The very word ‘youth’ can sometimes carry negative connotations when uttered from older mouths.
However, a group of determined young people from Derry’s western suburbs have been doing their bit to reverse this trend and make sure their voices are heard loud and clear when it comes to planning their own and the city’s future in a positive and far-sighted way over the years ahead.
Oisín Dobbins and Brandon Furey, both of whom are currently completing their fifth and final year at St. Joseph’s Boys’ School in Creggan are two such young men.
As if the challenges of a GCSE exam year weren’t enough Brandon and Oisín are among seven young health champions who for the past two to three years have been working with the Bogside and Brandywell Health Forum (BBHF) to ensure young people are in the vanguard of ongoing efforts to influence the issues that directly affect them on a day-to-day basis.
Since joining BBHF’s BBC Children in Need-funded ‘Moving on Up’ programme in the Long Tower Youth Club two years ago Oisín has completed a raft of valuable qualifications related to key issues affecting young people today, such as getting into employment, health and safety, child protection and physical and mental health.
He now sits on the forum’s Board of Directors as a member of its Youth Committee and directly informs the older people on that body of the most prominent concerns of the young people of the wider Bogside, Brandywell, Creggan, Bishop Street and Fountain area.
The Creggan-native successfully petitioned BBHF management for funding to enable young people to deliver a programme designed around their own needs and interests.
“We’ve done different kinds of training, child protection, First Aid, employability,” he explains.
“We also attended one of the forum’s Annual General Meetings (AGM) and applied for funding for a community project aimed towards young people.
“We got the funding and delivered the project and now there have been requests for drop-in projects from other youth groups as well,” he adds.
Laura McGuinness, Moving On Up Programme project support worker at BBHF says the bespoke programme was exactly the type of thing they wanted to see replicated in the years ahead: a stellar example of civic-minded young people giving something back to their own communities.
“This was a great success, as young people were supporting their peers to raise awareness of issues affecting them and providing support and guidance,” says Laura.
“It’s been so successful that it’s been requested by other youth clubs in our area and we hope to roll this out with them again in the future,” she continues.
Oisín’s leadership has not gone unnoticed, either at the BBHF or further afield.
In fact, he’s now been selected to represent Derry on the BBC Children in Need Youth Advisory Panel.
Siobhan McKenna, Children in Need National Officer for the North, said: “We are delighted to be able to appoint Oisín to the BBC Children in Need Youth Advisory Panel in Northern Ireland.
“The Youth Advisory Panel is made up of people who have experience of projects funded by the charity.
“Oisín and the rest of the new panel members will be able to support the charity’s work in Northern Ireland by sharing their unique insights and experiences of the challenges facing young people today.”
Seamus Ward, general manager of the BBHF, is as proud as punch of the young people who have been involved in the forum’s projects locally.
“We are very proud of the journey all the health champions have been on over the three years they have been with us. They have given the health forum a good insight into the needs of young people in our area and our Board of Directors values their insight, so much so they invested in the delivery of a programme they designed.
“We are not surprised Oisín was accepted onto the Youth Advisory Panel and wish him every success in the future.”
Oisín’s colleague Brandon has equally completed a range of nationally recognised qualifications during his time with the forum.
And only this week the Hazelbank-native was due to address BBHF’s management board and update it on the Youth Committee’s aspirations.
“We want to tell them about the hopes we have for the future and also discuss moving some of the programmes out through the various youth clubs,” said Brandon.
Laura says it’s inspirational to see young people grasping the nettle and hammering out some of the core issues affecting them.
“To be honest there are seven all together and they’ve put in a great deal of time, commitment and effort,” she remarks.
Both of the boys agree that taking part in the forum’s programmes has been a very worthwhile experience.
“It’s definitely been really useful,” says Oisín.
Participation has given the young people involved some of the skills and the means to tackle some of the difficult issues facing, not only them, but society at large at the moment.
“Mental health is one of the main issues that would come up and people would be talking about,” remarks Oisín, reflecting a concern felt by many in Derry.
Oisín, as well has having completed those valuable qualifications in a range of hugely relevant areas, has also taken part in cooking sessions and a local community gym induction course during his stint with BBHF.
Both Brandon and Oisín are already planning future meetings with the BBHF Board and want to develop further needs-based training and volunteering opportunities, particularly during the summer months.
It’s not all hard work, though, as Laura attests: “Our Board, in order to give something back have organised various social activities for the young people involved.
“We go out for dinner quite often as well. We’ve been to Campsie Karting. So there’s a social aspect to it.
“That’s our way of saying thanks for all their time and commitment.”
Laura says the boys have brought forward suggestions for new initiatives such as mindfulness and healthy living training for those young people who would like to avail of it as they continue to build on the achievements of the last several years.
The youth of today, eh?
If you know of any local young people who would be interested in getting involved visit: http://bbhealthforum.org