Youthscape launched in 2018 to empower 14 - 24 year olds who were most in need in Fermanagh, Tyrone and Donegal. Four years and over 1,000 young people later, the programme held its closure event in South West College, Enniskillen on 16th June.

Youthscape was awarded almost €4 million of EU Peace IV funding under the Children and Young People’s strand by the Special EU Programmes Body in 2017. With this funding, South West College, Donegal Youth Service and TIDES Training and Consultancy pooled their resources and specialist knowledge to help transform the lives of young people in Ballybofey, Dungannon, Enniskillen, Letterkenny and Omagh, as well as the surrounding areas.

Youthscape youth workers enabled young people to equip themselves with skills for personal development, citizenship and good relations and supported them to address their barriers.

With so many of the young people coming from single-identity communities, being part of Youthscape gave them an opportunity to learn about good relations and peacebuilding in real life. The diversity of the groups meant they were able to form friendships with others they may not have had the opportunity to socialise with before. Over 18% of all the young people were of other nationalities and cultural backgrounds.

Before the pandemic

Until March 2020, a typical week on Youthscape involved three days of group work, day trips, cross-border trips, learning for OCN Level 1 in Vocational Studies using informal teaching styles and one-to-one mentoring in person with their dedicated youth worker.

Each group had an opportunity to create a social impact project - a fundraiser-style event for a charity nominated by them. At the end of every cohort’s six months, a large Celebration of Success was held when all the participants came together from Letterkenny, Ballybofey,

Enniskillen, Omagh and Dungannon areas. The Youthscape Youth Forum met monthly to feed into the programme activities and discuss the issues affecting them.

Sarah, a past participant, recalls: “I learnt more about myself as well as other religions, beliefs and other communities. At the start I had lacked self-esteem and confidence and Youthscape helped me be more confident in myself and to speak out to be heard”.

Youthscape in Lockdown

After the pandemic changed the world as we knew it, Youthscape quickly adapted to online activities to connect with young people and keep vital services running.

The effects of social isolation and anxiety became evident as 37% of young people noted that their mental health was affected. Youthscape staff responded by implementing more frequent one-to-one calls, a variety of contact methods, a dedicated health and wellbeing facilitator and fun online activities to suit all interests.

Group work was carried out using Zoom and other technologies, and virtual trips went online. Youthscape Radio and The Youthscape Podcast were launched, giving participants a creative outlet. Games nights, movie nights, beauty and fitness tutorials all featured in the programme, keeping young people engaged and connected. In March 2021, the social impact project was planned with the restrictions in mind, and The One Million Steps Walking Challenge raised over £2,600 in 24 hours for Pieta House across the groups in Donegal, Fermanagh and Tyrone.

With the current and final group due to complete the programme in June, the relaxation of restrictions has allowed for trips to the Share Centre in Fermanagh, the Ulster-American folk park in Omagh, Belfast, and Kilmainham Gaol in Dublin. Graffiti projects in all five areas are underway, with plans for a trip to learn about the Derry Murals and a day of bowling in the pipeline.

A lasting impact on young people

To date, 91% of young people who completed their full term on Youthscape went on to a more positive outcome. 62% of them have been able to re-join mainstream education, or further their education at college or university. 12% have gone into employment, with a further 16% joining another specialist programme to continue the work to help them achieve their goals. 1% took on voluntary work to continue to build their confidence.

Research by Queen’s University (using Times Surveys completed by young people whilst on the programme) has evidenced that the benefits of being on Youthscape and the similar Peace IV programmes in other counties are:

  • Increased respect for diversity
  • More positive attitudes towards other ethnic groups and communities
  • More self-esteem
  • More resilience and self-awareness
  • Willingness to engage in positive help-seeking behaviours
  • More civic engagement and participation
  • Support for peacebuilding

Northern Ireland Economy Minister Gordon Lyons said: “Youthscape has been a highly successful programme which has supported more than 1,000 young people from disadvantaged backgrounds. The initiative enabled them to access learning and development opportunities such as team building, mentoring and trips away with others of a similar age but whom they may never have met without the support of the scheme. I congratulate everyone who has been involved in the delivery of Youthscape and wish all the past participants on the programme the very best for the future.”

Irish Minister for Children, Equality, Disability, Integration and Youth, Roderic O’Gorman commented: “Since launching in 2018, Youthscape has given so many young people the opportunity to develop key skills and competences that will broaden their horizons and enrich their lives. The success of this project is testament to the tireless commitment and dedication of all involved. I would like to take this opportunity to thank them for their hard work and commend them particularly for quickly adapting to online activities to connect with young people and keep vital services running during some very difficult times. “

Highlighting the importance of this project Gina McIntyre, Chief Executive of the SEUPB said: “As a direct consequence of our shared past many young people are still raised within segregated communities with limited opportunities to meet and get to know and understand someone from a different culture or tradition. This has only been exacerbated by the pandemic which has forced people to withdraw back into their own community and limited such opportunities to mix with others. COVID-19 has also had a very negative impact on the mental health of young people who were subject to a lot of anxiety and loneliness, as they were cut off from close friends and even family members.

“The EU PEACE IV Programme has helped to alleviate some of these issues and provides funding to a number of different youth development projects which have benefited many thousands of children and young people, on both sides of the border.

“Youthscape is an excellent example of this and managed to find fun and creative ways to keep its beneficiaries engaged, connected and hopeful throughout the pandemic. I would like to congratulate the project staff for their hard work and dedication as well as all of the young people themselves for their courage and enthusiasm over the past few years,” she continued.

Rachel from Cohort six summed up her experience of the programme: “Before I joined, I just didn’t want to meet new people, go into new places and new surroundings that I wasn’t used to. During the Youthscape programme everyone was really helpful, really friendly, I made a new friend the first day. It really helped with my confidence, they even helped me apply for college and now after Youthscape I’m in college, doing Childcare, which is one of the things I wanted to do since I was young.”