The Kilwilkie area in Lurgan has suffered deeply throughout the Troubles with the youth affected by their legacy alongside the general population.
Add disadvantage and deprivation, and even the youth of today, who weren’t born at the time of the Good Friday Agreement, are having a difficult time.
However an innovative programme aimed at bringing youths in from the cold has been launched in Kilwilkie and Drumgask Tullygally areas.
Based on the Fresh Start programme which was set up to help tackle criminality, organised crime and paramilitarism, this new youth programme aims to help youngsters get on a positive path for the future.
At a recent meeting, discussing a new ‘Needs Analysis Report’ commissioned by Clann Eireann Youth Club, harrowing stories of how children as young as 13 were getting involved with drug dealing, were presented.
Stephen McNally, Youth Worker in Charge at Clann Eireann Youth Club, said: “We need to stop this otherwise it might be our young people who will be shot or become the shooter.”
He also spoke of the high levels of suicide and attempted suicide in the area and he hoped this programme would help young people find a ‘safety net’ at the Youth Club.
Frank Hughes has just taken up the challenging role of Area Youth Worker, specialising in Kilwilkie and Drumgask areas.
Funded by the START (Supporting Teenagers Away from Recurrent Trouble) programme, his role is to create a support for the young people and to broaden their horizons.`
Frank, who will be working with young people at risk of getting into trouble, believes in building positive, effective and professional relationships with young people in an effort to support them through their journey into adulthood.
“This journey should start where the young people are at, be led by the young people, supported by the youth worker, exploring issues that affect them and their personal social development.
“We want to improve their career prospects and assist and support them in their lives.”
During focus groups, it was discovered that while many felt North Lurgan gets bad publicity many of the young people thought things there were improving.
Clann Eireann Youth Club’s work in the community was regarded as creating a more positive image with many young people believing it is a great place to grow up.
With around 3,500 young people under 25 years in the catchment area, Clann Eireann Youth Club has a high participation rate with around 500 members.
Frank said he was concerned for the young people who don’t engage with the Youth Club ‘who think it isn’t cool,’ because they might be missing out on a lot of opportunities to try new activities, make new friends and explore issues relevant to them.
He added that alcohol and drugs were big issues across Northern Ireland and these areas locally were no different.
“There is a high exposure to alcohol and many drinking hotspots locally.
“The plan is to visit these areas and help the young people to stay safe as well as encourage them to join the Youth Club,” Frank revealed.
“There was less exposure to drugs with those in the focus groups but we acknowledge drugs are a major problem,” he said.
The study showed that young people also felt limited in their career choices and Frank hoped that this project could help broaden their aspirations.
Worryingly, the bulk of time within the focus groups was spend on talking about mental health issues, which, it is felt, is a major problem.
“We want toprovide a forum to explore mental health issues,” said Frank. “They wanted a safe place to go and get support.”
He added that with growing pressures from social media now, young people need a safe place to talk about their problems.
Martin O’Neill, Club Chairman, said: “This is not just a post conflict-related issue. The Good Friday Agreement was 20 years ago when many of these young people were not even born.”
Already he and others have been involved in tailored focus groups to see what the needs are of the young people in the area.
Martin said: “We are trying through the peace process, to help steer our young people away from violence.”
Stephen McNally said north Lurgan was an area of multiple deprivation and that it could be a difficult place to work, live and grow up. “It can be very lonely,” he said.
“Clann Eireann has been a safety net throughout the Troubles - a place of hope for young people over the years,” he said.
Stephen revealed that he has encountered drug dealers as young as 13 who have grown up to have serious issues including being targeted in a death threat.
“The vast majority of our young people will not go down that route and we want to guide all our youth in the right direction.
“We have to put the gun away out of the way. We have moved on,” he said regarding paramilitary threats.
“We have a chance now to give our youth a fresh start,” he said.