‘Off the Streets’ celebrate 20 years

The Mayor, Councillor Elisha McCallion pictured with staff and board members at the 20th anniversary celebrations of the Off The Street Community Youth Initiative in the Guildhall on Wednesday night. DER1316-107KM
The Mayor, Councillor Elisha McCallion pictured with staff and board members at the 20th anniversary celebrations of the Off The Street Community Youth Initiative in the Guildhall on Wednesday night. DER1316-107KM

Off the Streets is a community organisation which does exactly what it says on the tin.

What initially started, in 1996, as the combined efforts of a group of community workers determined to get onto the streets and engage directly with local teenagers, has now expanded to one of the most effective organisations in the Outer North Area.

Chairperson and local community worker Martin Connolly says there are now bigger plans afoot for the group with plans to bring a mobile hub to Galliagh and Shantallow and potentially other parts of the city.

The purpose designed vehicle would see a “portable youth club” travel throughout the Outer North allowing young people to train and avail of a number of programmes while interacting with their peers in a safe and comfortable environment.

“That’s something we think will have a massive impact,” says Martin.

“Again it’s an extension of what Off the Streets are good at. It’s about bringing services to young people who would have nowhere else to go, Twenty years ago, when this organisation started, the reality is that young people in this area had nothing to do and nowhere to go. There was no real investment in the area at all.

“Now, the types of challenges we’re facing have changed but the aim is still the same. It’s about getting out there and helping young people think about the choices they make.”

Countless numbers have come through the doors at Off the Streets and many more have been helped.

Now, Martin says, it stops him in his tracks when he sees many of the adults who were once young people who used the service.

“It’s great to see so many of them doing so well, and you just know that what ‘Off the Streets’ does has had an impact. A lot has been done but we feel there’s more to do. I think since we’re community based, there’s an onus on us to change with the times. This area has changed over the past 20 years, the needs of young people have changed too and we want to be ready to meet that change.

“There’s a more collaborative approach now and ‘Off the Streets’ works with other groups within the community so that we can de-escalate situations where there might be trouble among a group of young people before it gets started.”

Off the Streets now has a number of full time staff members and volunteers and with an ever growing youth population in their target area, Martin believes their premises in Galliagh Park is no longer ideal.

He hopes that with the successful acquisition of their mobile youth hub and plans for the group to form part of a purpose built community hub in the Galliagh area - when it materialises - the future is bright for the on the ground organisation.

While all of these plans are in the pipeline, in the interim, he says, the group will continue to do what they do best.

“Some of the staff were once users of the service themselves,” says Martin.

“They know what the young people in this community will respond to. They know because they’ve been there themselves. We’ve seen how young people feel empowered when you let them be a part of the community so we’ve put a lot of them through the training which allows them to steward community festivals and that’s had a really positive impact. That’s really what it’s all about at the end of the day. When they feel a sense of ownership and responsibility, young people can make a positive contribution.”

Off the Streets is funded by the Big Lottery Fund.