'I'm now on a good run': The Belfast youth work charity marking 20 years of changing lives

A youth work charity that has changed thousands of lives is marking its 20th anniversary this weekend.

Dreamscheme Northern Ireland first launched in the Breda estate in 2004, with the aim of making a positive difference in the lives of young people from disadvantaged backgrounds. It has now established hubs in five different estates across Greater Belfast and Antrim.

Over the past 20 years, the charity has provided more than 950 weeks of youth work, with around 1,500 young people having a youth worker support them through their teenage life. The charity has given young people positive role models as well as the opportunity to do creative and community work projects, and gain life experiences through trips and overseas travel.

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To mark its anniversary weekend, young people who have been part of Dreamscheme's community over the past two decades have been sharing their stories of how the charity has helped them thrive.

One participant, Carl, said he was going down the wrong route in life before becoming involved with the group at Breda Dreamscheme which he has been involved with for seven years. He said: "Before I went to Dreamscheme I wasn’t in the right place.

"I was going down the wrong alley. I was getting involved with the police every week. But then Jonny stepped in and helped me. The mentoring really helped. Camp Sonshine Portugal and the residentials also made a big difference.

"Over the years, I’ve made many new friends and I’m now on a good run. I have an apprenticeship at the moment, and am a Young Leader at Dreamscheme."

Taylor attended Braniel Dreamscheme for six years before becoming a volunteer leader, and explained how the charity helped give him direction and deter him from anti-social behaviour. He said: "Dreamscheme took me off the streets a lot, from doing stupid things like wrapping doors and running or throwing stones at buses. It gave me more of a friendship group than just having two or three people that you get into trouble with.

Dreamscheme staff and youth workers at an event to mark the charity's 20th anniversary
Dreamscheme staff and youth workers at an event to mark the charity's 20th anniversary -Credit:Submitted

"It was pretty clear that the leaders cared about you. I’d say that was the biggest difference about Dreamscheme compared to other youth groups I went to.

"The leaders would always ask questions, “What were you doing that night?” “How was school?” “What are your hobbies?” It wasn’t just small talk. They would ask, “what are you going to do with your life when you grow up”, and they really meant it. They were really interested in you as an individual."

Jay, who has been attending the group in Breda for seven years, said being involved has helped with his anger. He explained: "Growing up in school I had a lot of difficulty dealing with authority and knowing what was right and wrong. It was kind of hard knowing what was over the line or not.

"I’d be fighting with teachers and just going against the whole flow of things. Jonny, my youth worker at Dreamscheme, helped me a lot with all of that.

"He helped me a lot with my anger and behavioural problems at school. I’d be quite aggressive at times. Jonny would talk to me about that and helped me convert those feelings of anger and aggression into something else. I now have a lot of reptiles and I spend a lot of time with them and that helps me relax and chill."

For Katie, who attended the group in Braniel for five years and is now a volunteer leader, she said getting involved has helped her come out of her shell.

She said: "It is a very loving youth group to go to. Before I started Dreamscheme I was a very shy girl. I had very low self-esteem and just didn’t have any confidence. I didn’t really go out.

"Every week I would see Lizzie Brown, one of the youth workers. She had a massive impact on me. She was always giving off positive energy and I really took to her. She was always there for me.

"I realised that I could have more confidence and I soon came out of my shell and was able to be loud! One thing I always loved was the residentials at Dreamscheme. I loved going away with them – just a great group of young people and we had so much fun. I have so many memories."

Since 2017, the charity has also been providing a mentoring service in local secondary schools. In 2021, their impact on the local community was recognised when Dreamscheme NI received the Queen's Award for Voluntary Service.

For more information about Dreamscheme’s mission and programmes, visit www.dreamschemeni.org .

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