How Tiny Changes fought to help kids’ mental health during lockdown

The charity set up to honour Frightened Rabbit's Scott Hutchison has been busy in lockdown funding other charities across Scotland to the tune of £100k. This weekend, they'll hold a virtual festival with an unbeatable lineup to do even more good

When the Covid-19 pandemic hit, it left youth mental health charity Tiny Changes with scuppered plans.

But the organisation, named a Big Issue Changemaker earlier this year, knew that the mental wellbeing of children across Scotland wouldn’t wait – and that lockdown made their work more crucial than ever.

With virtual music fest Tiny Gigs set to take place online this weekend, the charity – set up by the family of late Frightened Rabbit frontman and much-loved songwriter Scott Hutchison following his death in 2018 – is rounding off a busy few months spent diverting help to where it’s most needed.

“We decided that we had to do something for young people that might be affected by the virus or the impact of lockdown,” Scott’s brother and founding trustee Grant Hutchison told The Big Issue. “We didn’t feel we could ignore it.”

Plans were in the works to launch a small grants programme for projects that improve the mental health of kids and young people, but the charity decided to put those on hold in favour of establishing a Covid-19 emergency relief fund.

It meant establishing a pot of money donated to Tiny Changes that they have since spent lockdown handing out to existing organisations with services already in place to ensure effective help is getting to where it’s needed as soon as possible.

And in that time, the charity has been donating from a pot of £110,000 – going to 23 charities so far.

“We knew there were organisations all ready to go who just needed something to kickstart their new operation during the crisis,” Hutchison said. “We felt like that was the best way to spend the money.

“We’re very aware that the extent of the impact of the pandemic on everyone’s mental health is probably yet to really be understood. When that becomes more evident further down the line, it will be up to the Government as well as charities to make sure the right kind of support is there.”

A lot of the money has gone to making sure mental health services stay accessible – funding the purchase of Zoom subscriptions and tablets meaning connectivity isn’t a barrier to health care.

“It’s been a real success,” Hutchison added. “It was good to be able to give some money out sooner than we’d planned, though obviously not in circumstances anybody wants to be in.”

It would be a mistake for us to tell people what they need

And they’re kicking off the summer with Tiny Gigs, a fundraiser set to feature appearances from Charlatans frontman and listening party host Tim Burgess, singer-songwriter Frank Turner, Carla J Easton, Cloth and The Coral founder Bill Ryder-Jones.

The organisers hope the event, held across two days, will bring people together to enjoy some live music – something Hutchison points out is good for the mind – at a time when thousands are facing gig and festival cancellations.

“Being able to listen to music and go to gigs and see people we know, it brings folk together in a way that not many things do,” he said.

As well as the big names lined up for the festival, the Scottish Chamber Orchestra’s VIBE project – a fusion orchestra open to young musicians aged 11-18 – will perform.

And musicians from Intercultural Youth Scotland, a charity for young black, indigenous and people of colour will take to the screen as well.

The organisers are particularly excited about giving a platform to young musicians and the groups that support them. “It’s about keeping music accessible to as many people as you can,” Hutchison said.

“It’s going to be very different, but you get to go back to your own bed at the end of the night!”

As the charity emerges from lockdown, the small grants scheme launch is on the horizon. It will give funding of £5,000 to people with an ingenious project or idea that will boost the mental health of young people in their community.

Grant, Scott and older brother Neil grew up in Selkirk, so the programme will focus on the Scottish borders at first – the charity hoping to counter a tendency for rural areas to be overlooked by services.

“We really want to encourage people who have so much as a creative idea for something they think would make a difference,” Hutchison said. “It would be a mistake for us to tell people what they need instead of listening to young people themselves. We’re here to listen and hear what needs to change to really have impact.”

Tiny Gigs will broadcast live on Facebook on June 20 and 21. Donations can be made online.