The On the Right Track! Personal Change Programme, part of Belfast City Council’s PEACE IV programme, works with marginalised young people each year between 13 and 16 years old.

Launched last year, the project, which operates on a cross-community basis, explores issues of equality, identity, diversity and peace-building. In particular, it focuses on young people who have been involved in the youth justice system for incidents related to sectarianism, interface issues and hate crime.

The project is part of Belfast City Council’s PEACE IV Plan, which is financed through the European Union and managed by the Special EU Programmes Body (SEUPB). The three-year programme was commissioned and funded by Belfast City Council, and is based at Extern’s Nelson Street offices close to the centre of Belfast.

The main aim of the programme is to provide support to change the behaviours of the young people taking part by exploring and challenging the underlying and fundamental values that they hold.

The first group to take part consisted of 14 young people from across the city. Over the past six months they have engaged in a range of activities, including team-building residential visits to Extern’s Kinnahalla youth village, in the Mourne Mountains, and workshops on drug and alcohol safety. The young people also completed a number of OCN (Open College Network) modules, in areas such as Prejudice and Discrimination, and Cultural Diversity.

CEO of Extern, Charlie Mack, said: “This truly is a life-changing project and we are incredibly proud of the hard work and commitment our young people have shown throughout the past six months. For example, one of the young people we supported was from a very caring family, but had faced a number of challenges in his life, including poor mental health and emotional difficulties. Our one-to-one and groupwork work enabled to him to better cope with challenging situations, and as a result he is now calmer at home, more settled in school and is working towards his GCSEs.

“This is the kind of positive, transformative impact that the On the Right Track! project can have for young people, as they develop relationships and gain a greater understanding not only of other cultures and communities, but how to positively express their feelings and emotions.

“That is why Extern is recognised as one of the leading and most experienced charities when it comes to working with marginalised and disadvantaged young people. We are trusted by families and bring a wealth of expertise to bear in supporting young people to challenge themselves and transform their lives for the better.”

Councillor John Kyle, Chair of Belfast City Council’s Shared City Partnership, said: “We’re delighted to hear about the success of the On the Right Track! Personal Change Programme in its first year and the life-changing impact it will bring to young people taking part in the project across the city.

“The primary aim of our PEACE IV programme is to promote good relations where cultural diversity is celebrated and people – both young and old – can live, learn and socialise together, free from prejudice, hate and intolerance.”

Match-funding for the PEACE IV Action plan has been provided by the Executive Office in Northern Ireland and the Department of Rural and Community Development in Ireland.