young people, Omagh, Living Room, Youth, Fermanagh

Binge-drinking, drugs, teenage pregnancy and depression are just some of the problems with which young people growing up in modern society might have to cope. In this ever-changing world of youth culture, young people increasingly need somewhere they can go to be themselves and discuss any problems they may face with someone who can offer constructive advice.

The award-winning Living Room Youth Project in Omagh offers its members a social environment where those between the ages of 14 and 21 can meet up after school in an atmosphere of acceptance and safety to have a cup of tea, listen to music, play pool, watch DVDs or even do their homework in the study-room.

It could be described as an after-school youth centre, but that wouldn't depict fully the significance of this youth drop-in centre for teenagers locally.

The Living Room offers a wide variety of courses and seminars on youth-related issues, such as alcohol, drugs and sexual health so they can make informed positive lifestyle choices. More importantly, there is freedom of choice for the individual if they wish to partake in the seminars or simply relax in the communal area.

The Living Room's youth development co-ordinator, Charlene Bleakley, has said that as well as making young people aware in order to make their own informed lifestyle choices, there is a qualified counsellor available to discuss through an specific personal problem any individual may have without judgement.

"We do have a qualified counsellor available and I have also recently completed a diploma in counselling which I use in my work everyday in the conversations I have with the young people," said Charlene.

Charlene believes teenagers today are trying new things from a younger age, but as they see her as a confidant more than an authority figure, they are more forthcoming in discussing their personal problems.

"Youth issues have definitely got worse in recent years, especially compared to when I was their age," Charlene said.

"Young people are experimenting younger with alcohol, drugs and sexual relationships, but that seems to be the way society is going now as they are trying to be mature quicker and see this as a way of doing that."

She added, "They come to me and are surprisingly very open, as I have built up a relationship with them so they feel comfortable enough to approach me about any problem they may have."

As Charlene is in regular contact with so many young people, she sees and experiences first hand the modern youth culture around Omagh.

"Omagh has a huge drink problem, but that isn't just with young people as binge drinking and drugs affect people into their twenties thirties and forties also," she said.

"There are big problems at the minute with alcohol, drugs, mental health and sexual health. Depression used to be just an expression people used but it has got to the stage now that quite a lot of young people who are depressed, are recognising it."

The services provided at The Living Room are unique to the area, a free of charge, open-door drop-in centre with a relaxed, friendly atmosphere.

"I think most of the young people that frequent the Living Room would either just hang around the streets or go home alone. A lot have said they would have no where else to go after school if this facility was not available for them," said Charlene.

"We are offering a lot more courses this year, but they are not mandatory. We do have some rules but young people still have the freedom to come along, mess around, chat and do their own thing, which I feel is very important but they also know we are here for them if they need help." .

Since it first opened its doors in September 2002, The Living Room has experienced many developments, progressing from two nights a week to opening after school.

As the project grew in popularity with membership rising from 12 to 120 and the introduction of a health promotion worker the people who run the project decided it had got to the stage where things had to be put on a more professional footing.

"At the moment we have a Peer Leadership course that is currently in its second year, that is getting better and expanding each year. At the end of the course they get a youth achievement award which is very good for UCAS. As part of the course they do 30 hours training with me on personal development, leadership skills, communication and also complete a project with the other young people which they will start after Christmas. This involves them putting together an information booklet of services in the area on issues affecting young people like alcohol and drugs", said Charlene.

As The Living Room Youth Project is a cross community charity initiated by Omagh Community Church it is reliant on various agencies as well as fund-raising to provide the financial stability to maintain its facility for the youth of Omagh and its surrounding communities.

"At the minute we have funding through the Strule Erne Health and Social Care group, and Children in Need actually fund my post. We get small grants from basically everywhere and anywhere we can get it," said Charlene.

Although linked to the church she stresses it is not a religious youth centre, and attracts members from a wide variety of religions, from every single school in the town.

"We don't put Christianity down peoples throats; if we are asked about our faith we will tell them," she said. "People sometimes do have that perception but I would urge people to come along and visit to see for themselves what the place is like."

The Living Room is situated behind Chez Manu Cafe in Campsie and is open daily from 3pm to 5.30pm and 2pm to 5.30pm on Saturdays, The centre is also open late on alternate Wednesdays from 7.30pm to 10pm. Copy of Fermanagh Herald News Archive.

Link to Fermanagh Herald Newspapers.

Where young people go

Publication Ulster Herald Moday Date November 02, 2006

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