A County Armagh teenager who took part in a unique government funded youth programme devised to help build leadership skills amongst young people has encouraged 15 to 17 year olds follow in his footsteps in 2019.

Oisín O'Dowd from Gilford took part in the 2017 National Citizen Service (NCS) programme and he has spoken of how he has seen his social life and school work transformed though the skills he learned as a participant last year.

The Lismore Compreshensive School pupil said when he was first offered a place on NCS he had never heard of the programme, but 12 months on rates signing up as one of the best decisions he ever made.

"From my experience I didn't know what it was until I went along but it was brilliant. I met a lot of new people and built up new friendships.

"NCS also helped my confidence a lot. Being involved with NCS meant I got to go to England on a Kick Start programme with 300 other NCS graduates where we took part in courses to learn leadership skills. After that when I went back to school I had the confidence to take up leadership roles within the school."

The programme is broken up into four stages – Adventure, Discovery, Social Action and Celebration – and combines fun activities with developmental benefits.

Participants can use their experiences and skills to enhance their CVs or UCAS forms should they be interested in furthering their academic studies.

Improved performance in class was something Oisín said followed from his participation.

"After school I want to study biochemistry at university and I found being part of NCS has improved my school work – particularly though taking part in the Social Action part. That taught me to organise my time better and I was able to transfer those skills to it helps a lot with school."

Eager to continue his involvement with NCS into 2018, Oisín has taken a position this year with the NI NCS Regional Youth Board to help shape the programme for this year's intake. He has urged young people to follow in his footsteps and get involved.

"NCS is brilliant and I would advise anyone to get involved. I'm glad I did last year. It's opened up a whole new world for me."