He was too young to vote in the Assembly elections this week, but 17-years-old Liam McCormick from the Bogside has one priority- he hopes the next group of MLA’s will live up to their election promises.
An active member of Youth First, the young person’s organisation formed out of Dove House, Liam wants a better building for the local youth club. Currently sandwiched between a pub, a taxi stand and a shop, the building which houses Youth First in Meenan Square has long been in need of repair.
Youth First project co-ordinator Clare Maguire says the building doesn’t reflect in any way the passion and commitment of the youth workers and young people, and the amount which is achieved by the club on a daily basis.
The building itself is small in space and dark. The surroundings are in complete contrast to the lively laughter coming from inside. The site is earmarked under the Urban Villages initiative for investment, but the process is in the early stages and real changes could, it’s feared, be years off. In the meantime, as tourist groups file past the Bogside murals, the young people who live in the middle of the storyboard of the past, are coming to the youth club to try and improve their futures.
“A new, bigger, brighter centre is what I’d like to see,” says Liam.
He’s been coming to the club since the age of four. Over those thirteen years Liam has gone from a being a member to a volunteer. He now mentors other young people in the club and later this month he’ll work at the ‘£20k drop’ - a major fundraiser to raise much needed money for Youth First and the many others services run at Dove House.
“It’s made a massive difference to me all these years. I’ve been able to get qualifications and it’s been great having somewhere to come in the local area,” he says.
Liam is hoping some day to work in the fire service, with the help of staff at Youth First he became part of a programme last year where he was able to spend time observing the fire service at its Northland Road base.
“You get great opportunities here and if it wasn’t for the club there wouldn’t be anything. Without this, it would be easy to get into trouble, to get in bother with the police or whatever, but when you have stuff to do, that doesn’t happen.”
Clare Maguire who co-ordinates Youth First and the One Stop shop for young people agrees. “We know that this kind of intervention works,” she says, She’s adamant that better facilities are vital.
“That’s why we’re organising the ‘£20k drop’ fundraiser. Because we have to keep it affordable for young people to take part but we need money to keep everything going. This is an area of high depravation and it’s tough meeting the costs of running services like these. We definitely need a better building. We’re doing our best but when we look around at the facilities, we feel our young people should be aspiring to more. We want them to think they’re worth more than this.”
Youth First works with young people between the ages of five and 25 and receives some support from Children in Need. The junior club focuses on everything from healthy eating to trips away and also has education programmes in place. The intermediate and senior groups work in consultation with the young people who tell the leaders what the main issues affecting their age group are.
“That can cover issues like sexual health, drugs and alcohol, programmes around refugees and employment,” says Clare, who adds that sectarianism and bonfires still pose a problem.
“We know that the intervention programmes we run works because we have the updates from Youth Justice to tell us that but we’re still seeing sectarianism in behaviours and that’s something we have to tackle on an ongoing basis. We want them to express themselves and what they see as their identity in a way which doesn’t see them involved in violence and sectarianism. It’s about them understanding that it’s ok to have certain views but that it’s also ok if those views are challenged. We want them to feel positive about growing up here.”
Youth Leader Derryn Melly says employment is a huge issue for the young people he encounters.
“There are so few opportunities but the priority for us is to help the young people so that they get training and qualifications and they feel confident about themselves when they’re applying for jobs,” he says.
Further helping young people feel better about themselves is a project which deals exclusively with emotional wellbeing which was also born out of Youth First and now helps people on a city wide basis from the former City of Culture office at Waterloo Place.
One of eight funded by the Public Health Agency, the ‘One Stop Shop’ helps young people from all sides of the community with their mental and physical wellbeing.
Both services, say the youth leaders, are vital when it comes to producing a generation of young people who have high self esteem and feel invested in their communities.
But, says Clare, staff running the programmes need the help of people living locally to keep providing the services.
“We’re depending on people to support us. We struggle to fundraise and there’s a lot of costs incurred in running an organisation like this,” says Clare.
Looking ahead to a summer programme to coincide with the bonfire season, the youth leaders say they will once again be met with the challenge of funding the programmes.
“We need all the help we can get,” says Derryn.
The £20k drop will take place in the Tower Hotel on May 20. Modelled on ITV’s £1m drop, the event will see eight people leave the venue with £2,500 each. Players on the night will be selected from the audience.Tickets for the event are £12.50, and more information is available at Dove House, telephone 02871 269327