The recent launch of a Youth Volunteer Academy by the Police Service of Northern Ireland in partnership with the Northern Ireland Ambulance Service is offering young people in Ballymoney exciting behind-the-scenes experiences of the emergency services.
This dynamic initiative, which is also being piloted in Belfast and Newry, is for local 12-18 year-olds who meet on a weekly basis to gain a practical insight into emergency and public services through a variety of structured activities. These are delivered by volunteer leaders from the police and ambulance services, with support from the community.
The project, which was developed in conjunction with the Northern Ireland Policing Board, aims to strengthen the relationship between these two emergency services and young people, to give them a voice and an opportunity to promote good citizenship amongst their peers and within their own communities.
Chief Superintendent Chris Noble, who is leading the YVA within PSNI, said: “The Academy is about positive engagement with local young people to promote a practical and positive understanding of the Emergency Services, the Criminal Justice system, and the wider Public Services with the aim of helping build better community relationships. It also gives young people a say in the issues that affect them most, an opportunity to influence social change and provides them with skills and accreditations to support them in future employment.
Local youth members attend the YVA Ballymoney Branch in the Old School House.
Chief Inspector Catherine Magee, YVA Ballymoney Branch Leader, added: “There has been a full timetable of activities, including question and answer sessions with a police officer, a paramedic and a fire officer, a mock ‘investigation’ into an armed robbery where they were able to test their detective skills, a visit to the newly designed Ambulance Station in Ballymena and also visits to the ambulance and police service call management centres to see at first-hand what happens when someone phones 999, as well as first aid courses and so much more.
“The local young people are very enthusiastic and pleased to be given the opportunity to work with police, NIAS and other emergency services to develop their understanding and relationships in a fun environment.”
John McPoland, Media and Communications Manager with the Northern Ireland Ambulance Service, said: “The Northern Ireland Ambulance Service is delighted to participate as partners in the delivery of the Youth Volunteer Academy initiative. We recognise that young people are the future leaders of our communities and we hope that engagement with our staff will inspire them to become more socially aware and prepared to promote their own communities in a positive way.
“NIAS cannot operate without the goodwill, confidence and co-operation of the public. We want to become more proactively involved with the communities we serve and we believe that the YVA is an excellent opportunity to so do. We hope that the relationships we build with the young people in the three pilot areas of Belfast, Newry and Ballymoney will be long-lasting and that the skills we help develop during the scheme will have benefits for communities from which the young people come.”
Bailey, 15, who attends the Ballymoney YVA, said: “I really enjoy the YVA. It is mostly hands-on activities that you wouldn’t normally get to do or experience. Since joining I have been to PSNI’s Steeple Training Barracks, the Ambulance Call Centre and been out on the Community and Rescue boats. I have also obtained a First Aid qualification which will help me in the future.”
Ballymoney Branch volunteers involved in the project have been singing its praises.
“YVA volunteering is an opportunity to help shape the thoughts of tomorrow’s adults in a way that makes them understand why and how we help to Keep People Safe, whether a police officer, police staff or a member of NIAS,” said Elaine.
“I’m enjoying helping the youth of today volunteer and achieve a meaningful understanding of the work the emergency services provide to their communities whilst keeping people safe,” added Brendan from PSNI.
“YVA provides an opportunity for young people to learn life skills and adopt a sense of community from the Emergency Services. Learning the who, what, where, when and why 999 services do what they do and the reason they need the help and support from the youth of today,” commented Paul, from NIAS.
“Come and experience how the emergency services interact and work alongside each other in times of need. The Academy enhances social and personal development. The young people are learning new skills, making new friends and having fun,” added local youth worker Debra.