Northern Ireland

New Open University course empowers young people to 'use their voice rather than violence'

Eight pupils from Boys’ Model School were involved in the programme
Eight pupils from Boys’ Model School were involved in the programme

A NEW course drawing on the experiences of a group of teenage boys from Belfast in the aftermath of violent street disturbances has been launched by the Open University.

Aimed at empowering young people to "use their voice rather than violence", the initiative was developed in collaboration with pupils from Boys’ Model School in the north of the city.

The short course, Why Riot? Community, Choices and Aspirations, looked at the boys' experiences following violent street disturbances in Spring 2021.

It is hoped it will make young people "think critically about the choices they make and about how to act positively for change, around the issues they care about".

Designed for young people aged 14 upwards, the course evolved from a school engagement programme run by William Mitchell, project director at Action for Community Transformation (ACT) Initiative, with eight pupils from Boys’ Model School.

"This course aims to build the skills and widen the horizons of young people to improve their resistance to negative influences in their lives," said Mr Mitchell.

The content aims to make pupils consider what community means to them and their identity, explore different perspectives, critically evaluate influences and information sources, decision making, finding their own voice and becoming positive change-makers.

Stephen McAllister, a former pupil from Boys’ Model School, said he joined the programme to "stop me from getting into bad habits and doing bad things in the Shankill, because there’s not much to do in the area as a young person".

"It’s developed my confidence and I’m now a mentor on the programme, helping other young people see that they have choices and encouraging them to make the rights ones," he said.

Another participant Matty Tyrie said:

"Taking part has inspired me to go to university and become a youth worker. It made me think about the benefit I can bring to young people and helped me see a future for myself."

School principal Mary Montgomery said the impact had been "extremely positive".

"Rather than being out on the streets, the boys were engaged with the ACT Initiative programme learning non-violent alternatives to getting their voices heard," she said.

"They have benefited in terms of their self-esteem and aspirations, but they have also left a legacy.

"The Why Riot? course can be used in any area of conflict or divided society where there are difficulties for young people on the periphery of society where the tendency to be drawn into violence exists."

Gabi Kent from The Open University said: "It’s been wonderful to watch the young boys on the course flourish and grow, to see them find their voice and develop the confidence to say what they think."