Over the past two years ASH Wales Cymru, a prominent Welsh anti-smoking charity, has been leading on an Erasmus+ project called The Filter Europe to spread its message to over 1,000 young people across Europe.
ASH Wales engages with young people, communities and partners to achieve a smoke-free Wales and a strong tobacco control policy. It has specific expertise in youth-related smoking issues and working with young volunteers - a crucial area as 40% of long term smokers in the UK start before the age of 16.
It has successfully run a well-established, unique stop-smoking service for young people across Wales, particularly youths from disadvantaged areas, called The Filter and supports young people who are more likely to be smokers or are 'at-risk' of becoming smokers.
In September 2015 ASH Wales was awarded 263,685 euros of Erasmus+ funding to run a Youth Key Action 2 project, called The Filter Europe, which replicates the beneficial work it has been doing in Wales across the continent. The charity identified countries where smoking rates were higher than in the UK - Spain, Austria, Poland and Romania - to work with youth organisations and teenagers there. With partners in these countries it targeted young people in areas of deprivation to decrease smoking rates and to increase prevention.
The project provided training to 300 youth workers and disadvantaged young volunteers to equip them with the skills and knowledge to work with young people to prevent them from smoking in the first place or address their smoking behaviour. These groups also learnt new social media and digital skills, as well as tips and tricks for campaigning and delivering workshops. This has enabled them to deliver smoking intervention advice and guidance to 800 of their peers in their own local communities, helping to educate young people across Europe about the risks of smoking while developing new skills in the process.
Teenagers from Cardiff, Aberystwyth, Colwyn Bay and Merthyr Tydfil worked together with colleagues from the partner countries to create a young person-friendly toolkit which can be used by youth workers across the European Union (EU). As smoking is the largest cause of preventable death in the EU, the toolkit will provide vital support in encouraging young people to quit smoking, or not start in the first place.
At an event to mark the end of the project in September 2017 the then Welsh Government Minister for Social Services and Public Health, Rebecca Evans, said: “Educating young people about the harms associated with smoking can have a major impact in our aim to reduce smoking prevalence. The Filter Europe is equipping young people with the knowledge to influence future behaviour and health outcomes.”
Impact for the organisation
Although ASH Wales has a focus on youth development, the organisation is primarily a public health charity and was keen to engage with more youth-focused organisations to provide them with the expertise to deliver the programme to a wider range of young people. This project was their first involvement with the Erasmus+ programme and, through sharing its project across Europe, it has learned a great deal from its partners’ youth expertise and also gained a European perspective, subsequently participating in a number of other Erasmus+ Youth projects.
Impact for the participants
Young people who took part in the learning and training activities and local activities have been really proud of their involvement in the project and it has formed a large part of their personal and professional experience. A large percentage of the volunteers involved were from disadvantaged backgrounds and many had not been away from their community before. As workshops took place in Austria, Romania and Spain it has given them opportunities to increase their intercultural learning and improve their language skills.
What was really positive throughout the whole experience was the collective desire to learn from each other and to create something that would have a lasting impact.
For youth workers it has had an impact on their professional development and will have a long term benefit in their careers as youth workers. Participants developed a sense of initiative and entrepreneurship, learning through group work and from each other. Planning and campaigning skills were gained and knowledge about different countries and their cultures was acquired in a non-formal education environment.
Julie Edwards, Senior Administrator, ASH Wales, said: "As leaders and participants we learnt about respect and patience and gained an understanding of our different cultures and different ways of working.
"The majority of the participants were from a disadvantaged background and some had never been away overnight before, let alone experienced another country. It was really rewarding to see them flourish and gain in confidence, having fun and laughing.
"At the intercultural evenings everyone’s creativity shone through and showcased their countries in the most positive and delightful way. It has undoubtedly helped to break down barriers and stereotypes."
Julie went on: "This was ASH Wales’ first European project and, although it faced a few challenges, it was very successful. What was really positive throughout the whole experience was the collective desire to learn from each other and to create something that would have a lasting impact.
"The Filter Europe has seen hundreds of inspiring youth leaders, speaking many different languages and from hugely varying backgrounds, working together to make this project a success.
"They’ve produced a stop-smoking toolkit which is something tangible they can then take home to their communities and support their friends to quit tobacco. The workshops within the toolkit – created by young people for young people – have already started being delivered and will make a huge difference to their friends and peers and is something the volunteers can be justly proud of."
The partners produced a range of resources including a good-practice guide, presentations and the toolkit itself which can be downloaded from The Filter Europe website.