TWENTY-EIGHT young people from interface areas across North and West Belfast are celebrating and stepping towards a bright future thanks to a cross-community collaboration involving two peace and reconciliation initiatives.
The Empowering Young Women and YOLO projects, led by Shankill Women’s Centre (SWC) and Cliftonville Community Regeneration Forum (CCRF) respectively, joined forces over the last 12 months to enable young men and women aged 16-25 years old learn how to engage with society as well as build their confidence, skill sets and ultimately become more employable.
The projects target the Shankill, Falls, Crumlin and Waterworks areas of the city and were jointly awarded over £200k last year through the International Fund for Ireland’s Personal Youth Development Programme (PYDP).
Together they have successfully delivered a diverse range of activities including; money management, driving lessons, lifeskills, CV building, First Aid, beauty courses and interview skills.
Those involved in PYDP projects may have faced a range of complex issues including; substance abuse, homelessness, difficult family backgrounds, been in or close to criminal system, suffer from poor mental health issues and have not participated in society in a positive manner.
IFI Board Member, Paddy Harte commented on the graduation event at Belfast Castle; “Our PYDP programme is designed to target those who feel left behind. It goes beyond the traditional concept of a youth programme and allows participants to become actively involved in planning their own future goals and ambitions.
“These two projects have brought young people together from both Nationalist and Unionist communities and worked tirelessly to encourage open dialogue, deepen understanding and form new friendships.
“Efforts like these are essential to ensure that those involved have the chance to shape a positive pathway for their future. What these young men and women have achieved in the space of 12 months is fantastic.”
In the last year, the Fund has invested more than £3.3m into 30 PYDP projects. Over 300 young people have taken part with 178 having completing accredited training, 134 completing good relations training and a number going on to further education and securing full time employment.
Tanya, is one young woman who has benefitted greatly from the programme; “Before joining the Shankill women’s centre I suffered with bad anxiety and depression.
“I rarely left the house and had very few friends.
“But, through the courses I have attended and with the support of the staff my life has completely changed.
“I have made amazing new friends and now have the courage and support I need to do anything. I now attend the centre every week, I’m going to tech to follow my dreams and I have started driving lessons.
“None of this would have been possible without the Shankill Women’s Centre and I can’t thank them enough!”
Darren has also been involved and says; “Before this programme, I had been in jail for over two years and didn’t think anyone would ever want me because of my convictions.
“I had no qualifications, no hope or interest in looking for a job, as I never thought anyone would take on a criminal but with the help and support of the programme, my life has completely changed.
“I’ve completed 2 OCN’s but even better than that I have got a job! YOLO advised me on a job application as well as interview prep and they helped me write a disclosure letter to the employer explaining the person I am today and how I have changed.
“I don’t think I would have even got an interview without this. I’m also training to be a Gardener as part of the job and have completed other training courses too.
“YOLO has supported my driving theory and I’ve recently started driving lessons – I hope to pass my test soon.
“Without this project, I would still be on benefits and have no hope for the future.
“My life has completely changed and I'm so much happier because I can now
provide for my family, which is all I ever wanted to do.”
Susan Wilson from Shankill Women’s centre says; “The ‘Empowering Young Women’ project enables us to demonstrate expertise in cross-community work through a unique outreach programme that enhances personal and professional development.
“We have recently secured a further £282,523 from the Fund to extend the project for another two years.
“This will enable the current cohort of young women to receive an additional year and
support a new group of young women over throughout this period.”
Manus Maguire from Cliftonville Community Regeneration Forum adds; “Our work engages with those communities that remain affected by the long-term effects of The Troubles.
“There is a range of complex and often extremely sensitive issues that leave these young people on the margins of society – that is where PYDP funded projects can add real value.
“This YOLO project is structured in a way that participants can develop through deepening their understanding of identity, discover opportunities, peace-building and finally making those steps towards employment.
“We believe cross- community projects just like ours must continue to divert young people away from negative influences and sign post them towards a rewarding and meaningful journey.”
Both projects are funded the International Fund for Ireland’s Personal Youth Development
Programme, which is managed by the Rural Development Council.