Washington Ireland Programme delivers community forum on mental health

25 April 2022

Washington Ireland Programme | NICRC

Good Relations Ambassadors from the T:BUC Camps Programme and Department for Communities’ (DfC) Uniting Communities Programme have taken part in a bespoke Community Forum delivered by the Washington Ireland Programme (WIP).

These events aim to provide the young people with skills to work collaboratively and effect positive change in their local areas. 

Ambassadors were given the opportunity to choose the topic of their Forum and chose “Mental Health on the Island of Ireland.” 

It involved an initial remote meeting followed by a full day at Belvoir Youth Centre with the 16 young Ambassadors from areas including Larne, Newry, Enniskillen, Armagh, North Belfast, Limavady, Greysteele, Portrush, Bangor, Rostrevor and Portadown.

The online session enabled the participants to build their confidence in preparation for the in-person event the following Saturday. 

It began with fun ice-breakers, followed by a Walking Debates exercise using an interactive platform called Mural. The night concluded with an Inspiration Session in which Ambassadors discussed inspirational examples of good practice in addressing mental health issues.  

Shauna King from TEO, who attended the online event, said: “It was brilliant to hear from such ambitious young people from all different backgrounds be so open and honest with each other, having inspiring conversations. The forum hosted by WIP was such an interactive session and enabled the young people to demonstrate their passion on the subject of Mental Health. This is a great example of effective and innovative collaborative working and is an amazing opportunity for the young Ambassadors.”

Meeting in person

The engagement continued the following Saturday where the young people finally got to meet in person. 

Each group was asked to look at one of four areas:

  • Stigma of mental health
  • T relationship between mental health healthcare providers and the communities they serve
  • Cross-border initiatives on mental health on the island of Ireland
  • Technology and mental health.

Ambassadors then presented their ideas to a guest panel of judges, including Katie Ní Chléire (WIP Class of 2021, President of Queen’s University Belfast Students’ Union and mental health advocate) and Chris Mercer (WIP Class of 2021, Ambassador for One Young World and activist for PureMentalNI).

The winning innovation promoted a youth census, aimed at gathering data on mental health which could better inform both government and NGO spending on mental health services.

TEO’s Mandy Jones said: “I was very lucky to be able to join the Ambassadors at this event. I could tell from the minute I arrived that there was a lot of enthusiasm for the day ahead and that they were all absolutely delighted to be able to meet face to face.”


Session feedback

Feedback from the sessions was exceptionally positive with 71% of the Ambassadors rating the Community Forum as excellent and 29% rating it as very good.

Reflecting upon their experience, some of the Ambassadors’ comments included that:

"It has improved my self-confidence with others.  It also helped my ability to consider other ideas."

"It has impacted my ability to interact and listen to others opinions."

"Definitely increased awareness of other opinions and helped my public speaking skills."

"It has helped to remind me of the enjoyable experience of working together in a group and being able to have a healthy debate."

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