On Tuesday, young people from Cornshell Fields took part in an open and frank discussion as part of a workshop with members of the emergency services.
The workshop was one of a number of practical activities being run by the Greater Shantallow Area Partnership and Off the Streets aimed at young people in one of Derry’s biggest housing estates. Funded by the Western Education and Library Board’s Youth Intervention service, the aim of the summer scheme is to divert young people away from anti social activity and behaviour.
Organisers Lorraine McWilliams (GSAP) and Catherine O’Donnell (Off the Streets) say they’ve been overwhelmed by the interest in the scheme. The two community workers say that with only 45 places on offer, they could easily have quadrupled the number, and had to turn some young people away.
With 296 houses, Cornshell Fields is a mixture of young and old, not always existing in harmony as young people are often gathered at street corners with very little to do. This is changing gradually thanks to the hard work and effort of groups like the Cornshell Community Network and determined local residents including Jacqueline McFadden.
The summer scheme, is just one example of the kind of work which is gradually establishing a real sense of community in the area,
“The biggest majority of these young people have no facilities and nowhere to play,” says Lorraine.
Both community workers agree that to date there has been no youth provision in the place which is widely regarded as one of Derry’s most deprived areas. They’re delighted that so many young people have decided to engage with the summer scheme.
“The emergency services workshop was a great success and something we feel can make a real impact,” says Catherine.
“When they speak with members of the Fire and Rescue Services the young people hear first-hand the impact actions like stoning can have. They hear about what could happen when the fire and rescue service are called out to fires started deliberately and that it might mean a delay in getting to the people who really need them.”
As well as meeting with members of the emergency services, the summer scheme gives the young people a chance to get involved in things that for financial reasons, might not be available to them otherwise.
Among these are outdoor pursuits and even a day away in Portrush at the end of the week’s activities.
At the cold face of the recession, it’s a constant squeeze for the community and voluntary sector who are trying to deliver sustainable projects in areas which have continued to be overlooked when it comes to investment.
“We’re very conscious of the cut in resources,” says Catherine.
“I suppose it really makes you work twice as hard. It’s concerning that there just isn’t that much money available and even when there is funding, so many people are applying for the little amounts that are allocated but we have to get up and keep on going because there is just such a need.
“It’s too important and we don’t want to see these young people miss out. You get young people coming up and knocking on the door and asking about the summer scheme and when it’s on and if they can come and they’re so excited. That’s what makes it all worthwhile.”