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YouthPact, the Quality and Impact body for the EU Peace IV Children & Young People’s Programme of which Ulster University is a partner, asked young people to describe how the past 12 months have impacted them. One young person said the phrase “wasted: time and me” summed up their experience of the pandemic while others illustrated the contrasts of this period, saying: “happy, isolated, grateful and angry.”

YouthPact also carried out research with youth workers on what they heard and what they did to respond. The responses were as original and varied as the young people and youth workers themselves. They also revealed the extent of poverty, isolation and the potential mental health impact on our youth during this pandemic and lockdowns.

On Tuesday, 20th April 2021 from 10.15 – 11, YouthPact will launch two resources that document the experiences of young people and youth workers across 2020; living and working through the COVID-19 pandemic.  ‘Young Voices – 2020 in 4’ and ‘At the Threshold: Youth work through the COVID-19 pandemic’ will chronicle the social and emotional strains felt by young people across the region; and the digital and human lifelines given by youth workers within the Peace4Youth programme.

The research report, ‘At the Threshold: Youth Work through the COVID-19 pandemic’, documents the experiences of Peace4Youth workers who have supported young people through the persistent pressures of lockdowns and restrictions imposed due to the COVID-19 pandemic All eleven Peace4Youth youth projects moved their services online and continued to hold a connection with young people during the unprecedented public health restrictions that ensued from the Covid-19 pandemic.

The continuous presence and actions of youth workers has had a significant role in mitigating some of the effects of the pandemic, such as isolation, poverty and the potential mental health impact on young people. Peace4Youth workers offered practical support such as food parcels, digital connectivity through dongles and other support and care packages and continued to connect with young people to maintain trusted relationships. Workers are acutely aware of the limitations of digital youth work but realise that delivering a programme to young people during this period gave them a sense of purpose and cut through the isolation they were experiencing. Digital poverty continues to be an issue for young people – with those already disadvantaged, being more so due to lack of digi2tal connectivity.  The research documents the painstaking efforts of youth workers to address these issues, while continuing to develop the role of young people in peace-building and citizenship across the 6 counties of Northern Ireland and the 6 border counties in RoI.

‘Young Voices - 2020 in 4’ is an online resource that captures the reflections of young people on their lives throughout 2020. Peace4Youth participants aged 14-25 chose either four words, four phrases or four lines to express something of their experiences through 2020; capturing the bleakness at times; alongside the motivators and supports that kept them going.  Young people have faced significant economic and social upheaval as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic and this resource paints the picture using their own words.

One young person captures the spirit of this time ‘Wasted: time and me’ while others illustrate the contrasts of this period – ‘happy, isolated, grateful and angry’.

Speaking about these youth services and activities, Peter Sheridan, Chief Executive of Co-operation Ireland said

"Lockdown has been a serious challenge for everyone in the youth sector but thanks to the efforts of the youth workers in the Peace4Youth programmes outreach work continued and young people were supported both practically and emotionally.”

“As we near the end of what has been one of the most destabilising times of recent history, the learning we can see in today’s report will prove invaluable as we continue on our journey of supporting the next generation. I would like to thank SEUPB for their unwavering support for staff and organisations to keep these programmes delivering on the front-line."

The young people aged 14-24, who have lived the majority of their lives in ‘peace’, yet feel the visible and invisible ripple effects of the conflict in their everyday lives, are part of the €37 million European Union funded Peace4Youth Programme, which is managed by the Special EU Programmes Body (SEUPB) and takes place across Northern Ireland and the border counties of Ireland.

Both research projects have been developed by YouthPact, the Peace4Youth support body led by the peacebuilding charity Co-operation Ireland in partnership with Ulster University, Pobal and the National Youth Council of Ireland.

Recognising the impact of this work, Gina McIntyre Chief Executive of the SEUPB said:

“Unfortunately, as a result of our shared history and ongoing levels of segregation in our society, many young people feel excluded or left behind by society. EU PEACE IV funding is helping to address this by supporting a number of cross-community youth development projects, working on both sides of the border. Throughout the pandemic these brilliant projects have found new, fun and innovative ways to keep young people actively engaged.

“The youth workers behind each project have worked tirelessly to support the young people’s mental health and well-being and alleviate the sense of isolation many have felt as a result of the lockdown. I would like to congratulate all of the young people involved in these projects for their bravery, courage and creativity. I would also urge you to read the fantastic resources that have been created by Youth Pact, which documents the young people’s experiences and the work they have accomplished to date.”

YouthPact is funded by the Special European Union Programmes Body (SEUPB).

Match-funding for the project has been provided by the Northern Ireland Executive and the Department of Children, Equality, Disability, Integration and Youth in Ireland.