Progress Northern Ireland

Creating aYouth Assembly

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The #iwill campaign’s lead partner in Northern Ireland, Volunteer Now, has been crucial in driving #iwill forward and encouraging other organisations to engage and pledge to the campaign.
The growing culture of youth social action has empowered young people in Northern Ireland to address issues that matter to them.
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Young people share hard truths about body image and self-care during their social action:

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The Paul Hamlyn and Esmee Fairburn Foundations support the work of Voice of Young People in Care (VOYPIC) as part of their Act for Change Fund and under their #iwill umbrella. The charity promotes the rights and voices of care leavers and children and young people in care.Hear from one of their Young Leaders, Orlaith on why they got involved:
“I got involved in VOYPIC, because all my life the adults around me always made decisions about me and I never felt that they listened to me because I was a young person. I love VOYPIC because they helped me to find my voice, and gave me the confidence to challenge those adults who made decisions about my life. It felt good to know that VOYPIC was on your side.
I wanted to become a young leader because I wanted other young people to find their voice too and I wanted them to have some of the same opportunities that I have had with VOYPIC.
The highlights for me/special memories will always be going on residentials. You have so much fun and I have become good friends with other young leaders from other areas.”

“The opportunity to get involved in social action has been particularly important throughout the pandemic:
“I’ve never taken part in a social action project before, so I didn’t really know what to expect. A few friends and myself decided to start attending a group one evening after school, just to see what it was like. We all really enjoyed going and getting involved, and discussing important issues with the amazing youth leaders.
However, when coronavirus took over all our lives, it was difficult to know what the future of our project would be, as we obviously couldn’t meet up anymore. We had planned to make an instagram page, so luckily the project was online and we all had easy access to it. We began working on the project online, and ended up with an amazing product which I think everyone would agree that we are very proud of.
It gave me something to look forward to twice a week, and helped me to maintain something resembling a routine! It’s been great to get to know new people, and I think it shows how resilient young people are to be able to continue working on this even during these hard times.”
“I've always been passionate about politics and social action, but I never did anything about it. A part of me always thought to myself, someone else will do it. Smarter people than I, stronger people than I, more popular people than I. It was hard to find projects that I was actively interested in and even harder to find projects that wanted me to be a part of it.
I started our social action project because it was limitless. We could choose exactly what we wanted to do and how we wanted to do it. Suddenly we had the power to tackle anything we wanted to. The only downside was that because we could do anything, it was too vague for a lot of people and therefore very few people were there. We overcame that though, if everyone pulled their weight and was passionate about the project we could handle it!
Then Covid-19 almost brought the project to a stop, we couldn't meet anymore and it was going to be hard to keep convincing everyone to take part. But through emails, instagram group chats and some very dedicated staff, we managed to get the project back up and running, however arguably, it worked better this time; we were able to meet more often, the times were more flexible and it was ok if the meeting ran a bit long, and even better all of our ideas were written down!
Our project is nowhere near complete, but it has gone so much further than I thought it could go given the circumstances. I'm super excited about this project, and I'm even more proud of myself and the people I work with who have all given so much to see this until the end.

Volunteer Now and #iwill partners and Ambassadors across NI have been addressing the barriers to participation in youth social action
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Over the years, Volunteer Now have recruited Ambassadors, created a social action toolkit, offered training and support, and ran a pilot scheme in a primary school resulting in guidance for primary schools off the back of it.

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Dara McAnulty

Dara first got involved in social action when he realised how therapeutic nature and wildlife were in easing the anxiety, social isolation and sensory issues he experiences as a young person on the autistic spectrum. Through online blogging and social media campaigning, Dara built new connections with a network of like minded people, which helped him to overcome his feelings of isolation brought on by childhood bullying.

Through his passion and eloquence, Dara has built a strong following of those who are passionate about protecting and preserving the natural world. Dara works closely with his school and local community, connecting other young people to the natural world - through organising an eco-group and activities such as bat walks and birdwatching. He has also campaigned for wildlife conservation, particularly that of birds of prey.

Dara joined #iwill as an Ambassador in 2018, where he performed a poem at our Kew Gardens Ambassador Welcome Event, and went on to make a speech at the launch of #iwill4nature and the Year of Green Action 2019 at London Zoo. Dara’s activism took on a new form as he joined the youth climate protests in 2019, as part of the movement inspired by fellow autistic teenager Greta Thunberg.

Dara’s first book “Diary of a Young Naturalist” was published in 2020 and won the prestigious Wainwright Prize for UK nature writing. He was the youngest author to be shortlisted for the award.

