Fresh Start Through Sport Pilot Shows Promise Despite Pandemic

An April 2022 evaluation report of the Fresh Start Through Sport (FSTS) pilot project highlighted its ability to break down barriers and bring people together, despite the challenges posed by the COVID-19 pandemic.


The project, funded by the NI Executive’s Tackling Paramilitarism, Criminality and Organised Crime Programme and delivered by the Department for Communities as part of Fresh Start in the Community, is a collaboration between the IFA, GAA, Ulster Rugby and Belfast Giants, aimed to engage at-risk youth through sport. When in-person activities were cancelled due to public health restrictions, partners quickly pivoted to online delivery.


While online sessions posed some limitations, they also fostered closer collaboration between sporting organisations. Participants gained knowledge, skills and positive experiences, with 100% saying the programme met expectations. 


Key recommendations from this evaluation include: enhancing recruitment to engage a wider demographic; increased focus on qualifications, volunteering opportunities and signposting to community organisations; maintaining select online components while prioritising in-person physical activity; and formalising an evaluation working group between stakeholders.


Despite pandemic constraints, the FSTS pilot facilitated valuable experiences and demonstrated the potential of sport-based interventions. Participants and organisers remain positive about the programme’s future impact on at-risk youth.


To read the report, please click on the link below.

Youth violence prevention through social support programmes

New research published in the Journal of Child & Adolescent Trauma explores the links between social support, psychological stress, and youth violence. The study, which was part of a wider evaluation of the Engage project funded through the Northern Ireland Tackling Paramilitarism and Organised Crime Programme, surveyed over 600 young people aged 10-25 participating in a youth work programme in Northern Ireland. 


The results found extremely high rates of exposure to violence and trauma among the sample, with over 40% screening positive for probable PTSD. Elevated psychological stress was associated with a greater intention to engage in physical violence; however, social support emerged as a key protective factor – operating through reduced psychological stress to decrease the risk of violence. 

The author concludes that even for youth in high-risk environments, positive social connections can disrupt the “cycle of violence” by buffering the negative impacts of trauma. Specialist youth work approaches are uniquely positioned to provide such informal support. The research advances understanding of youth work’s role in violence prevention, while highlighting priorities like enhancing community engagement and volunteer opportunities.

Overall, the study makes the case that supporting vulnerable young people’s mental health and social wellbeing should be central to addressing youth violence in Northern Ireland.


To read the report, please click on the link below.

Developing Women in the Community Programme sees positive outcomes

A recent evaluation of the Developing Women in the Community programme shows the project is achieving key goals in supporting women. This project, funded by the NI Executive’s Tackling Paramilitarism, Criminality and Organised Crime Programme and delivered by the Department for Communities (DfC), aims to provide women living in communities impacted by paramilitary harm with skills, knowledge and confidence to take on leadership roles.


The evaluation, carried out by QUB and also funded by the Programme, collected survey data from over 200 participants at the start and end of the latest phase of the programme and found significant improvements in measures like self-efficacy, life satisfaction, and volunteering/leadership engagement. For example, the percentage of women taking on community leadership roles increased from 35% at baseline to 61% at programme end. Qualitative data also showed women accessing new training and work opportunities.

The report concludes the project is positively contributing towards the goals of the wider ‘Tackling Paramilitarism Programme’ in creating safer, more resilient communities.


Key recommendations include linking programme activities to priority community needs and ensuring there are synergies with other government efforts on issues like trauma and safety. The evaluation demonstrates how focused support for women’s development and empowerment can drive community-level change.


To read the report, please click on the link below.