Young people in Ardoyne have their say

19 Jan 2018 Ryan Miller    Last updated: 19 Jan 2018

Modern best practice in the third sector hinges on services that have been designed – or, at the very least informed – by the users themselves.

Because needs change over time this represents more of a process than something that can be implemented once and then forgotten about.

This can be very difficult for any organisation, especially smaller community groups.

Much has been written about balancing finite resources between frontline services - the mainstay of any group - and the need to chase funding, or similar support, in order to keep that same group’s future secure.

The introduction of a third pillar – leaving aside the costs of administration – whereby the thoughts of target service users are gathered together and used to steer the services themselves, can be daunting.

Nevertheless, it can get great results.

Ardoyne Youth Enterprise (AYE) last year took it upon themselves to carry out a survey of the young people in Ardoyne and Marrowbone, the areas of North Belfast where they carry out their work.

It was a significant undertaking for AYE but an extremely rewarding one. The results of the survey - funded by the NI Executive’s Urban Villages Initiative - were launched last month and make for interesting reading.

The poll had a wide remit – asking the young people their perceptions of the area as a whole, their concerns about it and their ideas for possible solutions. The benefits of having this knowledge when planning or facilitating youth work are clear.


AYE told Scope that this survey required a huge amount of work, more than they expected, and that in future they might use more streamlined processes. On the other hand, they said it was a fantastic way to identify what is important to the young people who use their services.

Listen Up! involved speaking to over 150 young people aged 12 to 17 in Ardoyne and Marrowbone – over one quarter of that age group living in the area – as well as 15 youth workers.

The aims of the poll were, per the report itself, threefold - to:

  • get a snapshot of the most important issues identified by local young people;
  • establish themes and statistics on which to inform our priorities for action and develop further research;
  • compare this with the perceptions of youth providers.

Almost two thirds of the young people questioned said they felt part of the community – whereas 22% said they did not – while 56% said it was a nice area in which to live, 24% said it was not, and 18% had mixed feelings.

They were asked to each choose five issues – from a choice of 33 options – that they felt were the most important issues affecting the area. Over 62% felt drug and alcohol abuse was crucial (the most common response), 52% said mental health, and over 51% said anti-social behaviour (including 25% who cited street violence, 19% vandalism, and 8.9% death driving).

56% of the young people identified either a lack of things to do, or a lack of places to go, as problems with Ardoyne/Marrowbone, while 29% cited armed groups, and 25% said the relationship with police was an issue.

Perhaps indicating a good level of understanding, the youth workers who were questioned had very similar views about what represented the biggest issues for young people, and also their order of importance.

To address these issues, the young people said they would first turn to youth workers (80%), followed by people in the community (61%) and government (57%). Traditional support structures, such as schools (29%), family support groups (21%) or the church (6%) come far behind.

Only 13% selected “myself” when asked to list the five groups in society best suited to address their issues.

Some of these results will be as AYE expected. Some will be surprising. All of it is useful to find out, and leaves AYE in a great position to refine the services they offer and coordinate in the area.

The fact they have successfully completed such an undertaking should inspire other community and voluntary organisations. Youth work is, in this sense, as complicated as anything else, because it is crucial to understand the potential service users (i.e. young people) in a complete sense, as people, rather than just some narrower aspect, relating to a specific set of issues.


The Northern Ireland Commissioner for Children and Young People, Koulla Yiasouma, was present to launch the survey and highlight the importance of getting young people involved in the creation of the services they will then use.

She said: “The days of designing and planning laws, policies and services without young people are behind us, and this report reminds us of this.

“Not only does it make sense to involve end users in the development of services that affect them, but indeed young people have a right to have their voices heard by service providers and decision makers.

“It is clear youth workers in the area are tuned into the needs and concerns of the young people here, and they need support to act now.

“I share the concerns that young people have raised, particularly concerning mental health, which is one of NICCY’s priorities.”

AYE Director Shane Whelehan said: “As advocates for young people’s needs, we wanted to hear their opinions, share them widely, and act on them to help improve service provision.

“Their comments are frank, thoughtful, sometimes humorous, often very moving, and definitely worth a read. We were struck by their calls to be heard and respected by service providers and decision makers.

“They told us that youth work has a massive role to play and that they want youth organisations, the community and statutory agencies to work together to give them a better future.”


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