Funding problems force youth charity to shut doors after almost 25 years
A cross-community youth organisation – which has worked with thousands of vulnerable young people for almost a quarter-of-a-century – has announced it is to close with the loss of 11 jobs.
Belfast-based charity Challenge For Youth is to shut down after running into funding problems.
The news has been met with shock by people who have benefited from its work over many years.
The organisation's managing director Paul McKinstry said staff and young people have been left devastated by the problems.
He said the trustees of the charity made a decision to bring in administrators after 24 years with the loss of 11 jobs.
The group worked with young people, often troubled and vulnerable, in areas including Belfast, Bangor, the north west, Craigavon and Keady.
Key parts of its work involved summer camps and outdoor pursuits "to support young people to engage, challenge and reflect".
Mr McKinstry said supporters had been left stunned by the turn of events.
"There has been quite a reaction from the whole youth sector and people are a wee bit shocked," he said.
"Some of the reactions ranged from 'you saved my life' to complete shock."
He blamed the changing nature of youth work.
"We are a small voluntary charity and there is now a lot of private companies coming in, especially in the outdoor field," he said.
"The whole field of youth work is under threat and the government is going down the line of career advisers focusing on employment, but we worked with the 'whole' young person."
He said government funding had dried up "to the point where there is very little funding about and applications for funding are not being responded to".
"It is a massive issue," he explained.
"I don't think there can be a reprieve. Challenge For Youth as a brand will close.
"The staff are personally disappointed at losing their jobs but there is a lot of positive thinking among staff about what they can do to keep the ethos of the work we do alive. The message to the government and community is that unless we shout louder that we want youth work to flourish what will we be left with?
"Please, before it is too late, let's value youth work."
One person who contacted the Belfast Telegraph said his un-named organisation had worked with Challenge For Youth and it had made a real difference.
He added: "I am so sad and shocked to hear that one of our country's greatest youth work organisations is closing due to a lack of funds.
"My organisation has worked in partnership with these people for years and there is no one better at working with the most marginalised in our society.
"They turn no one away and no one is excluded.
"They persevere with young people through the worst times in their lives and I can't believe they have been allowed to close.
"It's like we are turning our back on these young people.
"One of their staff told me that they have been deserted by a number of statutory organisations over the past two years.
"This is shameful and disgusting".
Challenge For Youth is a registered charity based in Belfast which works with young people, often from a troubled background. It opened in 1990 and has been running "life-changing personal development programmes". This has included outdoor adventure pursuits and summer camps to work on skills such as leadership and relationship building.
Shock over loss of crucial service
The closure of the youth charity has been greeted with shock by those it has helped over the years.
James Davidson (25) said he had been left “heartbroken” by Challenge For Youth announcing it had to shut down because of funding problems.
“I started with Challenge For Youth when I was about 12 or 13,” he said. “I was having problems but Challenge For Youth were always there for me, a real positive influence and never gave up on me no matter how many mistakes I made.
“I wanted to give something back and I have been volunteering with them but this closure almost feels like a death in the family.”
Mr Davidson, from Belfast, said the charity was like family to him.
“To say the least, they helped me through some of the hardest points in my life and for that alone I would like to thank everyone associated with Challenge For Youth,” he added.
“I am absolutely devastated that it's come to this. I have memories that will last a lifetime.”
Eunan Morgan (20), from Coalisland, Co Tyrone, said: “This is the worst news ever.”
He said the charity’s workers were “the greatest people I ever met”. “They helped me so much. It’s sad to hear that they are closing,” he added.
“I first heard of Challenge For Youth when they came to Coalisland years ago in connection with a Youth Safety Partnership. It was completely life-changing for me. From there I went to summer camps and youth clubs and into youth work.”
David Gardiner said on Facebook: “Tragic! Best organisation I ever had the privilege of working with, and the clearest, most uncompromising and unapologetic belief in/vision for the potential of all young people and in particular those most disadvantaged and on the margins.
“A huge loss for the young people of Belfast and beyond.”