Policing has always been a topic at Include Youth, and this particular project grew out of the 2005 Institute for Conflict Research’s report on relations between young people and the police in North Belfast.
The project has three phases:
1. An exploratory single identity phase undertaken with young people (with the community sanction) and with police in the local area
2. Working to effect change on issues jointly chosen by young people and the local police - including engaging more informally in a rights-oriented way with police
3. Looking at the relationship between young people and police more strategically, and encouraging young people to be their own advocates.
Young Voices as a project existed previously to 2006 but with a different ethos. Young Voices is the collective name for three different initiatives/projects, focusing around youth participation. North Belfast Young Voices originated in 2006 (as an of shot of the previous Young Voices but specialising in participation around policing) and then became Young Voices- Policing and Community Safety, having a strategic and regional remit This project is relatively unique in that it has one worker who is entirely dedicated to the issue of policing with young people in a way that is sustainable.
Young Voices has been successful in several ways, ranging from tangible outputs like a leaflet on rioting produced by young people, to outcomes such as a noticeable difference in the confidence of young people involved and their willingness to engage with the police on critical issues. The young people involved have also been instrumental in communicating their experiences to their peers, and encouraging them to get involved as well. In addition to the benefits for the young people, the PSNI in the area have also benefited from the project, including having ‘access’ to areas they might not have had before and developing more effective engagement practices with young people.
In terms of experience, sustainability and practice, Young Voices - Policing and Community Safety represents one of the best models of practice encountered. This seems to be attributable to several factors, including the independence and critical distance of Include Youth, the sustainability of the project and the subsequent relationships it has been able to develop, and the fact that it has a dedicated worker on the project who has developed relationships based on trust with local communities and the police.