Local cross-community group R.E.A.C.H. Across has just celebrated 20 years of cross-community work with young people in the city.
Over the past two decades, thousands of young Catholics and Protestants have brought together by R.E.A.C.H. Across during residentials, international youth exchanges, personal development courses, school projects and volunteer training.
An anniversary event was staged in the Maldron Hotel in Derry and the guest speaker was David Simpson, a former member and volunteer with R.E.A.C.H. Across, who is now Director of Team Building Asia.
David was a founder member of REACH Across and has continued to support the organisation over the past 20 years, along with several other founder members, who have also moved abroad.
R.E.A.C.H. Across was formed in 1995, following the untimely closure of Holiday Projects West, to provide opportunities for young people from all communities and areas in the western region of Northern Ireland to meet on a regular basis.
The organisation operated on a voluntary basis for its first three years and with the support of the Western Education and Library Board, and was initially based at the Info Plus Centre, Asylum Road.
The annual programme included residential camps, several training courses, outdoor activities and weekly group meetings.
In the early years, R.E.A.C.H. Across was financially supported by the WELB and a number of trust funds. However in 1998, it secured core funding from the District Partnership and the Department of Social Development.
With this funding, R.E.A.C.H. Across began to employ full-time staff and moved into premises in The Diamond, and this became its home for 15 years.
With a permanent base, the organisation was able to develop its programmes and in 1999, participated in its first international exchange with a youth group from Hamburg in Germany.It also delivered its first Community Relations Course for students from local schools, which included debates with political representatives at Stormont. the city and surrounding areas.
New members of R.E.A.C.H. Across are initially invited to Spring Contact residentials, which include team-building, outdoor activities, groupwork sessions and self-catering duties.
R.E.A.C.H. Across firmly believe in the self-catering method, so that members can work together and develop new skills, and feedback can range from “really enjoyable” to “they made me make toast”. REACH Across is indebted to the staff at Lough Neagh, Lakeland Canoe Centre, Moyallon, Ballyhome, Woodhall and Tobermore for providing memorable contact residentials for its members.
Following the Spring Contact residentials, members attend weekly group meetings, prior to the Summer Activity Programme that includes a Summer Scheme and Summer Camps.
Summer Scheme activities have included fire brigade training, FabLab, off-road driving, watersports and a youth awareness workshop that enabled members to learn of the support services available from community groups.
Since 1999, R.E.A.C.H. Across members have been involved with international projects in Sweden, Portugal, Poland, France, Belgium, Romania, Estonia, Bulgaria, Croatia, Denmark and Italy.
The international projects have included educational visits, cultural workshops, outdoor activities, craftwork courses and drama sessions.
More than 150 local young people have taken part in international projects and numerous international friendships have been established and have developed via social media.
The international programmes have enabled members to visit many European capital cities and historical landmarks and to experience cultural traditions and European cuisine.
Volunteers have also been involved in international training projects and conferences in Finland, Belgium and Spain, as well as a four-day sailing course on the Lord Rank with Ocean Yacht Trust and several cross-border events.
Since 1999, R.E.A.C.H. Across has delivered accredited Community Relations and Prefect Training to more than 1,000 young people in schools throughout the North West and Donegal and these courses have included education visits to the Belfast Peacelines, Crumlin Road Gaol and Stormont. The schools courses have also provided opportunities for prefects to organise and facilitate team-building days for primary school pupils, so as to develop practical and personal skills.
Central to the developmental success of R.E.A.C.H. Across over the past 20 years, has been the input, commitment and professionalism of the volunteer leaders. More than 200 people have given their services voluntarily to R.E.A.C.H. Across since 1995 and many volunteers have benefited personally by gaining new skills and qualifications, as well as being involved in many positive experiences and gaining new friends. The H.E.R.O Project was a popular course for volunteers and this included visits to the Belfast Peacelines, Crumlin Road Gaol, the Boyne Museum and Kilmainham Gaol. The H.E.R.O Project also provides many surprising learning points, such as “Penny’s is the most historical building in Dublin”.
REACH Across wish to acknowledge a small core group of Volunteers who have steered the organisation through its 20 year journey, by assisting with strategic planning, programme management, fundraising events and organising positive intervention opportunities to a vulnerable age group, particularly during the conflict years.
Another successful achievement of REACH Across is the number of members who progress to volunteer status or return years later to offer voluntary support and assistance.
In addition to this there have been several marriages and babies that have expanded the REACH Across family.
R.E.A.C.H. Across would like to pay tribute to all of its volunteers, assistant leaders and committee members during the past decade and particularly acknowledge the small group of volunteer leaders who have nurtured R.E.A.C.H. Across since its inception.
For more information about R.E.A.C.H. Across, telephone the office on 028 71280048/ 07854833371 or check the website at www.reach-across.co.uk