Health Minister Robin Swann has visited a youth facility in Ballymena providing information and support that young people need to navigate the challenges of adolescence and early adulthood.
The Start360 Youth Engagement Service (YES) is funded by the Public Health Agency and provides a physical hub where young people have opportunities to socialise in an alcohol and drug-free environment and avail of information, advice and support on a range of issues for example on sexual health and mental health and wellbeing.
During his visit Minister Swann met with young people as they took part in activities and staff who operate the facility.
Minister Swann said:
“I have been greatly impressed during my visit today to see how Start360 has been innovative in adapting the youth committee/forum structure to ensure all young users of the service have the opportunity to have their views represented to decide what social activities and educational programmes are delivered within the YES.
“The services being provided here have proved highly beneficial to these young people as they seek to deal with the challenges they face, not least in the extra pressures and stresses associated with the recent pandemic.
“In addition I was pleased to note that among those who have availed of these services were a group of young people who have recently arrived to Northern Ireland from Bulgaria. They have used the facility extensively and it has been an invaluable outlet for them and of great benefit for them in integrating with the local community.”
Start360 provides a range of services including drop-in sessions. Service users take part in many activities including music, sport, cooking and the very popular ‘Tea and Talk’ sessions which focus on all aspects of mental health.
In the last year of delivery (2021- 22) YES reported delivery of 59 educational programmes with 980 young people attending. The service was impacted during the pandemic, with young people being supported remotely.
Kevin Bailey, the PHA’s Regional Lead for Drugs and Alcohol, said:
“YES offers young people the chance to get together in a safe drug and alcohol-free environment which gives them the opportunity to feel relaxed and open to talk about issues that affect them.
“As a service co-designed by young people for young people, it is showing to be an effective way of engaging groups that would otherwise be harder to reach, helping to improve health outcomes and address health inequalities.”
YES also currently provides outreach support in Ballymoney, linking with schools, youth clubs and Children & Young People’s Strategic Partnership (CYPSP) in these areas.
The YES is also complementary to other PHA programmes and action plans which are developed and delivered in partnership with others: this includes early years interventions, reducing the number of births to teenage parents, improving emotional wellbeing and reducing suicide, improving educational outcomes for young people, reducing tobacco use, reducing levels of obesity, and tackling inequalities in the most disadvantaged areas.
Start360 currently employs three full time staff and has been funded by the Public Health Agency since July 2013. It will receive £132,599 in 2022/23 PHA funding to deliver this service.