Colin Glen is 240 acres of scenic woodland, waterfalls and wildflowers. But over the years, destruction and illegal dumping threatened to ruin the glen.
Then in the 1980s, the local community started working to reclaim the park, cleaning up the Colin River and planting thousands of native trees. They formed the Colin Glen Trust and with the help of funding, including from the Big Lottery Fund, it has grown into one of the largest community-led environmental schemes in Europe.
Colm Fanning is the project manager of the Trust’s youth empowerment project, funded by a £491,122 Big Lottery Fund grant. The project gets young people in the area involved in activities in the park and in the work of the Trust. When Lauren (17) was younger, like most people she avoided the park altogether because it was seen as a hub for antisocial activity. A few years ago Lauren suffered from debilitating back pain. She went through a series of hospital tests but these couldn’t explain the problem. Lauren felt that no one believed her, and it destroyed her confidence and self esteem. She dropped out of school and lost contact with her friends.
Lauren’s mother contacted the youth workers at Colin Glen Trust for help. They welcomed Lauren in and enrolled her in mentoring and personal development programmes. These helped her to focus on the things she could do rather than those she couldn’t.
“I was overwhelmed and struggling,” she said. “But it’s been a complete turnaround. Their encouragement and support brought my self esteem right back up again. They brought me out of my shell and I feel able to achieve things now. They bring you back to who you really are.”
Lauren now has a part time job and is back in school working on her A-levels. She has become a fixture at Colin Glen Trust, volunteering regularly, helping in planning and implementing projects, and gaining OCN qualifications in youth work and personal development. She is a member of the Roots Youth Forum which is helping to shape the future of the organisation.
Colm Fanning said the key to any youth project is in involvement, especially involvement of those young people who are struggling the most.
“It’s about finding ways of including young people and making them care, about the park and about the community around it,” he said.
“Up until a few years ago, the community was glad that young people involved in anti social behaviour were in the park – out of sight and out of mind rather than on their doorstep. But we started to see we could use Colin Glen to help these young people and give them opportunities.”
Colin Glen is now a hive of activity, with a gym, a SkyTrek aerial adventure course, laser tag, archery, kayaking, raft building, bushcraft, orienteering climbing, a nine-hole golf course, multi-sports pitches and much more.
Unemployed young people who join the Youth Forum have access to training and opportunities for paid work in the park’s activities.
“We brought the place back from ruin,” Colm said, “but it’s about something a lot bigger than just a forest park now. It’s about bringing the community together and opening up opportunities for everyone, especially those young people who need it the most.”