My name is Ashleigh Roberts and I am the START worker in East Belfast Alternatives. I alongside my colleague Cormac have worked with a group of young people over the course of three months. These young people have worked tirelessly to achieve so much so quickly. Many of them have achieved their essential skills in Maths and English, one young person commented about this achievement saying; ‘Its given me the opportunity to go to Tec and go onto further education. Something I never thought was possible.’

Every day is different. The group have taken part in personal development session, restorative practice workshops, sexual health and relationships session as well as so much more. They also undertook a 4 week Active beats course on Djing with Mickey Modell. The young people thoroughly enjoyed it with many of them showing a natural talent at Djing and they came away with a new skill.

The group also took part in outdoor activities on a weekly basis with everyone working well together to complete tasks and do activities such as bouldering and canoeing. It was great to see some young people stepping up into leadership roles to make sure the tasks were completed and helping other members of the team that were struggling. This is just one example of how these young people have matured and developed their confidence over this programme. One young person commented saying’ Start helped to give me confidence to be able to go for a job I didn’t think I could do. I applied and got an interview and it was then I realised I was much more capable than what I thought. Now I’m working there full time and really enjoying it.’

Each group I work with I always come away learning something new about why we do what we do. This group has really inspired me that even though one of our aims is to get these young people into employment I learnt that that’s not just what we’re about. The informal educational approach is what makes this project work. When young people start to see their own potential or begin to think positively about their future that’s when they begin to realise their doing something right. So many of them have overcome challenges and now see a clear future for themselves. The biggest result for us is when they started to turn up early after weeks of having to drag them out of bed.

Finding out what each of them is passionate about and encouraging them to follow that dream is what makes this job worthwhile. It’s the young people themselves who achieve this through sheer dedication and hard work and they don’t do this alone. They became a group helping each other out to get the work done they even go as far as messaging each other to make sure they were awake so they would be in on time. Towards the end I felt like I could just put my feet up and the group would be able to do it themselves. I have watched them become so much more confident and mature, taking responsibility for their lives and make decisions that are going to positively impact their future.

All of this would not have been achieved without the advice and support of so many dedicated staff and partnerships. I would personally like to thank Cormac who has been a constant support and for his excellent youth work skills that help to make the East and South Start group what it is. Thanks also to the rest of the East team who are always there to advise and support the me and are always building relationships with the young people also to Karen for your support and referring young people to Start. Thanks also to South Alternatives team your support is very much appreciated. To the rest of the Start team Stephen, Mark, Pete and Stephen thanks for answering all my calls for words of advice and always being a listening ear. Thanks also to Dearbhla for helping make the programme what it is, we really appreciate it. I would also like to thank Walkway Community Centre for allowing us to use your premises to make the start programme happen.

Finally thanks to all the young people who took part in the programme. The last three months have honestly been a blast. Every single person has achieved something. Everyone has progressed so much and its clear to see how much more you believe in yourselves and your own ability. And let me tell you something each and every one of you is more than capable of achieving what you want. I have to say massive congratulations to you. I am so proud of all of you and all that you have achieved. You should be so proud yourselves and remember our door is always open.