Twelve young people who never dreamed they would go to university have been given a unique opportunity to study at Ulster University thanks to a new Northern Ireland Youth Forum initiative launched today (September 29).
‘United For Change’ aims to make a major impact to the lives of unemployed and educationally disengaged young people by offering not only the chance of university study but also one to one mentoring, peer leadership training, overseas experience and good relations training.
As part of the six month programme, the NIYF has teamed up with Ulster University to run a nine week study course at the Jordanstown campus.
The project is cross community with young people drawn from areas across Antrim and Newtownabbey. Already they have engaged in teambuilding, began accredited training at Ulster University, a four day residential in Ballintoy and learning days to a number of locations including Titanic Belfast.
The young people say the programme is already challenging their preconceptions about different communities and boosting their confidence levels.
Shannon Adams, 19, from Monkstown said she was learning so much about herself, adding: “The youth workers have been amazing and offer you so much support. I have enjoyed university and I’m so thankful for the opportunity. I also have made good friends and hope to keep the friendships when the programme is over. I would like to get a job when the programme is over and now have the confidence to go for an interview and work with other people.”
Kieran Barnes, 20, from Glengormley said the programme given him a greater understanding of different cultures and issues such as mental health: “This programme has proved people from different communities/religion and backgrounds can really come together and make things work and change the future. The programme is really testing my comfort zones and confidence, I have completed tasks that I wouldn’t have years ago. This is because the group and youth leaders stand by you.”
Employment and Learning Minister Dr Stephen Farry, launching the programme at Jordanstown campus, said: ‘I am delighted to be able to help launch this cross-community initiative. United for Change is one of 13 United Youth pilots that are running across Northern Ireland from now until the end of March 2016, offering around 360 places to young people. United Youth is all about providing flexible, high-quality, young-person-centred opportunities to 16–24 year olds who are not currently in education, employment or training.’
Phil Glennon, the NIYF Co-ordinator of United For Change said that feedback from young people on the programme had been extremely positive.
He added: “Programme participants are learning through a wide range of learning opportunities including a full taste of university life. We are very hopeful that this programme will inspire, create change and leave a legacy with participants for the future.”
The aim is for the young people to use the student experience at Ulster University to gain an insight into the political, historical and sociological backdrop to current day issues and understand the impact of legacy issues on their lives.
Ulster University’s Dr Jonny Byrne said: “United for Change offers an exciting opportunity for young people who may not have previously considered attending university to study some of the issues that affect them. They will explore some of our local political, historical and sociological issues as well as the legacy of peacebuilding in Northern Ireland. Furthermore, through Ulster University’s accredited CPD framework participants also have the opportunity to earn tariff points to supplement entry to Ulster University for further studies.”
Natalie Corbett, the full-time youth worker for the United For Change programme said: “It’s amazing to watch young people engage, participate and go through a personal journey. The young people are students at Ulster University and many of them never thought this would be achievable. I feel very excited at what is to come and believe that this experience will empower young people and leave a legacy in their local communities.”