‘The A Team’ working with marginalised kids in Drumgor - CLICK ON THE PICTURE FOR FULL STORY

Joanne Shortall and Jason Williamson with Caitlin Ni Chathail and Chris Valente from The Youth Safety Network. INLM3612-105gc
Joanne Shortall and Jason Williamson with Caitlin Ni Chathail and Chris Valente from The Youth Safety Network. INLM3612-105gc

THEY’RE the A-team of youth work. Drumgor Detached Youth Work Project (DDYWP) -or diddy whip as they are known to the kids on the streets of Craigavon - is the largest of its kind in Northern Ireland.

It’s hard not to be impressed by the commitment and stamina of these youth workers. Their vocation and passion for their work is incredible.

They are out in all weathers guiding and helping some of the most vulnerable and isolated kids in the district.

“We are not crusaders, we have to build up trust,” says youth worker Sean Brown.

There are 27 bridges around Craigavon, all known by various names from Lollipop Bridge, Water Bridge and the Bridge of Death. It’s very territorial, not just along sectarian lines. Most of the bridges are tagged by different gangs. Many of these kids are victims of social poverty.

Pounding the streets, night after day after night, DDYWP is a constant presence in Craigavon, bringing the youth club to the youth.

They work with people from 10-18 who are deemed marginalised or at ‘risk’.

Alcohol and drug abuse is rampant and there are serious issues with low self esteem, isolation, poverty, antisocial behaviour, sexual and mental health issues.

The focus of DDYWP is to create meaningful relationships with these kids offering personal and social development programmes to help them look at the issues they face.

And it is all done in a fun and interactive way through music, games and just chatting to get the kids engaged in something positive.

Sean explained that they play charades, bringing the kids back to basics. There is role play such as acting out situations like drug dealing with the kids creating the scenarios based on real events that they have been through and using these games to get the youths to talk about issues as well as educate and inform them.

Former teacher David Ginesi began as a street worker with the DDYWP and is now Project Coordinator. He is passionate about Drumgor Detached and becomes animated and intense when he talks about the young people they want to help.

He revealed that from April 2011 to March this year DDYWP have made contact with an astounding 7,644 young people and have directly signposted 596 youngsters to other organisations such as Opportunity Youth, PIPS, Health Promotion Agency, Lifeline, Samaritans, Sexual Health Clinics and health board services.

Drumgor Detached has been consistently dealing with the fall out from the drug ‘methedrone’, ‘‘Blues’ and ‘Hill Billy Heroin’ as well as cheap alcohol.

“Drugs and alcohol are the norm. You have to be honest and open. To them they are not doing anything wrong,” said Sean.

More than 200 youths have been directly helped to improve their own self esteem, confidence, communication skills and resilience to life’s knocks.

DDYWP also works with the Youth Justice Agency with detached young people from the area who receive community service. “We see the victim as the community and they give back to the community,” said Sean.

A youth panel was set up which with Brownlow Youth Council (SELB) are the voice of the young people in the district. The panel also helped to target those young people in need for the summer programme strategy.

Like most such organisations funding is a constant battle. It is through the generosity of the Big Lottery, Children in Need, Comic Relief and Rank that DDYWP can survive.

Recently after spending a day on the streets of Craigavon, Rank’s NI director Steve Cheal organised funding of £25,000 to pay for a member of staff to complete a four year degree. And now Joanne Shortall is working on a degree in Youth Studies.