The leaders and powerful people who have known, but chosen to ignore at best, at worst, deny – the problems we are facing – deserve to be held accountable. I am justifiably angry, but anger alone is a useless emotion. It needs to be coupled with action and I am fortunate that organisations such as #iwill, allow me to demand action. I know I will continue to use my voice and my social action to endeavour to make the world a better place, for all natural life.
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Ben Mooney

Inspired by his family’s fundraising in support of the MS Society, Ben embarked on a journey of dedicated and imaginative fundraising challenges, raising money for a range of health charities and animal charities. At school as a Charity Ambassador, he achieved his second Guinness World Record - creating a paperclip chain over a 1km long to raise money for Marie Curie. Ben joined the #iwill campaign aged 10 in in 2017.

Through his roles as a school ‘buddy’, Charity Ambassador, #iwill Ambassador and with the Volunteer Now Youth Forum, Ben encourages other young people to take part in social action and illustrates the positive contribution that young people can make to society. Ben has won the Diana Award and British Citizen Youth Award in recognition of his efforts.

Since the beginning of the Covid-19 pandemic, Ben has adapted to fundraise in new, virtual ways including a marathon, a 427 mile walk the length of Ireland (from Malin to Mizen) and a climb up Mount Snowdon, all helping to raise money for cancer and hospice services. When lockdown eased, Ben set himself the challenge of completing a 10,000 metre mountain climbing challenge - usually completed over a year - and achieved it in record time. In celebration of #iwill Week 2020, Ben is aiming to complete a virtual climb of Mount Kilimanjaro.

“Times have changed, and whilst I hope it’s only temporary, I have had to change too. It’s no secret how much charities are struggling given the adverse impact Covid19 has had on their fundraising. Shortly after the schools closed in mid-March, I started thinking about short- and longer-term fundraising challenges so that I could keep focused on something that I enjoy and have a sense of accomplishment when the real word was put on hold.”
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Lucia Mee BEM

We first met Lucia through Birmingham Children’s Hospital, at a peer education project with Junior Volunteers on the Liver Ward, where she inspired them to become organ donation champions. Lucia drew inspiration from her organ donors to create the campaign Live Loudly, Donate Proudly. She put a huge amount of energy into her campaigning, and was one of the youngest people to ever receive a British Empire Medal.

Lucia joined us in November 2018 as an #iwill Ambassador, attending a welcome event at Kew Gardens with 50 other Ambassadors across the country. It was there that she received a Points of Light Award, presented by Lord Gardiner. Lucia also made lasting relationships with other Ambassadors from Northern Ireland and those who shared her passion for youth mental health. She went on to compere Volunteer Now’s ‘Millennium Volunteer 200 Hour’ awards ceremony in Belfast in 2019.

Following her fourth liver transplant, Lucia died in May 2020, shortly before her 21st birthday. In Lucia’s memory, her school, Cross & Passion College are continuing to champion the message of Live Loudly, Donate Proudly, and her campaign’s friends and supporters are continuing to promote the value of organ donation, sharing blogs and stories

“I have had some incredible experiences through my campaigning. But what I find most rewarding is people telling me I have influenced them to be an organ or blood donor, or to speak out about their mental health or get involved in their own campaigning. Inspiring me through all my social action are my organ donors and their families as their selflessness has meant I can live a full and rewarding life.”
Further positive changes have taken place across the Nation. After 13 years of campaigning, The Northern Ireland Government has now established a Youth Assembly and we are starting to see positive system-level change to support youth social action.
“The Northern Ireland Youth Forum (NIYF) has followed a ‘two-pronged approach’ combining ‘relentless youth work’, alongside the creation of social action pathways for change via links with those in positions of influence. Many young people with whom NIYF works were badly impacted by lockdown and therefore are in no position to campaign or make change for the time being (e.g. those experiencing homelessness).

The most significant recent outcome is that the Northern Ireland Assembly have signalled intent to establish a NI Youth Assembly – something that NIYF youth activists have lobbied for 13 years via a political youth champions group. NIYF will be working to see that the Youth Assembly is constituted and works in the inclusive way for which they have campaigned.

Northern Ireland Youth Forum has leveraged excellent institutional contacts to bring young activists in to contact with: Northern Ireland Assembly Ministers and MSPs (Members of the Stormont Parliament); the NI Commissioner for Young People; civil servants at Stormont and Westminster. Young people have led action on a wide variety of issues. NIYF’s environmental social action group have contributed to Northern Ireland’s first ever Environmental Strategy, supported and organised monthly youth strikes for climate, and designed an environmental workshop to be delivered in various youth settings across NI.

Much progress has been made in Northern Ireland, but there’s still more to do