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  • Writer's pictureLove Ballymena

Larne woman encourages others to volunteer with NSPCC NI’s Young Witness Service

A woman from Larne has described her volunteer role with the NSPCC’s Young Witness Service as “a real privilege”.


The service, which is based in Northern Ireland and is the only one of its kind in the UK, assists children and young people under the age of 18 who have to attend court as prosecution witnesses.

It operates in Ballymena, Antrim and Laganside Courts as well as every other local crown, magistrates’ and youth court in Northern Ireland. Since the start of 2021 it has offered support to over 300 young witnesses.


Norma Nixon, a retired primary school principal from Larne, has been volunteering with the Service for more than 10 years. The mother of four children and grandmother of 10,  explained  how she became involved with the service.

She said:

“After I retired, I thought it was such a pity that all the experience I had gained from working with children and their families was no longer being put to use and I realised that I really wanted to do something which would allow me to continue to work with them.

"I had already done some volunteering in a mentoring role, first of all with teenagers through their school, and then some family mentoring in a project run by another charity in North Belfast.

"Then I spied a story in the newspaper about the work of NSPCC Northern Ireland and how they were seeking volunteers for their Young Witness Service. I thought this was exactly the sort of thing I was looking for, so I applied, trained, and have now been in this role for more than 10 years and I love it.”


Talking of the training provided by NSPCC Northern Ireland, Norma commented:

“I have really enjoyed all the training which has been offered throughout the years. It is extremely thorough, detailed, interesting and practical too. I must say that even after it’s been completed, the NSPCC continues to provide brilliant supervision and support - you never feel that you’re on your own.

"As well as that, the social aspect has been excellent. It has been great to get to know the other volunteers and I have met, and made friends with, people from all ages and career backgrounds and I feel this has really enriched my retirement.”


Talking of her experiences of the court process, Norma observed:

“Before entering the Service I had never set foot in a court. My first few experiences shocked me profoundly when I saw first-hand just how daunting it all was for anyone, let alone for children, and it became abundantly clear that the support from the Young Witness Service was so crucial.

"However, I'm pleased that over the years, I’ve noticed a greater awareness of the needs of young witnesses among legal professionals and feel this is probably because they have seen the way the NSPCC works to support children going through the court process.”


Billy Eagleson, who is Volunteer Co-ordinator at the Service, said:

“Going to court can be a very intimidating and frightening experience for anyone but even more so for young people as it’s such a strange and unfamiliar environment.

"The Young Witness Service was set up because we recognised this, and we wanted to be able to support children and young people who needed to attend court to give evidence. Since we started in 1999, we have recruited and trained a truly amazing group of volunteers who work alongside paid staff to support these children and young people.

"Our volunteers come from all walks of life and are at many different stages of their career, but we need more of them – and urgently.”


Billy continued:

“The sort of support our volunteers can offer can be as straightforward as keeping a child company, as there can be such a lot of waiting around during court cases. They can also chat to the children about the various court procedures and answer their questions.

"Sometimes, the young people we support are in court because something has been done to them by an adult who is a stranger or, often, by someone known to them. Sometimes, the relationship with the volunteer can be the first step to them rebuilding their confidence and trust in adults - the importance of this cannot be overestimated.


“We really need more people to volunteer so that we can continue to offer this service to every young person who needs it. It’s such a vital role and gives practical help to so many young people and their families.”


Offering advice to anyone thinking of volunteering, Norma said:

“Just go for it! It’s a brilliant service and apart from the real privilege of being able to provide much-needed help to children and their families at such a stressful time, the training is excellent and you’ll meet some really lovely and dedicated people in the Service. I am so glad I took the plunge and applied!” 


To become a volunteer, you need to have at least one year’s experience in a caring or supportive role, have availability during normal court operating hours (9am to 5pm Monday to Friday) at least two days per month and  be able to commit to the role for at least one year after completion of training.

For more information about becoming a Young Witness volunteer and full role description, please visit our volunteer recruitment page or contact Billy Eagleson at or on 07825948244.


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