From bonfires to bus trips

FISHING TRIP. . . . .Young people from Hazelbank on Thursday morning before leaving on a fishing trip to Portrush as part of the Summer Youth Intervention Programme. DER3213JM075
FISHING TRIP. . . . .Young people from Hazelbank on Thursday morning before leaving on a fishing trip to Portrush as part of the Summer Youth Intervention Programme. DER3213JM075

Seventeen year-old Jamie McCormick knows about the impact anti-social behaviour can have.

Jamie is from Hazelbank and three years ago he and his friends totally isolated themselves from the rest of the community by engaging in anti-social behaviour.

“I would have been disrespectful to people living here and vandalised and I also helped to collect for the annual bonfire but that’s all changed now,” said Jamie.

Along with several of his friends, Jamie heard of the Ballymagroarty and Hazelbank Community Partnership’s (BHCP) Youth Outreach Programme and decided to give it a go.

“Before the Youth Outreach Programme was very little for young people in the area to do. We would have just loitered around the streets and because we were bored we engaged in anti-social behaviour. The Youth Outreach Programme has given us an alternative and over the summer months we go away on bus trips and also volunteer in the local community.”

John Devine is Youth Outreach Co-ordinator with BHCP and he says that since the Youth Intervention Programme started the incidents of anti-social behaviour have decreased dramatically.

“The Hazelbank area now is completely different to the Hazelbank of two or three years ago,” said John.

“Don’t get me wrong, there are still young people out there we want to work with but we have a core group of around 20 young people at the moment and the pride they take in their community now is exceptional.”

“One of the biggest problems this area had to endure was the burning of wheelie bins but through the medium of arts and crafts we got the young people to use their imaginations and paint the wheelie bins - it seems to have done the trick,” smiled John.

The Youth Intervention Programme runs throughout the entire year and it’s split into three sections; autumn/winter, spring and summer.

Each section has its own theme; this year’s theme is focused on health and fitness.

“It’s really about engaging with young people on a level that they and we find comfortable. All the young people want is for someone to listen to them and to give them a voice.

“Up until a few years ago there was very little for them to do. Yes, there’s St. Eithne’s Youth Club but that closes at the weekend and that’s the time young people meet up with their friends.”

Under the supervision of John and his team of Youth Intervention Officers, St. Mary’s Youth Club now opens every weekend for the young people.

“It’s great - instead of doing graffiti and causing residents distress we now have some place to go with our friends,” said 15 year-old Casey O’Reilly.

Casey volunteers three nights a week at the local youth centre. She said if it wasn’t for the Youth Intervention Programme, she doesn’t know where she would be.

“We weren’t troubled children or anything like that - we were young people with nothing to do but John [Devine] and the rest of the team have helped us to see that there’s an alternative.

“I really enjoy volunteering at the youth centre and by getting involved in the programme it has made me think about a possible career in youth work,” she said.

Michael McCann is one of the programme’s Youth Outreach Workers and describes the young peoples’ development as “outstanding”.

“From a personal point of view I am so proud of the young people on this project because instead of engaging in anti-social behaviour they are engaged in their community. They are taking ownership of it now and they are proud of what they have achieved.

“They really are a credit to not just this programme but to their families and ultimately their community. It’s so satisfying when you see young people getting on in life,” he added.

On Thursday the young people were taken on a deep sea fishing expedition off the North Antrim coast near Portrush.

Fourteen year-old Caolan Maguire said such trips make a massive difference to the young people of the area.

“This is a great programme and we all get on really well with John, Michael and the rest of the staff.

“Like a few of my friends I would have been involved in some anti-social behaviour. It was nothing too serious but we had nothing to do except stand around Hazelbank but the Youth Intervention Programme has changed all that.

“It’s no longer a case of a long summer without anything to do. Because of the work that John, Michael and the others do we have plenty to look forward to and our community is a better place for it,” he said.

The programme also aims to remove the young people from a situation where they might be tempted to take part in the collecting and burning of a bonfire on August 15. Next Thursday the group will be camping near Park village.

“It’s going to be a bit like ‘I’m A Celebrity Get Me Out Of Here’,” explains Caolan.

“I think if you eat a worm you might be rewarded with a fry up on Saturday morning - it’ll be a lot of fun,” said Caolan.

John added: “The bonfire issue used to be a problem here but there will be a community event taking place where the bonfire used to be - the community has changed for the better over the last few years,” he said.

The Youth Intervention Programme is funded by Children In Need and the Western Education and Library Board.