Derry ‘ahead of the game’ in addressing underage drinking

Pictured at the Drink Think Project conference in the City Hotel on Wednesday are, from left, Joanne Smith, project manager, Eddie Rooney, Public Health Agency chief executive, Paul Cavanagh, Big Lottery, Stephanie English, researcher, and Mary Breslin, outreach worker. (0710PG26)
Pictured at the Drink Think Project conference in the City Hotel on Wednesday are, from left, Joanne Smith, project manager, Eddie Rooney, Public Health Agency chief executive, Paul Cavanagh, Big Lottery, Stephanie English, researcher, and Mary Breslin, outreach worker. (0710PG26)

Hundreds of local school kids filled the City Hotel on Wednesday for an innovative, practical conference on underage drinking, entitled ‘It’s Not a Minor Problem’.

Organised by the Brandywell and Bogside Health Forum’s Drink Think Project, the conference attracted speakers and stakeholders from a number of relevant agencies and focused on a major issue in the city - the accessibility of alcohol to under 18s.

Speaking on Wednesday, Joanne Smith, Partnership Manager with the Drink Think Project, said: “We’re want to get people looking at ways of how to reduce the access of alcohol to under 18s. We’re trying to do this in an innovative, interactive way that’s more creative. That’s why we have sent them on their own fact-finding mission today, rather than preaching facts ands figures to them.”

As part of the conference, Drink Think set up an ‘alcohol museum’ with the aim of bringing to life some of the findings of their recent audit on underage drinking and the availability of alcohol.

“We hope to help licensees see what their role is and parents see what their role, and of course, we want children to recognise the impact that drinking is having on themselves and others.”

14-year-old Gary Mallett from St. Columb’s College welcomed Drink Think’s practical approach to teaching. “They have made it very enjoyable to learn here, and it’s better actually doing things than just sitting listening to people sitting talking.”

15-year-old Maggie Boyle from Oakgrove College said: “It’s very important that young people learn because there is so much underage drinking going on, and it’s intimidating.”

15-year-old Lauren Doherty, also from Oakgrove, added: “It’s a good idea, but I don’t think it will get the message across. Most of those causing the problems aren’t here.”

Declan Maher, a 12-year-old Lumen Christi College enjoyed the event. “It’s very helpful for being aware of what can happen and the effects of alcohol on people. I’ve learned that alcohol is more serious than you think.” Eddie Rooney Chief Executive of the Public Health Agency, was one of the speakers at the event. “The work done by the Bogside and Brandywell is just absolutely fantastic in bringing the community together and engaging all the key players to work together.”

Mr Rooney revealed that Derry’s, and particularly Drink Think’s, role in tackling this issue sets a standard for Northern Ireland.

“There is a tremendous energy in this city in recent years focusing on young people and alcohol, looking at alcohol’s place in the community and challenging attitudes to it. This model is vitally important because if we have a chance of success, we’ll get behind it. We have a lot to learn in terms of addressing these issues, and Derry is ahead of the game.”

See more in Sunday’s Journal