Taking Charge of Change together

President Higgins celebrates youth empowerment as part of UK visit

As part of his historic state visit to Britain, President Michael D. Higgins heard from a special gathering of young people from across Ireland and the UK at London City Hall on Wednesday 9th April 2014.

The ‘Taking Charge of Change together’ event aimed to promote sharing and collaboration and to celebrate the leadership and contribution of young people in society. It showcased the Joint Award Initiative partnership between Gaisce – The President’s Award and The Duke of Edinburgh’s Award in Northern Ireland. Thanks to the partnership, young people in Northern Ireland have the option to receive either a Gaisce, an International or a Duke of Edinburgh’s Award certificate after completing volunteering in their community, participating in a physical activity, developing new or existing skills, planning and undertaking an expedition and, for their Gold Award only, taking part in a residential activity under The Duke of Edinburgh’s Award programme.

Daniel Oliver and William Pauley who have participated in the programme through the Joint Award Initiative spoke at the event about how they became involved in the programme, its impact and how it has led to them helping other young people.

William Pauley, 23, did his programme through the South Belfast Area project when he was put into foster care and moved away from his family: “When I was put into foster care I started attending a new youth club and this enabled me to do my Gold Duke of Edinburgh’s Award. Through this I had the opportunity to learn new skills helping me to become a DofE Leader, Outdoor Pursuits Instructor and Youth Worker with young people from disadvantaged backgrounds.”

Daniel, 19 is currently studying Interactive Media at Southern Regional College in Newry. Daniel opted for a Gaisce – The President’s Award certificate after completing his programme through St. Colman’s College in Newry: “Achieving my Bronze, Silver and Gold Awards enabled me to gain independence and develop team building skills. I am currently completing my hillwalking qualification to enable me to help other young people with the expedition section. Without my Leader I would not be the person I am standing here today.”

Speaking about the event, Gaisce chairman John Concannon said: “The Taking Charge of Change together workshop is a unique opportunity to harness the immense energy and fresh thinking of young people in the UK and Ireland. I am particularly pleased that the event highlights the strong collaboration between Gaisce – The President’s Award, and The Duke of Edinburgh’s Award in Northern Ireland over recent years with the ‘Joint Award Initiative’ which has broadened the appeal of the Award for young people in Northern Ireland.”

Dr Robson Davison, The Duke of Edinburgh’s Award Northern Ireland Chair said: “The Joint Award Initiative helps to ensure that the world’s leading youth achievement programme is available to every young person in the province. We are striving to achieve a significant increase in those offering the programme in schools, businesses and other key sectors, in order to make a real difference, in particular to those who are most disadvantaged in our community.”

The event will also be attended by the President’s wife, Sabina Higgins, Tánaiste and Ireland’s Minister for Foreign Affairs, Éamon Gilmore TD, Mayor of London, Boris Johnson, the Irish Minister for Children & Youth Affairs, Frances Fitzgerald TD, the British Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, Theresa Villiers MP, the Irish Ambassador to Britain, Dan Mulhall, and the British Ambassador to Ireland, Dominick Chilcott.

Broadcaster Gràinne Seoige will be the MC at the event which includes facilitated workshops and a performance by young Irish music act Seo Linn. Topics for discussion will include employment, enterprise, music, sport, youth participation in politics and the development and promotion of the Joint Award Initiative. Participants from throughout Ireland, Northern Ireland and Britain, including young Irish emigrants, will share their experiences and develop ideas for further UK-Ireland collaboration before presenting their proposals to the President who will then respond.

President Higgins will also be invited to present an inaugural Youth on Board award sponsored by the British Youth Council to celebrate successful initiatives, with the first going to the Members of the UK Youth Parliament in Northern Ireland who held their first ever round of elections in 2012 and 2013, which were supported by all communities and politicians. The award will be accepted on their behalf by Nikita Harkin from Derry/Londonderry who topped the poll and was subsequently elected by young delegates from across the whole of the UK, to the European Youth Forum.

The Minister for Children and Youth Affairs, Frances Fitzgerald TD and the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, Theresa Villiers MP will also address the participants, each of whom will receive a certificate of participation.

Since coming to office, youth issues have been a major part of President Higgins’ agenda. In 2011 he initiated the ‘Being Young and Irish’ initiative which engaged hundreds of young people, some of whom will be present at the London event. It is hoped that Wednesday’s event will serve to keep youth issues on the agenda of both the British and Irish governments and of the Northern Ireland Assembly.

The event is being organised by Gaisce – the President’s Award and The Duke of Edinburgh’s Award, alongside the Department of Children and Youth Affairs, the Northern Ireland Youth Parliament, the British Youth Council, the British Foreign Office, and the London Mayor’s office.

There are currently over 300,000 young people taking part in a DofE programme across the UK through a variety of centres including both state and independent schools, special schools, businesses, prisons, Young Offender Institutions and youth groups. To find out more about the DofE and how it enables young people to succeed, please visit www.dofe.org


For further information and interviews contact:
Kate Thompson, Director of The Duke of Edinburgh’s Award, Northern Ireland
T: 0786 655 7919
E: [email protected]

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