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'Icelandic model' trialled at Caithness and Sutherland schools aims to support young people

By John Davidson

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Maree Todd (centre) with Dave Barrie of Winning Scotland (left) and MSP Joe FitzPatrick at the 'national conversation' event.
Maree Todd (centre) with Dave Barrie of Winning Scotland (left) and MSP Joe FitzPatrick at the 'national conversation' event.

A scheme which is being piloted at secondary schools across Caithness and Sutherland is set to be widened after a £1.5 million investment.

Planet Youth Scotland is currently being piloted in secondary schools in Thurso, Wick, Golspie, Dornoch and Tain.

It is based on the "Icelandic model" which aims to strengthen support networks, enable recreational activities, and reduce behavioural risk factors.

In Iceland, Planet Youth instigated a significant drop in teenage drinking and smoking, increased physical activity levels and supported families to spend more time together.

The approach starts with conducting confidential surveys in local schools to identify how young people spend their time, the issues they face and what they are interested in.

Ms Todd said: “Due to our geography and topography, Scotland shares many of the same challenges as our Nordic neighbours.

“The Icelandic model which has had notable success in reducing alcohol, drug and tobacco use amongst Iceland’s young people, is the inspiration behind Planet Youth Scotland.

“Through conducting surveys in schools and gathering localised data, the programme enables us to learn what is needed to keep our young people, safe, healthy and happy. Local groups and services can then work collaboratively to respond to the needs of our young people."

The Scottish Government investment of £1.5 million will support a scale-up of Planet Youth’s activities, led by the charity Winning Scotland, in up to 35 schools by 2025.

Ms Todd joined the launch of Planet Youth’s "national conversation" event in Edinburgh last month, along with key stakeholders from NHS Highland, Police Scotland and Public Health Scotland.

“In the Highlands, we have higher than average suicide rates so it’s important that we look at early-intervention and prevention measures to improve and sustain the health and wellbeing of our young people," she added.

Zahra Hedges, chief executive at Winning Scotland, said: “Planet Youth gives local communities a real opportunity to change the lives of our children and young people through creating positive opportunities for them to live happier, healthier and safer lives.

“We’ve been working in five local areas to pilot the approach and last month, we launched a national conversation, engaging a wider range of partners in creating a culture change in Scotland.”

Dr Tim Allison, director of public health and policy at NHS Highland, said: "Planet Youth is a wonderful worldwide programme that originated in Iceland in the 1990s offering guidance to further improve the future of children and young people to deal with issues such as alcohol and substance use.

“We recognise that progress has been made in key areas for services in the NHS Highland area, and I am really pleased that we are able to pilot further work offering more activities and opportunities to support actions that address young people's needs and challenges in our communities.”

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