‘There’s a collective energy that I’ve never experienced with any other funded programme’

Jo Boylan is the Youth Outreach Officer at Belfast Hills Partnership. She and the team deliver the Belfast Hills Bright Future project. They attended the all-project seminar on 19-20 June 2019. Here are her thoughts. 
Queen University’s Riddel Hall, was a beautiful setting for the annual Our Bright Future all project-seminar. Over 100 staff and Youth Forum members, from projects across the UK, came together to celebrate achievements and to inspire and motivate each other for the year ahead.
This was the first time an Our Bright Future seminar had been held in Northern Ireland and both the Belfast Hills Partnership and Ulster Wildlife were delighted to host our partners and showcase some of our stunning landscapes and youth engagement projects.
It’s always a delight to be reunited with the Our Bright Future partners. I’ve been involved with the Belfast Hills Bright Future project from the start, so having the seminar in Northern Ireland, felt like inviting your pals over for a visit! There’s a collective energy that I’ve never experienced with any other funded programme; a room full of passionate people, together leading a massive social and environmental change across the country.
We started day one with warm welcomes from Programme Manager, Cath Hare and Our Bright Future Chair, Peta Foxhall, followed by an introduction and update, on the Youth Forum, by Lydia Allen from the National Youth Agency. Policy and Campaign Manager, Roberta Antonaci gave us a fantastic outline of Year 3 achievements, which was followed by a midterm update from the programme evaluators, ERS.
The sheer numbers of young people collectively engaged in our projects is staggering. It’s incredible that so many individuals are making long-lasting changes to themselves and their local environment.
In the afternoon we jumped aboard the buses and headed for the Belfast Hills! We were proud to show off our beautiful Slievenacloy Nature Reserve; a species–rich grassland, brimming with wildflowers and butterflies. It’s owned and manged by Ulster Wildlife and located only minutes from the city centre.
After a short introduction to the reserve, Ulster Wildlife and ourselves delivered activities; included pencil making using native Irish trees, wildflower identification and some fun teambuilding ‘upland games’. Day one concluded a big vegan feast and Share Learn Improve Coordinator, Abi Paine’s amazing quiz!
Day two was every bit as action packed. However, for me the highlights were guest speakers Gary Hart, Senior Education and Engagement Officer for the UK Parliament and David Small, Chief Executive for the Northern Ireland Environment Agency. David gave a frank and honest address on the existing state of the Northern Ireland environment and an update on the Department of Agriculture Environment and Rural Affairs (DAERA) Environment Strategy consultation. Many of our Youth Forum members were keen to engage with both speakers and have their voices heard. It enabled our local young people to see that even though there is currently no power sharing executive in Northern Ireland, they are still able to have a voice about what matters to them locally.
The afternoon session allowed individuals from different projects to break off into smaller focus groups to discuss themes related to youth empowerment and environmental issues. Our group discussed sustainability in the workplace. It was useful to meet people from a range of different organisations, to exchange ideas from contrasting perspectives. The discussion groups were helpful for generating a greater awareness about our systems of work. Our thinking on the environmental impacts of our own organisations was challenged and we were able to consider practical sustainable solutions that we could implement in our workplaces. By the end of day two we were bursting with ideas, inspiration and ready for the next year ahead.

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