Youth Volunteer Academy launched by Police and Ambulance Services
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 exciting behind-the-scenes experiences of the emergency services.
This dynamic initiative, which is also being piloted in Ballymoney 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.
“The Academy has been going from strength to strength in Belfast, Ballymoney and Newry since launching at the start of the year. The feedback from the young people involved is extremely positive – they have said that some of the myths they may previously have had about police and ambulance services have been dispelled, as well as allowing them to develop new and practical skills, alongside making new friendships. The young people involved are the driving force behind their local groups, from helping decide on activities, to picking the YVA name and logo.
“There’s 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, as well as seeing what happens first hand when someone phones 999, by visiting the ambulance and police service call management centres, first aid courses and so much more.
“Sincere thanks must go to the adult volunteers involved, including those from the PSNI and NIAS, who are constantly coming up with new ideas to engage with the young people and to help them develop new skills. They must be commended for giving up their own time to deliver something tangible back to their communities through investing in young people.”
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.”
Elaine, who is a Volunteer Leader from the Ballymoney Branch, said: “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.”
And the young people involved have also been praising the project:
“The YVA allows young people to engage with the PSNI and emergency services in a way which shows you that they are not just cops in uniform – they are real people too,” said Kevin, 17, West Belfast.
“I think the YVA programme is very beneficial to everyone, there is a lot to take out of it. There is the educational side of it where we can learn new skills like first aid which can be a crucial thing to have. There is also the social side of it, where we learned about how we should accept different cultures and different people, and how we should not judge those, just because they are different. Attending the Academy genuinely does benefit me and the others. I'm looking forward to attending it again in September,” said Ryan, 15, Newry.
“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,” said Bailey, 15, Ballymoney.
“YVA is a fun, safe and educational youth group where you can be yourself, have fun while learning valuable skills and qualities. I love every second of it,” said Ciaran, 16, Belfast.
“YVA has brought different communities together,” said Broccan, 13, Belfast.