The role of the voluntary and community sector in supporting good relations amongst Northern Ireland’s young people webinar
Throughout the decades, the voluntary and community sector has been the avenue for many difficult discussions and forward-thinking decisions with regards to community, rights and inclusion. The sector has been at the forefront in leading on these issues and providing services to enable a shared and inclusive society.
To celebrate Good Relations Week 2021, and the theme of ‘Brighter Days Ahead’ which aims to shine a light on the peace building and cultural diversity efforts of young people in NI, NICVA recently held an online event examining the role of the voluntary and community sector in supporting good relations amongst Northern Ireland’s young people.
Introducing the work and role of the Northern Ireland Youth Forum, Chris Quinn, Director of NIYF, highlighted the importance of promoting the voices of young people and enabling them to speak power to truth. The work of the forum is focussed on Article 12 of the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child and building young people’s capacity to speak truth to power, empowering them to challenge disadvantage and inequality, effect change and contribute to building a just, fair and equal society.
With young people making up around 40% of the NI population and it is important that they are given the platform, the power and the space to have a say on issues that affect them.
The engagement of young people in civic life should be an important element in any successfully functioning society.
Recognising that the engagement of young people is not only a benefit to the young people but also to society at large, the NIYF report that more and more young people want to work towards overcoming societal issues such as poverty, inclusion, educational underachievement, and climate change.
Referring to the article “Who Fights? The Determinants of Participation in Civil War” (2008) by Humphreys and Weinstein, Chris highlighted the connection between disengagement with political life and the increased possibility of becoming involved in violence. From the perspective of a youth worker in Northern Ireland, the findings that young people who do not feel represented or supported by a political party are 2-3 times more likely to join a violent movement, either voluntarily or through coercion, is a stark finding.
The Northern Ireland Youth Forum engage and inform young people in a positive way, giving them the confidence and capacity to feel empowered because, even 23 years after the signing of the Good Friday Agreement, there are still problems in communities, gatekeepers and those willing to exploit young people.
Recent research carried out by the NI Youth Forum, ‘Young People of the Peace Process: Exploring the social, political and cultural issues that matter’ (May 2021), found that a large number of young people still remained interested in politics and social policies despite their concern regarding the priorities of the political parties. However, they did want to see an end to tribal politics. The three most important issues raised in the research was mental health, education and dealing with the troubles.
I hope that our generation is the generation to change how people within Northern Ireland treat each other
Demi Laverty (24) is currently treasurer of the NI Youth Forum. She was elected to the Forum’s Executive Committee in June 2021 following her participation and leadership on a range of Youth Forum Programmes.
Beginning her journey on the Amplify Project in 2018, Demi found that the programme provided a great opportunity to break down barriers and de-escalate some of the rising tensions happening in Ballymena, where newcomer families had joined the community. The project involved sessions where people shared food and stories about their home countries in order to erode any stigma or barriers across the various cultures.
Growing up, Demi highlighted that she found that depending on the school you attended the teaching of Northern Ireland’s history can be very varied. This realisation encouraged Demi to educate herself more on the history of Northern Ireland, not only for herself but also to help educate others. She continued to study and work in the area of youth work, using her education and her personal experience to help break down barriers for young people in her community and surrounding areas.
As a youth worker, Cherith Cummins, Co-ordinator of the Strive Programme with Include Youth, stated that she felt the voluntary and community sector are, and have been, the main delivery body supporting and providing good relations projects in Northern Ireland.
It is not only the role of the voluntary and community sector in supporting good relations, but it is our responsibility.
Through her work and engagement across the youth sector, Cherith highlighted that as the voluntary and community sector is on the ground, they are providing the programmes and projects that enable the fostering of good relations between communities. They have been the leaders in this area for many years and have gathered a great deal of expertise and knowledge on the subject.
With offices across Northern Ireland and Donegal, Include Youth is a rights-based charity working with 14–24-year-olds. Although not specifically a good relations organisation, a lot of the work carried out has a naturally strong emerging good relations element. Include Youth provide a range of programmes to support capacity building, employability, and vocational skills in young people, specifically those who are living in care.
Give and Take is a 12-month pre-vocational programme that adopts a youth work approach. The young people enrolled on the programme are referred by a social worker and are given the opportunity to complete work experience, personal development programme, training and life skills as well as continued support through 1:1 mentoring. Although this programme does not specifically identify as a good relations programme, it provides and encourages opportunities that let good relations elements naturally occur i.e. through extra-curricular group activities and residentials. The programme provides opportunities to reach across cultures and communities of those from Northern Ireland, as well as those who have moved to NI and now call it their home.
Cherith provided an overview of the unique experience and point of view of the young people on the Give and Take programme. The young people have grown up perhaps moving between different foster homes or living in a children’s home and therefore many have not experienced just one culture, one religion or one political identity. The Youth Workers on the programme have noticed that sectarianism has never been an issue with the young people on the programme. Despite having difficult life circumstances, they are very accepting of each other and display very positive attitudes when it comes to good relations issues.
Another programme provided by Include Youth is Strive, a Good Relations Programme funded through Peace 4, which has been running for almost four years and will come to an end in December 2021. To deliver the programme, Include Youth works across Downpatrick, Belfast, Derry/Londonderry and Lifford with Youth Initiatives, Newstart Education Centre, Youth Alternatives and Lifford Clonleigh Resources Centre. Through the implementation of a co-design and youth led approach, the cross community and cross border programme engages with 14–24-year-olds across each of the geographical areas. Rather than specifically addressing differences however, the programme uses personal development, including talking about mental health, resilience building, diversity, intergenerational engagement, and citizenship to break down barriers.
To see the programme in action visit Strive Programme Wide Day
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