£325,000 boost for YMCA youth project

A PROJECT to support young people at risk of getting involved in crime in the Lurgan area has been awarded a major grant from the Big Lottery Fund.

Lurgan YMCA has been awarded a grant of £327,551 from the Big Lottery Fund’s Reaching out: Empowering Young People programme, which supports young people most at risk in Northern Ireland, including those who have been disengaged from education, involved in crime or in care.

The community organisation will use the grant to run a range of activities, courses and training to improve the education and job opportunities of young people who have dropped out of school and are at risk of getting involved in anti-social behaviour and crime.

The project will initially work with the young people to find out what they want to achieve in their lives, and as they progress they will be offered the chance to take part in workshops covering topics including personal development, numeracy, literacy and IT, employment support and an OCN course in youth work.

Chief Executive Officer Hugo Dale explained that the services offered by the project will help to boost the young people’s self esteem and self worth and discourage them from moving on to more serious crime.

“This project is working with young people in the local area who have come to the attention of the police but have not yet come to the attention of the courts, and who are referred to us by agencies like Youth Justice and the PSNI,” said Hugo.

“There are isolated young people who are hanging about in the estates in the town with nothing to do, particularly in the evenings, and are involved in smashing bottles, drinking and taking part in anti-social behaviour.

“Some of them have been excluded from or dropped out of school, they might lack support at home and have low self esteem and self worth, so they hang about on the streets. The legacy of the Troubles continues to impact on this area and these young people are easily influenced, so they often fall in with the wrong crowds.”

He continued: “These are young people who have not yet committed a serious crime, but are heading down the wrong path. They are disillusioned and they feel they don’t see a way out, they don’t feel they have a chance - so we are trying to prevent them from making the wrong choices by giving them the opportunity to improve their lives.

“We will support them with vocational training choices such as in youth work, outdoor education while also encouraging them towards traditional trades such as plumbing and IT, or academic training so they can further their education, depending on their goals and what they want to do. The young people will also be encouraged to become involved in volunteering so they are making a contribution, thinking about careers, and feeling like they are achieving.

“And they will have a YMCA mentor who can help them plan what they want to do with their life. We hope that the project will give these people the chance to make the right choices in their lives and become positive members of the community.”

Jamie King, 20, a volunteer at Lurgan YMCA and chairman of their Youth Committee, first started coming to the YMCA at 14. “I love volunteering here,” he said. “Before getting involved I was just hanging around on street corners with the wrong type of people, doing nothing with my life and getting involved in drinking and anti-social behaviour.

“But my involvement with the YMCA and my life has turned around. I feel I can help other young people who are in similar situations to me, and that’s down to the support I’ve received.”

Frank Hewitt, Big Lottery Fund NI Chair, said: “I am delighted that we are announcing these grants awarded through our £20 million Empowering Young People programme to support the most vulnerable and isolated young people in our society.”

To find out more about the Reaching Out programmes visit www.biglotteryfund.org.uk]