A programme to develop the next generation of leaders in the City of Belfast has been launched by Belfast City Council and peace building charity Co-operation Ireland.  

Over the next three years over 80 young leaders and 800 of their peers will be given a say at the heart of local government thanks to this innovative EU PEACE IV funded programme.

Young Advocates is a programme designed to give young people who would not normally have an opportunity to address their concerns to councillors and officials in Belfast City Council a chance to address social issues they feel affect them most.

The aim of the programme is to build skills and confidence so the participants can lobby on behalf of issues they believe are critical to young people in the city, and influence positive change.

Launching the project, Councillor Tim Attwood, Vice Chair of Belfast City Council’s Shared City Partnership, said:

“The Council is committed to working for the good of everyone.  Through PEACE IV we are delighted to be able to support a programme that enables young people to engage in a positive way with the political context in Belfast.  These young people working on a cross community basis will break down barriers and help us realise the vision that Belfast is welcoming, safe, fair and inclusive for all now and in the future.

The programme has been devised for 16 -24 year olds and the participants have been drawn from all communities across the city. Many of those taking part live in single identity communities that have borne the brunt of division and continue to be affected by problems arising from interfaces.

Co-operation Ireland are lead partners in the programme along with Belfast City Council. Funding is provided by the European Union’s PEACE IV Programme, managed by the Special EU Programmes Body.

Co-operation Ireland CEO Peter Sheridan said: “Giving young people a voice helps to reduce marginalisation which has benefits for society as a whole. Through learning skills and gaining confidence in talking to elected representatives it is our belief that we will be helping to mould the city leaders of the future.

Welcoming the project Gina McIntyre, CEO with the Special EU Programmes Body said: “Due to the history of division within our society, many of our young people have not been given the opportunity to mix with and learn about other young people from different communities and cultures. This project will not only give them that opportunity but will also help build up their confidence levels so that they can clearly articulate issues of importance to them to the Council and its officials.

“It reflects one of the main objectives of the EU’s PEACE IV Programme which is to support thousands of young people across the region; helping them to unlock their full potential and lead the way forward in the creation of a more tolerant and accepting society,” she continued. 

Match-funding has also been provided by The Executive Office in Northern Ireland and the Department of Rural and Community Affairs in Ireland.