Right Here Fermanagh
The Right Here partnership in Fermanagh was led by established youth charity YouthAction Northern Ireland.
The partnership included senior representatives from the Youth Service, Education, Healthy Living Centres, Mental Health, and Public Health.
Fermanagh in Northern Ireland has a population of approximately 55,000, with Enniskillen as its county town. It is a mainly rural county bordering on the Republic of Ireland with a majority Catholic population.
The county has experienced over 30 years of conflict, particularly in border villages, leading to fragile communities and mistrust. Individual and community issues include:
- Binge drinking and other high-risk behaviours, such as speeding
- A particularly high suicide rate among young men
- Peer pressure for men to ‘act macho’ and be strong
- Mistrust and anger management issues
- Young men participating in militant groups or gangs.
The invisibility of young women in the discourse of ‘the troubles’ suggests that this group has felt little or no direct impact from this bloody past. However, local research suggests the hidden harm that young women have felt throughout ‘the troubles’ has created or exacerbated internal stress and mental health problems.
Fermanagh suffers from a lack of suitable health and youth services for young people, as it is not seen as a highly deprived county.
The young people
Right Here Fermanagh focused on developmental activities for young men and young women from Catholic and Protestant communities, the main target groups being: young parents; young people who identify as other than heterosexual; and young people currently outside education, employment or training.
The project was unusual in a Right Here context in consistently taking a gender-specific approach to involving young people, with young women and young men working separately to generate and deliver activities for their peers.
Right Here Fermanagh’s participation model was explicitly based on a youth-work approach that is about engaging young people, building trust and developing sustained long-term relationships with staff.
This was a key feature of Fermanagh’s approach. Trained peer educators, based in community settings, provided mental health support and advice to other young people. This served the dual purpose of reaching young people who may not otherwise have engaged with more traditional programmes delivered by adults, and of providing young people with opportunities to acquire new skills and experience.
There were four main strands to Right Here Fermanagh’s programme of activities:
Raising awareness of young people about mental health
The project ran multi-session group work programmes in the community and in schools to help young people feel comfortable talking about their feelings and emotional wellbeing, and to develop resilience and skills to build positive mental health. It also provided ongoing mental health awareness training to all of its workers and volunteers and promoted positive mental health messages to young people at music festivals, in schools, fairs and shopping centres. Right Here Fermanagh also used wristbands with built-in USB sticks, Facebook and SMS texts to communicate positive, inspirational messages and ideas for looking after your mental health.
Right Here Fermanagh ran a variety of activities to build the resilience of young people to mental health issues, including ‘Bridging the Gap’, which it ran with its partner, Action Mental Health. ‘Bridging the Gap’ was a six-week social programme for young people with mental health issues, which provided team-building and group-work skills, Zumba, swimming, relaxation techniques, and self-esteem exercises. Action Mental Health also sometimes provided one-to-one support for participants who needed extra help and facilitated ‘Fish on!’: one-to-one fishing sessions with young men to help them reflect, relax and gain confidence.
Young people were involved in designing and managing all of the projects’ activities and were encouraged to attend the meetings of the main partnership group. Training was provided in suicide prevention, mental health awareness and mental health first aid.
Right Here Fermanagh also ran a number of regular single-sex groups to encourage young people to explore issues around gender, body image, and mental health and wellbeing. A peer educator always facilitated these groups, with the young people deciding what they would like to do or learn.
Right Here Fermanagh provided many opportunities for young people to be involved in trying to influence policy, from consultations on mental health strategy to roundtable events with policymakers, such as "Alive and Kicking"", co-hosted with the University of Ulster and Queen’s University, which brought together civil servants with academics, practitioners and young people to discuss how lessons from Right Here’s practice could be incorporated into government policy and priorities.
The project was successful in raising the profile of mental health and wellbeing at some major events, such as the Youth Summit held in advance of the G8 meeting in Enniskillen in the summer of 2013.
What’s happening now?
Learning from Right Here has been integrated into the Youth Action Northern Ireland’s ongoing policy work to build mental health into policy directives and operational plans for the health and youth sectors. In addition, Youth Action Northern Ireland secured funding from the National Citizens Service for a new young women’s group across Fermanagh targeting 32 young people to become involved in devising and implementing social action projects. This work builds on Right Here.