In the first event of its kind in the North West, almost 1,000 local young people attended workshops at Templemore Sports Complex over five days this week aimed at challenging the scourge of underage drinking in Derry.
The event, which involved a number of key stakeholders including the PSNI and several local alcohol awareness groups, was hailed as a “fantastic success” by Joanne Smith, manager of Derry’s Drink Think organisation.
Deliberately scheduled to coincide with the beginning of the summer holidays, it’s hoped the five day series of talks and interactive workshops will have gone some way towards addressing anti-social behaviour and underage drinking in residential areas across the city.
All year nine students in the Derry City Council area were invited to attend and meet with statutory, community and business organisations to find out more information about the health, social and community consequences of alcohol misuse and underage drinking.
Topics explored during the conference included: Alcohol and the Law – where students will look at legislation that relates to underage drinking and alcohol misuse and the consequences of not complying with the laws, such as getting a criminal record and the effect that this could have on university applications and visas to work abroad.
Another area explored was ‘Alcohol and communities’ – Looking at the effect that alcohol misuse, underage drinking and drinking on the streets can have on a community from the experiences of people living in our local area. Alcohol safety and risks – Exploring some of the personal risks that can arise when people drink alcohol such as getting involved in or being a victim of crime, underage sex, health effects and accidents. Among other areas discussed were ‘Alcohol and sport – Exploring the effect that alcohol can have on sporting ability and ‘What else is there to do?’ – exploring alternatives to underage drinking.
Former Mayor of Derry, Alderman Maurice Devenney, who is the Chair of the Civic Alcohol Forum said: “this is an excellent conference and training event which will enable more than 600 of our local young people to gain a valuable insight into some of the issues of alcohol misuse that affect our local area at a time in their lives when they are coming under pressure to consider underage drinking. I hope that the young people will enjoy the event and I would like to thank all of the agencies who have worked together to deliver the programme of activities”
For Joanne Smith and her colleagues in the Civic Alcohol Forum the event was a very practical way to deliver a vital message.
“It would be impossible to be able to speak to so many young people in any other setting,” says Joanne.
“This week, we’ve had almost 1,000 12-13 year olds here and we’ve had them working in smaller groups so all of them have felt comfortable asking the facilitators questions and we hope we’ve really got the message about the effects of underage drinking out there.
“Last year, we would only have been visiting schools to give these pupils a 20 minute talk on issues that we’ve been able to devote a full day to here at the Complex. Everything has been much more in depth and that’s been really helpful.
“Research carried out by ourselves and national agencies indicates that around the ages of 12 and 13 years old are crucial ages for young people deciding whether to drink or not. It is fantastic that all agencies are working together to provide a co-ordinated intervention for this specific age group, particularly in the lead up to the summer months to highlight the risks to themselves and their community. Hopefully, this will at least delay the age at which they begin to drink alcohol.”