I started to take part in the North Lurgan young leadership project when I was just 16. Before I was a participant I was classified as a hood. I would have been drinking and taking drugs most nights of the week. I was an absolute torture to my community. I shouted abuse at people walking down the street, just for a laugh and showing off in front of my so called ‘mates’. In school I was a pain, never listened, always messed around and demented my teachers, this is the reason I left with just two qualifications…
The opportunity arose to join the group when I was asked by the community youth worker to come and get involved in a project. Of course I thought it would have been a failure like everything else. And so did the local community. At this time my life was already a failure in my eyes…My confidence would have been low, I only had confidence when I was drinking or taking drugs. This nearly prevented me from taking part only for the worker encouraging me to give it a go…
Over these past three years I have seen myself develop in a number of ways. I can make decisions for myself and I am now confident, have good self-esteem and have aspirations in life. I have made good friends and built positive relationships with others. I have gained great knowledge, skills and experience. I can organise myself and am extra good at solving conflict and rebuilding relationships. I can now help others and through this I can show leadership.
I am now undertaking further qualifications in youth work and completing my [current college course]. At the minute I am working, helping another young group who was in the position that I was at 16. I plan to go to university next year to do a certificate course in community youth work.
Regardless of whatever career path I take in life, being involved in this has shown me direction and appreciation of community services. I will use these skills I have gained to enhance my quality of life and of others. I am no longer a nuisance to my community. I am seen as a good role model especially by the younger generation.
Martin faced serious challenges in his life when he first joined the Youth Leadership Project. A frequent drug user from the age of 13, he was regularly getting involved in anti-social behaviour and was known to police. Despite his young age, he was getting caught up in rioting in the area and was at serious risk. His involvement in the project did not go smoothly at first and, in summer 2010, he stole and crashed a car.
The project worker attended his youth justice conference and secured agreement that he could complete his community service through the project. Over the months, and with the support of the project worker, Martin began to slowly make changes in his life. He moved away from former ‘friends’ who had been a negative influence and got himself off drugs. A major breakthrough came when he got a placement with a local company and, through his hard work, secured a full-time job in an area he was interested in. Today, Martin is still employed full-time and has avoided any further involvement with the police or anti-social behaviour.
* Not their real names.