After losing his mum his life spiralled out of control but now Craig is flying high with help of Prince's Trust
A young man whose mother died when he was eight and who turned to alcohol aged just 13 now has a bright future - thanks to the Prince's Trust.
Craig Walker was one of the inspirational young people from across Northern Ireland honoured at a star-studded awards ceremony at Titanic Belfast last night for turning their lives around.
The 25-year-old from Coleraine was awarded the Devenish Nutrition Rising Star Award for his employment achievements in the face of substantial personal obstacles.
Craig's mother died when he was only eight and her death had a devastating effect on his life. He left school when he was only 13 and sought comfort in alcohol.
He became a father at 20 to a little girl, Zara, whom he named after his mother.
But the day came when he couldn't afford to buy his little girl an ice cream - and Craig decided to turn his life around.
He signed up for Make Your Mark - one of seven programmes provided by the Prince's Trust - and finished the programme with a full-time job.
He says that for the first time since his mother's death, he has a future he is looking forward to.
Craig said: "It's paid off for me. I had a look in my daughter's eyes and I just realised I had to do this. I had to do it for her.
"I have a full-time job and I'm moving up the ladder at M&S and hopefully this time next year I'll be doing the management course. It was all worth it. This programme was a life-changer."
Last night's Prince's Trust and Samsung Celebrate Success Awards recognised the achievements of young people who have succeeded against the odds, improved their chances in life and have had a positive impact on their local community.
Eamonn Whelan, Devenish nutrition operations director and event sponsor, said: "Craig has conquered many of life's challenges to turn his life around and should be very proud of his achievements.
"We are thrilled to be a part of these awards and to honour such brave and strong-willed young people."
The event was hosted by Keith Duffy of Boyzone and Seainin Brennan from The Fall. Other local celebrities and sports stars like Jared Payne, Adam Keefe, Pamela Ballantine and Ian Beattie also attended the event.
Prince's Trust Northern Ireland director, Ian Jeffers, said: "Celebrate Success is about celebrating young people. This is the sixth time I've done these awards and we're still talking about the same problems.
"We are still talking about youth unemployment, kids not doing well in school and mental health issues, but the awards are the positive of that, because you see young people who now have their lives on track and are succeeding and that's what keeps me motivated."
Prince's Trust in Belfast, Londonderry and Newry supports a combined 5,000 young people each year with help obtaining jobs, education and training.
Since the Trust was founded nearly 40 years ago, it has supported more than 825,000 young people across the UK.
All finalists will have the opportunity to compete in the National Final, to be held in London in 2016.
Take a bow... young winners an inspiration to their generation
Kirsten Beattie (17) from Dundonald is ShredBank Educational Achiever of the Year
Kirsten harboured ambitions of working in childcare, but suffered with anxiety and low self-esteem, skipping school and becoming isolated from friends.
A referral to the Prince’s Trust helped Kirsten overcome her problems, make new friends and build her skills.
After an 18-week placement as a classroom assistant at a special needs school, she is now studying at college and is still working at the school.
“The programme has given me more confidence and self-esteem to do things that I would’ve never done before I joined,” she said.
Rory Girvan (30) from north Belfast won the Ulster Bank Enterprise Award
Rory had suffered from panic attacks, anxiety and depression. When he lost his job because of mental health stigma, he decided to start his own business. He soon became Powerlifting Champion for Northern Ireland and used his experiences and help from the Prince’s Trust to create a unique gym offering a solution to health and fitness problems.
“Being a young person in business can be really lonely, especially if you don’t have very many resources in terms of finances, skills and confidence, but the Prince’s Trust give you a bit of all three,” he said.
Caomhan McKeever (22) from Limavady won the HSBC Breakthrough Award
A turbulent family life saw Caomhan become homeless several times. He slept on sofas and in rat-infested farms, becoming reliant on drink and drugs.
Caomhan joined Get into Hospitality, which provided him with a routine that helped him sleep, eat properly and get his addictions under control. He turned his life around and is now a chef at the start of a bright career.
“I wasn’t going to do the programme initially and I was talked into doing it, but within a few weeks I was telling my mates about Prince’s Trust to help them get jobs as well. I wouldn’t be where I am now without this programme.”
Belfast’s Barry Cummins (22), Rachel Patterson (21), Daniel Patterson (25) are Money for Life — Fairbridge. They won the Chartered Management Institute Community Impact Award
The group of unemployed young people worked together to produce a tool-book aimed at giving people moving in to independent living insightful money management tips. Their booklet is packed with ideas and recipes that help turn pennies into pounds by making small lifestyle adjustments. All are now in jobs or pursuing education options.
“We didn’t think that we would get this far. We weren’t very confident in ourselves when we first started, but the Prince’s Trust staff becomes your family and by the end of the programme we all believed in ourselves. It helped us turn our lives around,” the group said.
Ryan Shaw (21) from Belfast is Titanic Quarter Young Ambassador of the Year
Ryan’s teenage years were full of instability and hardships that left him feeling dejected and unsupported. The Jobs and Benefits Office sent him to Prince’s Trust’s Team initiative, and he subsequently found a temporary placement with Marks & Spencer. After that, he began volunteering for the Prince’s Trust and is now a Young Ambassador, sharing his story and inspiring others. He made such an impact at a TK Maxx fundraiser, they offered him a job and he’s been there ever since.
“It’s been a really great honour helping young people. I’ve done many events where I’ve talked to people about my own experience and I believe that every young person can achieve their greatest potential,” he said.
Ryan Gerard (23) from Londonderry was named Samsung Young Achiever of the Year
After years of bullying, homelessness and isolation, Ryan had tried to take his own life. He was referred to Fairbridge Access courses by a hostel, and Ryan’s life started to change. He forged new friendships, became more confident and moved into his own flat, as well as discovering a passion and talent for working outdoors. He now volunteers at the Belfast Activity Centre and says life is now “awesome”.
“I never thought that I would see the day that I was 20. I thought I was going to end my life, but Prince’s Trust really helped me. It’s a great honour to get this far and I’m really proud of myself. I hope to help others the way Prince’s Trust has helped me.”