Youthcom is a Diocesan Youth Forum that was set up in 1997 by Bishop Patrick Walsh as a response of the faith community to the ever-changing needs of young people. The idea behind the organisation was to help and support young people within the Diocese of Down and Connor in all aspects of their life and growth.
In 2008 Youthcom was awarded funding by the Fund to deliver an innovative 3-year cross-community capacity building project, known as Crossing The Bridges, which aims to unite young people from what have traditionally been Unionist and Nationalist areas in East and West Belfast.
Some 150 young people aged 13 to 19 years old are taking part in the Project. Stephen Hughes of Youthcom has more than 25 years’ experience as a youth worker and is a former participant on the Fund’s Ambit Programme. He describes Crossing the Bridges:
“Crossing the Bridges is a community relations project. It is equipping the young people from both Unionist and Nationalist communities with the information and skills to enable them to actively participate in peace building, both within their own communities and also between communities on either side of the sectarian divide.
“We look at understanding prejudice and discrimination and we facilitate contact between groups from different backgrounds and traditions that would otherwise not have the opportunity to meet despite living, learning, working and socialising in the same city.
“Many of the participants come to us with a very jaundiced view of the world and through education and workshops we are able to change their attitudes and their thinking.”
But the work of the Project is not expected to stop with those young people who participate as Brian McKee, Director of Youthcom says:
“There is the expectation that after their participation and training, the adult volunteers and young people will pass on their own skills to others, take active participation in future cross-community events and activities, and actively promote the shared and integral vision of the Project to other community groups. This project is a wonderful example of young people from communities most affected by conflict playing their part in the creation of a new and shared future for us all.”