Whiteabbey teens rise to the Outreach training challenge

Alderman Billy Webb and Colonel Joan Christie OBE share a joke with 13-year-old Newtownabbey lad Connell McGeough and mum Kerry McGeough as they celebrate Connell's Outreach achievement. INNT 09-213-CON
Alderman Billy Webb and Colonel Joan Christie OBE share a joke with 13-year-old Newtownabbey lad Connell McGeough and mum Kerry McGeough as they celebrate Connell's Outreach achievement. INNT 09-213-CON
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Teenagers from Newtownabbey who graduated from an unique adventure programme with flying colours could be paving the way for young people from around Northern Ireland to change their lives for the better.

The Whiteabbey area was chosen as a key focal point to test a pioneering new initiative from the Army Cadet Force Association. The pilot project, called ‘Outreach’, helps challenged young people to gain confidence, develop self esteem and realise their own potential through a specially tailored training venture.

The teenagers who successfully completed the course then celebrated their achievements with the presentation of Outreach Awards at a civic ceremony held at Newtownabbey Borough Council’s Mossley Mill. Every Outreach participant earned an Open College Network Certificate and up to five credits towards qualifications from the Qualifications & Credit Framework (QCF). They also gained basic First Aid qualifications through the British Heart Foundation’s Heartstart initiative.

Project Outreach has already been run to much acclaim in England and Lieutenant John Read, Project Group Leader, was eager to bring it to Northern Ireland.

Thrilled at the positive response he said: “Modern life throws up considerable pressures for young people and, as a result, teenagers can find themselves in challenging circumstances at home, in school or in the community. Maybe they are disengaged from school life - coping with problems at home - or wrestling with low achievement and self-esteem.

“Whatever their situation we know from experience that young people gain huge benefits from facing and overcoming challenges. Providing just such adventurous, fun activities is at the very heart of the Cadet ethos so it seemed a very natural move for us to bring those opportunities out into the wider community under the banner of ‘Outreach’. Importantly, we had the active support of two community organisations which recognised and welcomed the potential benefits for their local young people - Whiteabbey Community Group here in Newtownabbey and Springfarm and District Community Association in Antrim.

“We also enjoyed the support of Newtownabbey Borough Council and Antrim Borough Community Safety Partnership, together with other organizations with a stake in the welfare of local teenagers.”

The project drew on experiences gained in GB to create a challenging and adventurous week-long residential programme designed to take kids out of their normal home and school environment - and well out of their comfort zone. Mentally and physically demanding, the course showed the young people just how much they can achieve when they are given the opportunity.

While ‘at camp’ they tackled everything from cooking for themselves to canoeing, adventure cycling, orienteering and climbing.

Margaret King from Whiteabbey Community Group is justifiably proud of the young people the group represents.

She said: “Television, newspapers, magazines - it seems that everywhere you turn you are assailed with pressure to achieve what are often totally unrealistic goals. Young people are getting the message that, to be successful, they have to be impossibly thin, gorgeous, talented, totally happy, rich and famous. If they can’t measure up to those attainments they too often think of themselves as failures.

“Well, those unfulfilled goals do speak of failure, but it’s the failure of society today. We need to redress that balance by helping our children see that success in life is firmly rooted in personal attributes such as integrity, generosity and self discipline. We need to help them to build enduring friendships in a supportive environment and encourage them to work together to develop their personal skills, aptitudes and abilities.

“We were delighted to work with the Army Cadet Force Association because they recognise what’s best about Whiteabbey’s kids and we knew they would deliver a fabulous package of challenges, achievement, friendship and fun! Even we were amazed however, at just how much our young people shone when they were given the opportunities and encouragement.”

Outreach was run by the Army Cadet Force Association and managed on the ground by experienced Adult Instructors from the Army Cadet Force, supported by senior Cadets who acted as role models, friends and mentors.

Battalion Outreach Officer, Colonel Harris Carruthers, who devised and delivered the local programme, said: “This wasn’t in any sense a recruiting exercise for the Army Cadet Force, although some of our ‘Class of 2011’ may well look afresh at the prospect of joining now they have seen what we do and have met some of our Cadets personally. Rather, we wanted to invest in the future of young people by put ting our skills, facilities and experiences to the service of the local community.

“I was confident at the outset of the great results that young people would reap as a result of participating in the Outreach programme but these kids just bowled us over with their enthusiasm, hard work and great good humour. They should all be extremely happy with the outcome and families, friends, school and wider community should also be impressed at what these young people have achieved given the opportunity, the challenge and the support of people who believe in them.”

See this week’s Times for more award presentation pictures...