BIG new youth fund has fresh focus

19 Mar 2015 Ryan Miller    Last updated: 7 Jul 2015

Conor Largey benefitted from Big Lottery support

Collaboration with youth at every stage is a new requirement for any groups looking to access some of the Big Lottery's new £50m pot aimed at Empowering Young People.

Third sector organisations with ideas for improving the lives of local young people are now able to apply for part of a new £50m in support from Big Lottery Fund – provided they meet stricter new criteria.

BIG has changed its focus slightly for youth projects and is insisting that young people themselves are directly involved in both planning and implementation.

The funders say this crucial difference is based on an examination of previous programmes that have received funding – which showed that those engaging youth at every stage of development have palpably better outcomes.

It will not be sufficient for community and voluntary organisations to identify some social need and then come up with a plan to meet it.

On top of that they will have to show they have spoken to young people, and asked their views on the issues identified and how best to tackle them, in order to meet necessary criteria.

Empowering Young People is offering grants of between £100,000 and £600,000 and is open now to initiatives that will support people aged between 8 and 25, involve young people in planning and delivery, and last from three to five years.

The fund was launched last week at The Hive in Belfast, where a room full of young people who have benefitted from BIG funding and changed their lives in some way thanks to schemes supported by the lottery.

A young person who gained qualifications and was supported to employment through Ardoyne Youth Club’s Breaking Through Barriers project outlined while youth engagement at every stage of development is important for social programmes.

Conor Largey, 18, was spending most of his time hanging around the streets of north Belfast and becoming involved with anti-social behaviour, underachieving at school before dropping out soon after going to sixth form.

He said: “A couple of years ago I’d have spent my free time hanging out on the street, getting up to no good – anti-social behaviour within our own community, because we were bored and didn’t see anything that could occupy us.

“I was approached by the project and asked to get involved, and I said no. They came back again, and I said no. It got to the stage where they were coming back every week and talking about the project.

“Eventually the fact they kept coming back to us paid off. They were very friendly and approachable, they really listened to us. A real trust built up between us. I thought I would give it a go and it went on to make a big difference in my life.

“The Breaking Through Barriers project opened my eyes. I realised I needed qualifications to get on in life. They gave me opportunities and I grabbed them with both hands.”

Conor is now one of a number of young people helping to change the image of his area by taking part in community activities, such as clean ups and working with older people.

Joanne McDowell, Northern Ireland Director of the Big Lottery Fund, said: “What we’ve seen from some of the great work done by projects we have supported previously is that the more engagement with young people the better.

“Listening to the opinions of young people who are set to benefit from these programmes is vital, and that is why we have drawn up our criteria in this way.

“We cannot wait to hear from applicants for the fund, because we are confident there will be some fantastic ideas and we know that Empowering Young People can and will make a real difference in areas that need support.”

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