 8 and 10 October. Anyone who would like to donate to the fundraising campaign can visit: