Lettershandoney and District Development Group through its Tús Nua initiative is tackling key issues that many rural communities face by offering a new, meaningful life path for those involved.
Supported through the International Fund for Ireland’s Personal Youth Development Programme (PYDP), the project is working with young people aged 16-25, who have faced a range of complex issues including; poor mental health, substance abuse, homelessness, difficult family backgrounds, been in or close to criminal system and have not participated in society in a positive manner.
The project marked the end of its first year with a celebration event at the Maldron Hotel in Derry, where each participant’s achievements were recognised with a certificate presentation.
IFI Board Member, Paddy Harte said; “Our PYDP programme is designed to target those who feel left behind.
“It goes beyond the traditional concept of a youth initiative and allows participants to become actively involved in planning their own future goals and ambitions.
“Tús Nua is a fantastic example of how outreach work can transform young lives and their focus on dealing with important issues such as mental health and wellbeing mean that participants can embrace their futures with confidence and ambition.”
The project was awarded £211,322 in 2017 to deliver a two year programme through a range of Good Relations, Personal Development skills and Further Education/ Employability Development courses.
It is tailored to suit each individual and those involved are actively encouraged to help co-design activities and outcomes in line with their needs and interests.
Speaking about the impact of Tús Nua Karen McLaughlin, project coordinator says; “The initiative came about following the findings of a survey, which revealed that 55% of respondents knew someone with a mental health issue and 25% were experiencing mental health issues.
“The surrounding area faces a range of complex challenges including lack of infrastructure, low employment, cultural and sectarian issues, self-harm and suicide.
“Rural isolation can create a lack of opportunity, a feeling of exclusion and no real freedom of expression in many cases.
“These challenges have had a huge impact on our young people’s mental health and their belief to make positive changes in their lives.
“The Personal Youth Development Programme has been fundamental in allowing us to engage in a remote area. We’ve also been able to provide further support by funding practical driving and theory lessons for those that remain actively engaged with the project.
“We work very hard from the outset to establish a trusting relationship with each individual and through their personal plan they can scale their issues and/or their understanding of mental health difficulties and how they want to progress.”
Participants have explored a range of skilled courses in year one such as culture and identity, improving attitudes to sectarianism, traveller awareness sessions and attitudes to racism and homophobia.
Training opportunities have also been carved out and the group has established a number of links with external employers to help with CV development and recruitment.
Eden O’Hara shares their experience of the project to date: “The PYDP programme has given me a lot of confidence. I
have made brilliant friends and have come out of my shell greatly.
“I have gained lots of useful skills, which have helped me a lot in finding a job.
“I feel very outgoing and have little to no problems meeting new people now whereas before it was a big problem for me.
“I feel like a new, happier person and I am very grateful for the opportunities I have been given.”
Karen adds: “My background is working in mental health professionally and I’m proud to be part of this team. We are passionate about promoting good mental health and understanding the issues and triggers surrounding it.
“This project is a lifeline, delivering positive outcomes for those who need intervention the most.
“We have ambitions to grow the project further next year and will be tackling important issues head on.
“Improving confidence, self-esteem, healthy relationships, self-harm, drugs, alcohol and suicide awareness are just some of the areas we’ll offer guidance and training to ensure our young people are equipped with the right tools to make positive life choices.”