Northern Ireland Office Minister Hugo Swire today visited Public Achievement in Belfast to present them with the latest Prime Minister’s Big Society Award - the first awarded in Northern Ireland. The organisation works with young people to show them how they can get involved with their local communities to make them democratic, inclusive and supportive places to grow and learn.
Set up in 1999 in the period following the Good Friday agreement, a key aim of Public Achievement is to help young people get involved in democracy and the running of their community. One of the most well-known outcomes of this work is the website Where Is My Public Servant?, run by and for young people. It is a searchable database of all public representatives in Northern Ireland at local Council, NI Assembly, Westminster and European Parliament levels. Any registered WIMPS.TV member can use it to send messages to representatives about the issues they want to raise and it also features videos members film with representatives to explain how they relate to their lives and communities.
During his visit Hugo Swire recorded an interview with WIMPS members which will be available on the site shortly.
Congratulating Public Achievement on the award, the Prime Minister said:
Involving young people in their local communities and showing them how they can help to shape them has huge benefits not just for them but for society as a whole. We’ve recently launched the National Citizen Service to do just that but Public Achievement has been successfully involving young people in democracy for over ten years.
This is a fantastic example of young people getting involved in the Big Society but I’m also pleased to see them helping to make government more transparent and accountable. It is important that everyone in a community is able to give their views on local transport, schools, leisure facilities and everything else that affects them and understanding how to do that is the first step in achieving this. Where is my Public Servant is helping young people in Northern Ireland to have their say in their local, national and international communities and I would like to congratulate them for their success in doing this.
Presenting the award, Northern Ireland Minister Hugo Swire said:
It is an honour to present Public Achievement with this award today. I would like to offer my congratulations both to Public Achievement and to all the individual young people who make this project the inspiration that it is.
Public Achievement is Northern Ireland’s leading youth focused civic education organisation which supports young people to do real work on real issues in their communities. I have seen how the organisation works with young people in ways which encourage active citizenship, particularly on working with communities that face social and economic disadvantage and many which have also been adversely affected by the former conflict and its legacy.
It is this democratic engagement and commitment to making their communities better places to live and work that will be essential in moving Northern Ireland away from a legacy of violent conflict to becoming a thriving, vibrant, pluralist society.
This is exactly what Big Society is all about and I wish Public Achievement every success in the future.
Accepting the award, Paul Smyth, Director of Public Achievement said:
We are delighted that the Prime Minister has decided to recognise our work in this way. In our model of ‘Civic Youth Work’ we are working with young people from tough social realities to help them to become more successful members of their communities, and citizens of this society. It is wonderful that their energies, determination and commitment are being celebrated in this way.
Northern Ireland is a society with enormous potential, and young citizens - including those who are socially disadvantaged - have a significant to building a new society in which the tragedies of the past are a bad memory, and where a shared society values all of its citizens.