Community groups, schools and professionals from across the borough came together to pledge to provide young people with the mental health support they need.

Waltham Forest Council launched its mental health charter today (Thursday, October 10) at Buxton School in Leytonstone in front of an audience of pupils, teachers and community organisations from across the borough.

The charter is comprised of 20 pledges made by the council, schools, community groups and Waltham Forest CCG to provide young people with the platforms, skills and support to address mental health issues.

The pledges were informed by students at fourteen schools. Pupils held a mental health summit earlier this year to decided on the key areas of focus.

East London and West Essex Guardian Series:

Catherine Hutchinson laid out the council's plans to support young people in the borough

Catherine Hutchinson, senior public health strategist, promised the charter would lead to tangible benefits for you people in the borough and be more than just “lip service”.

She said: “I want this to be more than just a pretty poster that just sits on the wall, I want young people to feel empowered.”

She told the audience young people had emphasised that what they most needed from the charter were opportunities to talk about mental health.

Catherine explained the charter will encourage schools to provide young people with outlets and safe spaces to express themselves.

Ellen Jones, an award-winning 21-year-old LGBTQ+ and mental health campaigner, took to the stage to talk about her experiences with mental health issues growing up.

Her moving speech covered the homophobic abuse she suffered growing up in Hertfordshire and how, exacerbated by a lack of proper support at school, she had felt suicidal.

Ellen took matters in to her own hands and formed a LGBTQ+ support group when she started sixth form. At its first meeting there were four members, by the time she left there were 60.

She advised pupils to keep going, as what she once thought was impossible, being able to exist as herself in a public space, had proved to be possible.

East London and West Essex Guardian Series:

Ellen Jones bravely shared her experiences struggling with mental health growing up

The charter is supported by Kooth – an online support service – for young people to anonymously share their experiences with mental health.

Since Kooth’s launch in Waltham Forest one year ago almost 1,000 pupils have signed up.

The service, which is a website rather than an app to ensure it is accessible to all and not just those who can afford smart phones, has live chat counselling services that can be accessed from 12pm – 10pm.

Youngster can also use the site to publish articles in an online magazine, detailing their experiences and sharing coping mechanisms.

Ellen who used Kooth growing up, said: “It’s so cool to see that it has developed and that five years later it’s doing so much more and that it has taken are feedback on board.”

Buxton School’s very own young mental health champions – pupils who have dedicated their time over the last year to helping produce the charter – also spoke about their experiences with mental health.

East London and West Essex Guardian Series:

Year 11 pupils Rosanna and Semdil opened up to the audience about how they coped with mental health issues

Year 11 pupil Rosanna Ballinger-Drayton, 15, bravely shared a poem she wrote about her experiences struggling with mental health and told the audience how she used poetry to help express herself on issues she would otherwise struggle to find the words for.

Semdil Coopoomootoo, 15, talked about how he had been bullied for his appearance growing up and how he had overcome the detrimental affects it had on his mental wellbeing.

Joe McDonnell, director of mental health at Waltham Forest Council, wrapped up the launch of the charter.

He said: “The level of investment into children’s mental health in Waltham Forest has almost doubled from what it was the year before.

“We are not asking schools and organisations to spend vast amounts of money. These are just policies that every school and organisation in Waltham Forest can and should be doing.