27/11/2020 – The Fight for Peace Alliance exists to support its member organisations to deliver the best possible support to young people. This comes through the sharing of the collective expertise contained among the over 120 member organisations, as well as joint projects and action. One of these projects, Creating Pathways, which is funded by the National Lottery Community Fund, supports Alliance member organisations to adapt the Fight for Peace Pathways education programme for delivery to young people in their local communities.
We invited Fight for Peace’s Ari Johnson, who manages Creating Pathways, to talk us through a recent success story which saw Northern Irish organisation St. Columbs Park House overcome substantial obstacles to maintain their groundbreaking programme at HMP Magilligan.
TELL US A LITTLE ABOUT ST. COLUMBS PARK HOUSE AND THEIR INVOLVEMENT IN THE FIGHT FOR PEACE ALLIANCE?
Ari: St Columbs Park House is an organisation based in Derry-Londonderry which helps nurture peaceful, vibrant and compassionate communities. As part of this mission they have a focus on supporting the personal development of young people. They have been involved in the Fight for Peace Alliance for a number of years and over the past 18 months have been delivering a Creating Pathways project in partnership with fellow Alliance organisation Strike Academy, and with the support of Fight for Peace.
TELL US ABOUT THE SPECIFIC PROGRAMME ST. COLUMBS PARK HOUSE HAS BEEN DELIVERING?
Ari: With the support of Fight for Peace and fellow Alliance members, St. Columbs Park House has been delivering a groundbreaking alternative education programme called Fight for My SELF to young people at HMP Magilligan, a prison in Northern Ireland. The programme supports young people to build skills and overcome the obstacles that prevent them from progressing in life once released from prison. Young people participate twice a week over a period of six months and the programme has recorded a series of really impressive results in terms of improved physical and mental wellbeing, enhanced self esteem and self worth, positive changes in attitude towards those in authority and a dramatic decrease in drug dependence and use.
WHAT CHALLENGES HAS THE PROGRAMME FACED RECENTLY AND HOW HAS THE ALLIANCE HELPED RESOLVE THEM?
Ari: The global pandemic, and in particular the lockdown it brought, created a serious problem for the programme at HMP Magilligan, forcing delivery to come to a halt. Sharon Doherty, Managing Director at St Columbs Park House brought the issue to a regular meeting of Fight for Peace Alliance partners in an effort to gain advice and support. At this meeting, Danny Corr, Founder of fellow Alliance organisation ZKJ Dojo suggested that the issue be raised with the Minister of Justice for Northern Ireland as she had previously visited the programme at HMP Magilligan. This began a process where St Columbs Park House and Fight for Peace lobbied the Northern Irish government in an attempt to restart programme delivery.
WHAT WAS THE OUTCOME?
Ari: Drawing on this collective experience and on remote delivery models being used by Alliance organisations in England, St Columbs Park House presented a proposal to the Northern Irish Ministry of Justice for delivery of the Creating Pathways education programme to restart in HMP Magilligan on an online basis. The proposal was accepted and the programme restarted as a result. This was unprecedented, representing a change in policy for the prison – digital devices, such as the laptops that were used to deliver the online courses, were previously not allowed into the prison – and for the Ministry of Justice. It was also the only programme in HMP Magilligan to continue through lockdown.
There were obviously a number of key adaptations with the course moving online. The course deliverer was required to pass through security checks prior to each session and digital conferencing software was used to connect the young people with their tutor. Weekly sessions increased in an attempt to make up for lost ground and to ensure that the participants stayed on track to achieve their full range of qualifications. The absence of the programme had a major impact on the mental health and well being of the participants and the increased number of personal reflection sessions helped to balance this out.
HOW HAVE THE YOUNG PEOPLE ON THE PROGRAMME BENEFITED?
Ari: The participating young people have been doing really well as a result of the continued delivery of the programme. Despite many struggling with the online platform, the participants have adapted expertly to the change and have developed a really strong group bond supporting and mentoring each other through various challenges and qualification struggles.
The first group to complete the Fight for My SELF programme are currently training as mentors through a bespoke Mentoring Toolkit designed by St Columbs Park House. These young people will mentor the next group to take part in the programme which currently has a waiting list such is its popularity. In the physical absence of St Columbs Park House during lockdown, it is vital that new participants beginning the programme have the same understanding of the aims and objectives, the same respect and acceptance for the ethos and disciplines attached to the programme. That’s why the mentoring aspect is so crucial and it has developed a real sense of pride in the young people taking part.
WHAT ARE THE KEY TAKEAWAYS FROM THIS FOR YOU?
Ari: Simply, for me this has been a fantastic illustration of the Alliance in action. It shows that together we can pool our knowledge and resources and create tangible change that benefits our young people.
At this point I would like to highlight the wonderful support provided by Senior Officer Tanya Spratt, who had the vision and foresight to see the long term benefits of this programme and to Prison Officer Gary Blair who has supported the participants through the many challenges and interruptions during the COVID19 pandemic, consistently going above and beyond to ensure that young people are supported and benefit from this programme. Also, I’d like to thank David Dowds, HMP Magilligan’s Governor, who has shown wonderful belief in and support for the programme. The actions of these individuals coupled with the wonderful programme put together by St Columbs Park House and Strike Academy, and the support of the Fight for Peace Alliance, is having a real tangible impact on the lives of those young people on the programme.