A Derry based community organisation called ‘Teenage Kickz’ is tackling the issue of sectarianism in Derry, Donegal and Tyrone.
‘Teenage Kickz’ is co-ordinated by former Derry City defender and current Finn Harps boss Peter Hutton.
Peter has been involved with the project since 2009 and said that the impact it is having on the ground is incredible.
“We work with groups from the Fountain, Bogside, Brandywell, Top of the Hill, Strabane, Malin, Glengad and Castlefin. About 120 people aged between 13-17 are currently involved and the progress we are making is excellent,” he said.
The project is called ‘Red Card to Sectarianism’ and it uses sport as a hook to engage with young people over the ills of sectarianism and educates them on both Protestant and Catholic cultures.
“The great thing about this project is that not only is it cross community but it is also cross border. We have a broad number of boys and girls taking part.
“Sport is a great way to break down barriers amongst young people and when they all are under one roof together we make a point of mixing the teams up. We would have teams with young people from the Fountain, the Bogside, Strabane and Malin for example.
“It’s very satisfying to see the young people work together and it’s not long before they all realise that they have more in common than they initially thought.”
One of the most important aspects of the ‘Teenage Kickz’ project is introducing young people of a particular background to other cultures.
Peter said that one of the best techniques to breaking down barriers amongst young people is giving them the chance to visit one another in their communities.
“Obviously sport is our main tool to addressing the issue of sectarianism but we’ve noticed that when the groups go for tours of the different areas things really improve.
“Young people from the Bogside would get a tour of the Fountain and vice versa. It’s a great way of bringing different groups together and according to the young people they really enjoy it, which is the most important thing.”
He added: “This programme encourages learning, through sport, via the important values of respect, tolerance and acceptance with the goal being to build the foundations for a more understanding and peaceful society.
“Prior to starting this programme many of the young participants already held very strong and prejudices views of other communities and it is through sport as well as dialogue and discussion that we aim to tackle those stereotypes and mindsets.”
Peter said that he was struck at how the whole concept of sectarianism was completely foreign to many of the groups from Donegal.
“Many of the young people that we worked with from Donegal had no idea about sectarianism in the north. Many of them thought that everything was resolved after the Good Friday Agreement.
“It’s been educational for many of the young people. They have all had their eyes opened to many things and it will be interesting to find out what they think about about things when the project is over.”
Friendships have been formed on the back of the ‘Teenage Kickz’ programme and in July they will mark the conclusion of the project with a football blitz.
“There’s great competition amongst all of the young people and it’s amazing to see how they can all communicate through sport.
“A few former team mates from playing days as a footballer are helping me with the coaching and it’s all going well.
“I still enjoy my work as a football manager but working with young people is very rewarding so long may it continue.”
For further information on ‘Teenage Kickz’ contact Peter Hutton on 02871 261 941 or alternatively via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.