25 Oct, 2018 Last updated: 02 Jul, 2020

Tapping social support for positive drinking attitudes

By Davey Wilson, Health Promotion Officer, City of Whittlesea

Contact: [email protected]


My name is Davey Wilson and I’m the Health Promotion Officer at the City of Whittlesea. I’ve been working with the Council for the last three years in health promotion and before this I was an environmental scientist. My role involves working with young people in YARD (Youth Against Risky Drinking) program.

I like my role; it involves the initial scoping, looking at the evidence, creating projects and then delivering them – you really get to be involved in something from beginning to end.

In the City of Whittlesea, we have some of the highest rates of youth disengagement in Victoria. That means large numbers of young people aren’t involved in school, training or employment. We also know young people in our area have high rates of alcohol use.

When we heard about the VicHealth Alcohol Culture Change Initiative, we decided to develop a program. We thought a program like YARD would fit with the Council’s priorities, be interesting and have good community outcomes.

In 2016, we secured VicHealth’s support. Stage 1 involved creating focus groups to explore young people’s drinking culture and their attitudes and behaviors to alcohol. We approached the local Epping Polytechnic and YSAS, (Youth Support and Advocacy Services) for help to organise and facilitate our groups with young, people aged 17-21 years.

At the Polytechnic focus groups, we used a more open-ended approach and asked the young people questions like “What you do on a typical night out?” With the YSAS focus groups they were a bit younger, so we used a mapping exercise. They drew pictures about where they went on their nights out, their friends, roads, locations and places they passed through. Their pictures were a great prompt for further discussion.

After talking to these young people about risky drinking, we discovered it followed a common pattern based around their age. I was surprised to hear that young people of legal drinking age like to party a lot; were going out four times a week in the city, at nightclubs, renting flats in the city and staying there with friends. They’d also had some bad experiences, so this phase usually lasted only 2-3 years and then they had a different, more relaxed lifestyle and weren’t drinking as much.

We also found out that young people below legal drinking age were drinking in parks, at people’s houses and sometimes given alcohol by older cousins and siblings. We decided to focus on these younger people aged 14-18 years in our YARD program as they were still drinking a lot and were less aware about many of the problems with risky drinking.

These findings from our focus groups with young people informed our proposal and intervention for Stage 2.


We discovered that alcohol is an important part of young peoples’ lives, in terms of creating friendship networks, socialising and becoming an adult; so, we couldn’t create a “say no” campaign, as it just wouldn’t work.


We realised the main protective factors with young people to prevent harm from alcohol was connection with friends, themselves and life opportunities. So, we designed a campaign around those elements.

We didn’t need a campaign telling young people not to drink, we needed a campaign to encourage them to improve their connection with friends without risky drinking. By focusing on these positive social norms, you hope to reduce some of those negative social norms.


In YARD, we designed three key deliverables: a social lab, a social media activity and a creative spaces activity. The social lab involves meeting regularly with young people. Here, they shape the campaign approach and create the content for the other two activities. They produce imagery and social messaging that can be used for social media and street art. In the lab, they’ve created a lot of memes and GIFS using humour and messaging that can be read and create impact quickly.


Our social media campaign involves SnapChat and we also wanted to create an Instagram account. But there are many restrictions around social media policy. It took three months to establish our SnapChat account and we post regularly as a way of communicating and showing what we’re doing. If I was to run a similar project in the future, I would ensure that Council’s social media policy was flexible enough to deliver a youth alcohol harm minimization project like YARD. We produce memes, GIFS, video content, video animation and looking at bringing in a graphic designer to upskill these young people further so they can make more material. The content they’ve created is not what I expected. It’s impossible to anticipate what’s unique to an age group that’s hard to read at times.

Another challenge has been our creative events project. We explore arts-based activities like hip-hop, slam poetry, comedy and street-art, but it hasn’t progressed the way we would like because there’s many restrictions in the public events space. It’s crucial that when you’re working in this space, that key stakeholders are engaged from the outset so that you can make the most of the time you have working on the campaign.



During the next few months, in the YARD, we’ll continue to develop our social media presence. We hope to get the young people and their friends to follow with their networks and we’ll also promote the campaign more broadly using paid advertising.

“Going to YARD” as the young people call it, has been very successful. Some  feedback from them about participating includes; “being able to talk about drinking without being judged,” “meeting new friends” and “helping to educate others”. We’ve had a lot of buy in from young people, they always turn up and contribute. They wear their heart on their sleeve, they can turn up for three weeks and not contribute much and then in the fourth week they’re really excited and coming up with great ideas – you never know what you’re going to get The key is to treat them as the experts, ensure they have ownership and that their knowledge and experiences are what drives the project. 

We wouldn’t have had the success and creative results that we have had without working so closely with young people in the Social Lab. Monash University is further evaluating the Social Lab to see how these young people support each other on a night out without involving risky drinking.  

I learn from them, they’re genuine and it’s very rewarding. I’ve discovered it’s difficult to engage young people about alcohol and drinking, but there are ways to do it. Stepping aside and letting them tell you how they’d like to talk about it is a really good way of working out how to do it. It’s about asking them what they think and feel, rather than telling them how they think and feel.


See more at YardSnapz.org