‘We need to encourage young people that this is a place they can build their future’: Report on ‘Let Them Speak’

Back in February, 90 Sixth Form Pupils from 25 schools across Belfast gathered at Ulster University to discuss the city’s future. The event was part of the 4 Corners Festival, and was featured on Slugger at the time.

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The 4 Corners Festival have now produced a booklet that collates some of the students’ comments, grouped around the thematic areas of education, diversity, our political system, transport, regeneration and investment, health care, and hopes for the future.

The pupils generated those issues themselves in response to two questions:

  • What are your hopes for Belfast for the next ten years?
  • What key issues need to be urgently addressed?

As one pupil wrote:

‘We hope our message is clear: we would like to see a Belfast free of any barriers between communities; a Belfast which puts the educational needs of young people first; and a Belfast under a sensible, efficient government.’

But it is also clear that if Belfast, and Northern Ireland, is to retain the bright young people who represented their schools at the event, changes must be made. As another pupil wrote:

‘We feel there should be greater incentives for Northern Ireland young people to choose to study at home, or more apprenticeships to help grow a highly-skilled local workforce, all properly funded. We need to encourage young people that this is a place they can build their future, and that they can study here.’

You can read the full report here: 4 Corners booklet

A few sample quotes include:

We think that the integration of schools is the way forward. We don’t want a cross-community, we want one community. How we can do this is through sports, music and arts.

There aren’t enough community events in Belfast aimed at bringing people together and healing our divisions. Indeed, the opposite is happening: funding for arts and music are being cut.

… There should be more events such as Culture Night, which gets people talking about all the good things about our city.

One important issue is transport. On late-night transport for example, a major issue is that people trying to get home from work and such may not have access to buses and trains. For example, I finish work at 9.30pm yet the last bus is at 9.30pm. Sunday transport is also an issue, for services often only run every hour. We feel there should be more frequent Sunday services. Trams are another thing we felt would improve matters; a tram service to access areas at the city limits would help to resolve the current congestion in the city centre.

Our group strongly believe that the current political system operating in Northern Ireland is outdated and inefficient. The forced coalition government between the two main parties – the DUP and Sinn Féin – has proven to be backward and slow. Indeed, the idea that two opposing parties can be forced to co-operate together and make quick, important decisions, is unrealistic. What we have is a politics of one-upmanship and point-scoring, which we view as childish and immature. Perhaps this is why so many young people are uninterested in politics and why election turn-outs are often low. People are sick and tired of watching grown adults argue like children.

Disclaimer: I am on the committee of the 4 Corners Festival

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