Involve is a youth service targeted at Traveller youth, but not exclusive of the wider community. Involve Ballina is based in the Parkside area of the town. There is a significant Traveller population in Parkside as well as significant deprivation and dis-advantage. In the Pobal Deprivation index one particular small area in Parkside has the highest deprivation index in the county.
Within the Parkside Traveller community there is a huge interest in horse riding and breeding. While the youth own horses they do not always have the proper facilities and training to safely ride their animals or properly care for them.
In collaboration between Mayo North East and Involve and community consultation the need for this training was identified. Mayo North East and Involve then discussed what could be done to provide opportunities for these young Travellers.
Through discussion it was decided to start with the basics, ie horse riding. Other options were discussed such as horse husbandry but the target group are ‘hard to reach’ and it was decided to start slowly to help engage with the target.
Involve identified a number of youths, from their own membership, who had a special interest in horses and owned their own animals. A number of these had already left school early or were at risk of doing so and would also have some behavioural and attitudinal issues.
A local stable was contacted in relation to the proposal and they were immediately very supportive. They suggested that a group of 10 would be an ideal number for a one hour session. This was agreed and Involve started to recruit participants from their membership and no-one could have predicted the demand for this project. “If we could run this programme five nights a week it would still be full”, Alice, Involve Co-ordinator.
This project fits into the National Strategy ‘Better Outcomes Brighter Futures’, specifically Outcome One: Active and Healthy, Outcome Two: Achieving full Potential in Learning and Development and Outcome Five: Connected, Respected and Contributing to Their World.
The Active and Healthy elements are obvious, however the Learning and Development is not so much so. As these youths have already left school or are at risk of doing so, this is an excellent opportunity to engage these hard to engage individuals and encourage them to participate in training and education. The Outcome Five benefits are not immediately obvious either but the project is not just about horse riding. Young people are learning respect for their peers and others, they are developing new networks of friends and community and are engaging in civic and social activities that they would never have done without this project.
One of the major successes of this project was to engage with three male young people who have already left school early and who were identified as being at risk of falling into substance abuse and anti-social behaviour, as well as three other male young people identified as at risk of leaving school. It is really great to see the improvement of attitude and behaviour of these individuals over a number of weeks. While these individuals were targeted specifically there were also a number of other individuals, including female youths, who participated and benefitted according to the Outcomes of ‘Better Outcomes, Brighter Futures’.
Challenges and Barriers
Of course it was difficult to engage with some of these individuals as they are recognised as a hard to reach target group. The youths who have already left school were already falling into anti-social behavioural habits and this proved to be an extra barrier to engaging these individuals. However through Involve’s experience working with young local Travellers and Mayo North East local Outreach hub in the area we were able to persuade the young people of the benefits of participating in the project. It is hoped that the success of this project will persuade others to participate and engage with us.
Both Mayo North East and Involve have learned significantly about the benefit of community engagement, especially with the youth. It was very useful to have input from the young people in the early stages so they felt ownership and included. This helped greatly in encouraging the young to get involved and contributed to the success of the project. While both were aware of this process and used it previously, the success in this project really highlights the benefits.
It is proposed to continue this project in 2018 with additional numbers. However, it also proposed to encourage some of the young people, particularly those who have already left school early, to continue to progress further into horse husbandry or stable management or some other area of interest to them.
It is also proposed to link this project with the proposed ‘Ballina Urban Horse Project’ which is supported by Mayo County Council and others through the LECP. The Urban Horse project will be targeted at the Parkside area and it is envisaged that with proper training and development the young people from this project will participate and eventually run the horse project.