Today we’ve awarded almost £3 million to five projects across Northern Ireland through our Empowering Young People programme.
YouthAction is one of the groups celebrating today. Two young men who have been helped by YouthAction in Co Armagh tell us how they have changed from young boys with low self-esteem into confident role models and mentors.
Walter Wood, 21, from Armagh lived in care for 14 years. Walter’s mother passed away in 2008 and his father lives in Australia.
“I had been in the care system since the age of three and moved around from place to place living with multiple foster families. Being in care for most of my life gave me low self-esteem, a lack of drive and a bad attitude towards authority figures. I’ve been involved with a few different organisations which have helped shape me into a better person and this helped me see the great opportunity YouthAction could give me.”
Walter was 18 when he got involved with YouthAction’s Young Men Talking project, which was previously funded by Big Lottery Fund.
“Being involved with YouthAction has helped me feel more confident and make new friends. One of the things we talked about was violence, how to combat it and how to deal with different situations. It’s helped make me calmer and improve my communication. I joined in discussions about the new project, which Big Lottery Fund is funding, to give ideas about what young men want and need – it’s great to be listened to and know that I’m contributing to something that’ll help other young men.”
In the past few years, Walter has transformed his life.
“I’m now on a paid work placement with YouthAction as a Young Men’s Peer Mentor. I help other young men by talking to them and giving them advice. Some of the young men I mentor are in the care system so I’m in a good place to share my experiences – I’ve been there, done it and got through it. They look up to me as a role model which makes me feel good.”
Matthew Leonard, 17, from Darkley, Co Armagh, is also a changed person thanks to YouthAction’s support.
“I grew up in a very small village, and there was no else my age. By the time I was in secondary school I was stuck at home, in my room, on the computer.
“I became a recluse and it made me a shy and anxious person. I was quiet in school and I found it hard to look people in the eye when they were talking to me so it was hard to hold a conversation.”
Mathew’s parents eventually persuaded to get involved in a local youth project. His confidence great and he later got involved with YouthAction. The change in him has been dramatic.
“After being involved with YouthAction for a few years I got the opportunity to do the Northern Ireland National Citizen Service (NINCS) project and as I got more involved in YouthAction I came out of my shell more and more. In the last couple of years I’ve hosted NINCS graduation events with 500 people in the audience – something I would never have seen myself doing.
“I’m proud of the work I’ve done and I volunteer with YouthAction now. I can’t believe it when I look back at how shy and alone I used to be. It’s great that YouthAction got the funding to do another project – there are other young men like me who may have nowhere to go to socialise so they end up feeling isolated, spending all their time online or end up getting mixed up in anti-social behaviour.”
YouthAction has just been awarded £599,999 from Big Lottery Fund’s Empowering Young People programme for the four year Everyday Life project. It is supporting isolated young men who are involved in or at risk of becoming involved in violence to make better choices and improve their lives. The project will work with young men in Belfast, Derry City and Strabane, Armagh, Banbridge and Craigavon and Newry, Mourne and Down.
Michael McKenna from YouthAction said: “We are delighted to receive this funding for the new Everyday Life project. Young men are leading this and it is grounded in what they see as key issues. In particular, it will allow us to support more young men who are at risk of getting involved in recreational, sectarian, domestic or cyber violence and aggression. It’ll give them the skills to deal with confrontation and difficult situations safely.”
Other projects receiving funding today:
The Northern Ireland Cancer Fund for Children has been awarded £600,000 to provide tailored support for young people across Northern Ireland aged 8-17 whose parent or carer has cancer, young people who have lost someone to cancer and young people who find themselves in a caring role.
MACS Supporting Young People has received £599,977 to help young people in Belfast, Lisburn & Castlereagh, Newry Mourne & Down aged 11-25 to improve and better manage their mental health, reach their potential and become active members of society.
Liberty Consortium in Derry/Londonderry has been awarded £600,000 to offer activities, work placements and training to increase the personal and social skills of young people aged 16-23 with learning disabilities.
CAN has received a £574,217 grant to provide support for young people with learning disabilities and their parents in the Causeway area, who are dealing with issues moving from child to adult services.
The Empowering Young People programme can support projects working with young people across Northern Ireland including young carers, young people with a learning disability and young people who face barriers to education, training or employment. More information about Empowering Young People can be found on our website, www.biglotteryfund.org.uk/northernireland.