In a town where young people are involved in anti-social activity and where dissident paramilitary groups are active, the Shankill Parish Caring Association Youth Reach Project has been steadfastly chipping away at barriers.
Launched in 2008, the 3-year cross-community project aims to teach local young people how to address community relations issues and engage in the process of peace building while equipping them with real qualifications and credit points in the process.
Richard Dougherty, Youth Reach Project Development Officer, Shankill Parish Caring Association, explains some of the challenges the Project has faced: “In the first year it was tough to get the cross-community balance that we had hoped for. But we stuck by the young people who had dropped out and we have now achieved a 50/50 split.”
He continues: “The young people who have already been through Youth Reach have now gone on to become volunteers within their own communities and started to take a leadership role in the Project. They even helped to drive forward the youth-led summer programme, which impacted on over 200 young people in Lurgan.
A 3-D model of Lurgan built by the Project’s second year participants was recently honoured with the Northern Ireland Youth Award for Peace Building.
According to Richard: “The model really is by the young people, for the young people. It was their vision that it needed to show both sides of the community. They didn’t want a one-sided story.”
With the help of a local artist, the young people designed and built the model to demonstrate how they felt about Lurgan. This evolved through a series of discussions with each other looking at issues like policing, flags and symbols and a lack of jobs. The model represents which parts of the town they consider neutral, and which areas they don’t.
Richard says: “The discussions were really telling. The young people even started to look at the Lurgan of the future and what we were hearing from them is that they truly feel that Lurgan has potential. Helping them to be a part of realising that potential is what the Youth Reach Project is all about.”