Last weeks decision by Belfast Education and Library Board to invest the £100,000 required to refurnish the former Porters Memorial dining hall to accommodate a new youth club in Donegall Pass has served to reinvigorate the local community and dispel the belief that they were a forgotten community on the edge of the city center.
For many years I have worked alongside Donegall Pass Community Forum to lobby for a new youth club after the previous one was closed due to structural problems several years ago. This left the young people of the area with no space of their own and only six hours a week of youth work split between primary and secondary children. This was completely insufficient to tackle the problems of some of the children who ended up wandering the streets engaging in anti-social behavior within the community and on the interface.
The investment will provide all the young people in the area with a space they can call their own. We will have a building where extra hours of youth work can be offered to give the young people the life skills they will need to make informed decisions about their lives, such as alcohol and drug awareness, sexual health and so on.
The decision by Belfast Education and Library Board to invest this large amount of money in a youth facility in Donegall Pass, particularly in these tough economic times, shows their commitment to the young people of the area. It has the potential to tackle the inequalities people from the area face compared to their contemporaries from wealthier areas. While many talk and debate the reasons behind such inequalities in health and educational underachievement BELB has put their money where their mouth is and made the commitment, for which I commend them.
The implications are wider than that. As a result of the announcement by BELB the community has taken a new lease of life. Youth provision has long been high on the agenda for many within the community and the realization of that goal has buoyed them to believe that the other aspirations such as the provision of new family and singles social housing on the Posnett Street site can be achieved. This is a community that has a new reassurance and belief that it can improve the lives of its residents.
I would like to pay tribute to the members and staff of Donegall Pass Community Forum, the youth workers and local community who never gave up the fight and worked alongside me to secure the investment by BELB. I look forward to seeing the new youth club up and running in the near future making a real difference to the lives of our young people in Donegall Pass.