9th May, 2017

Marking Mental Health Awareness Week: 8 – 14 May, 2017 #MHAW17

The leading social justice charity, Extern, will today open Belfast’s first dedicated drop-in facility for young people seeking support in relation to health and wellbeing issues.

It will enable over 6,000 young people each year, from across Belfast, to be supported in accessing help around a range of issues, including wellbeing, poor mental health, suicidal thoughts, addiction, bullying, self-harm, parenting problems, sexual orientation, training and education and homelessness.

Funded under the Public Health Agency’s One Stop Shop initiative, the new flagship facility is based in Queen Street in Belfast’s city centre.

Known as the Pieces Project, the new facility operates on a drop-in basis from Monday to Friday.

Its opening means young people in Belfast, aged 11-25, now have their own, safe space to go to and seek help, without the need for an appointment, and when they feel able and ready to do so.

Evening workshops, outreach work in schools and community groups, and interactive activities with peers and youth workers, are also being offered in order to help address the range of issues which are being experienced by young people. Participating will enable young people, especially those who are particularly vulnerable, to make new friends, share experiences, and help reduce social and emotional isolation.

Young people wanting to access the support available can also call 02890 325786, email Project Co-ordinator [email protected], or WhatsApp the Extern team on 07483 428 547.

Speaking ahead of the launch, Charlie Mack, CEO of Extern, said: “From Extern’s extensive work with young people, we know that those experiencing health and wellbeing challenges are dealing with issues which are frequently inter-linked. Often they do not know where to start to look for help.

“Now, thanks to funding from the Public Health Agency, thousands of young people across Belfast will have access to their own safe and welcoming space, in which they can ask the questions they need to, in order to begin to access the support they need to change their lives.

In conjunction with our fantastic partners right across the voluntary and community sectors, Extern will not only signpost, support, and empower these young people so they can tackle the issues facing them, we will also help them to realise their own potential, enabling them to take their rightful place in their own communities.”

Lauryn from Belfast, has already been receiving support from the Extern team involved in the new Pieces Project. She urged other young people who may be experiencing difficulties to make sure they visit the new drop-in facility: “Like a lot of my friends I knew I needed help, but I didn’t know where I could go by myself to get it. Having a safe, friendly, space that you can just drop in to now, and that’s for every young person across Belfast, is amazing.

I know my life is already looking better because of the support I’ve had, so if anyone is unhappy or doesn’t know what to do about something that’s bothering them or their friends, they should definitely call in to the new Pieces Project.”

The Public Health Agency funds eight One Stop Shops across Northern Ireland to provide a drug and alcohol free social and recreational safe environment for young people.

Speaking about the launch of the new dedicated space in Belfast, Cathy Mullan, Lead for the One Stop Shop initiative with the Public Health Agency, said: “Research shows that services that are not specific to young people are less appealing to them and, consequently are less likely to be accessed by them. One Stop Shops act as a hub connecting children and young people with services in a setting that is youth friendly and designed to meet their needs.

“The opening of this new space, operated by Extern, will be transformative for young people in Belfast. Young people can socialise in an alcohol and drug-free environment where they can also access information, advice and support on a range of issues that may be concerning them such as mental health, sexual health and drug and alcohol issues.”

The Arts Council of Northern Ireland is also providing support to the Pieces Project through its ‘Articulate’ scheme. Creative writing, digital production and open mic sessions are just some of the ways in which young people are being encouraged to express the challenges they are facing and to begin to overcome them.

Lorraine Calderwood, Young People and Wellbeing Arts Officer at the Arts Council, said:

“The Arts Council is extremely proud to support Extern’s Pieces Project through our new ‘Articulate’ programme, which funds initiatives that use art as a tool to help improve the health and wellbeing of our young people.

The opportunity to engage in arts activities is adding a new dimension to the work of a wide range of support organisations across Northern Ireland, and the young people who are participating are encountering new, creative ways, to express themselves and build self-confidence”.