The Irish FA, along with Ulster Rugby, Belfast Giants and Ulster GAA held an event on Friday evening to mark the first anniversary of the ‘Fresh Start Through Sport’ – a Department for Communities-led programme.
Representatives from the sporting bodies were joined by participants from the programme with police and government partners at the SSE Arena to watch the Belfast Giants’ first home game of the season.
The Fresh Start Through Sport programme was launched in October 2020 with support from the NI Executive. Its aim is to use the universal appeal of sport as a means to engage with young people who are potentially at risk from becoming involved in criminality.
A year later and despite the impact of Covid the project has been successfully delivered to over 80 young people 16-24 years in Belfast, Rathcoole, Carrickfergus, Derry-Londonderry.
The current project in Ardoyne will be followed by projects in Lurgan and Dungannon through until March 2022.
Each sporting partner collectively deliver 16 activity-based modules which guide and support the participants through the project and help them in identifying and making positive life choices.
The project is also supported by Ulster University who provide an accreditation through the UU Academy and an opportunity to enrol in an academic pathway. There are also coaching and volunteering opportunities with sport with some participants also acting as project ambassadors.
This Department for Communities-led programme, supported by the Department of Justice will continue beyond March 2022, subject to funding.
Speaking at the celebration event Irish FA President Conrad Kirkwood said: “I had the opportunity to meet many of the young people involved in the programme as we enjoyed watching the Belfast Giants.
“It was inspirational to talk to these young people who have embraced the programme and are gaining positive experiences and skills that they will use to benefit the rest of their lives.
“The Irish FA are delighted to be the lead Delivery Partner in this programme as we truly believe in the transformative power that sport can bring within communities.”
Communities Minister Deirdre Hargey added: “The Department is responsible for the delivery of the Fresh Start through Sport programme. The programme contributes to bringing about positive change into the lives of participants, to help them identify and make positive life choices. It uses the universal appeal of sport as a means to engage and develop young people.
“I would like to thank the delivery partners for providing the opportunity to our young people, providing them with sporting and accredited qualifications, volunteering opportunities and improving their employability skills. The programme also aims to improve the mental health and well-being of participants and provide long term support in terms of signposting to other agencies.”
Justice Minister Naomi Long commented: “I am pleased that the first year of this forward-thinking programme has been a success and I would like to thank our sporting partners for taking such an innovative approach to engaging with our young people, giving them vital skills and helping them to make positive life choices.
“This work is part of a wider cross-Executive programme through the Fresh Start Agreement and it is yet another example of how we’re looking for new ways to help young people avoid entering the youth justice system and create an environment for them to thrive.
“It was great to meet some of the participants from the first year of this programme and hear first-hand how it has made a positive contribution to their lives.”
Steve Thornton, Group Head of Commercial and Hockey at the Belfast Giants said: “We’ve been proud to partner with the Irish FA, Ulster Rugby and Ulster GAA on the Fresh Start programme and, after 18 months off the ice, it was such a great feeling to be able to host participants from the programme, the Justice Minister, Chief Constable and other guests at the Belfast Giants’ first home game of the season. We have seen first-hand the life-changing power of sport and are committed to using our platform to help provide positive opportunities to engage with young people in any way we can.”