Park Youth and the Three-Day Residential Effect – St Columb’s Park House 

18 November 2021

A teenager with a kite | NICRC

A specially commissioned article for CRC through St Columb’s Park House, who are core funded by CRC. Written by Róis Hutton, who is 17-years-old. 

Park Youth is a group of young volunteers with St Columb’s Park House, a peace and reconciliation centre in Derry/Londonderry that acts a space to share and collaborate in peaceful activism in order to nurture good relationships in the community. In Park Youth, we look at the community within and outside the park to identify problems or issues we believe can be resolved and then we develop social action projects that we hope better ourselves and our community. 

I joined Park Youth after completing National Citizen Service in 2019, through which I had my first experience with social action. This benefitted me massively and I was delighted to find Park Youth as a follow-up programme where I could continue creating social actions with the support of St. Columb’s Park House.  

The original idea for this project was very different from the outcome. It began as a yearning for better access to information regarding various mental illnesses and ways to improve on our mental health, but it became a partnership with the British Red Cross. Part of it involved a 3-day camping trip in a field in the middle of Fermanagh where we had no phones or modern technology, and we did workshops under a big tent that taught us about resilience. Although the shape of the social action changed, the desired outcome was still achieved: to teach us how to evaluate our mental health and provide solutions to any problems we encountered individually. 

Some of us initially felt slightly hostile to the idea of being vulnerable about our relationships with ourselves and each other, especially in a group with 10 other teenagers. However, during the residential we were all pleasantly surprised that that preconceived, terrifying notion was not at all what it turned out to be. Even in a group we felt as though we were individually heard and worked with on a personal level, being given practical solutions to the problems we may have encountered. Such solutions I know that I’m still implementing months after leaving the bubble of the campsite at Gortatole.  

Aside from the materials that Dr Lee Devaney from the Red Cross generously provided for us, we felt as though camping in a group like this was one of the best parts of the trip. We spent our free time bonding with each other over our experiences during the scheduled sessions with Lee.  

A part of the materials we used was a booklet, which at first seemed like yet another diary asking for shallow answers that were just reflective enough to get by; but due to the nature of the workshops and how they opened us up over time, I found the diary to be one of the most useful things I took away from the residential. It now acts as a physical reminder that through spending time with myself and paying attention to my thoughts, I can learn to provide myself with some of my own solutions and thus build up my mental resilience. 

The weight of responsibility that came with wild camping was unlike anything Park Youth had faced before and in itself seemed like yet another challenge of our resilience: physical resilience against the wind and rain and cold. As the residential grew nearer, fear rose in us at the magnitude of the responsibility we had taken on. Nevertheless, we embraced the challenge as Park Youth always do and I believe the test it provided of both our mental and physical strength in maintaining the campsite became its own separate workshop outside of our daily sessions with the Red Cross. 

The 3 Day Effect residential was unlike any other social action Park Youth has encountered before and has opened up a whole new realm of possibilities for the future of our social actions. The impact and success it had on each participant will certainly be evident in future projects we take on.  

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