Kingdom is a needs centred, youth led youth club situated in Dunavil just outside Kilkeel in Co.Down. The youth club has been running since 1997 and it aims to provide young people with a wide range of recreational and educational needs.
Since the end of lockdowns due to the pandemic the club has slowly been starting up again and running their different activities. During the summer Kingdom ran an eight- week programme “Unlocked and Unleashed” which saw record numbers of young people attending. Bethany Nugent, a Youth Support Worker at Kingdom said, “some children interacted as normal when brought together with their friends. Others exhibited anti-social behaviour and were quick to get aggressive and angry over small things.”
This is not the only change in behaviour staff at the youth club noticed. A few children refused to speak and did not speak to any other children or staff. Bethany said we were made aware by their care-giver that the pandemic influenced how they were able to speak. This was an unsettling reminder of how much the pandemic had affected children due to lack of social interaction, isolation and also fear.
“Kingdom is a safe place environment for all children and young people and hopefully they can help counteract the after effects of the pandemic and help children overcome their fears of talking to others and interacting with other children”, Bethany said.
Before the Covid-19 pandemic the club had many attendees with numbers continuing to rise each month. However, at the start of 2020 numbers began to decline rapidly with little to no attendance evening to evening at the club as the number of Covid cases began to increase. Beth Teggarty, a Senior Youth Support Worker said many parents were not comfortable sending their children were they would be able to socialise with others.
In late 2020, early 2021 the club began to see a steady rise in numbers once again. Our summer scheme through July and August of 2020 seen a massive attendance of 135 children every day. The number of seniors attending the club has increased dramatically in 2021 with no seniors, too as many as 30 in one night which has been encouraging Beth said.
The founders of the youth club saw the need for a safe and inclusive environment that young people could come to regardless of religion, ethnicity, ability, gender and age. Bethany said, due to the lack of facilities for young people in the town of Kilkeel they tend to get involved in alcohol from an earlier age unfortunately. The staff’s main objective is to help those who attend reach their full potential.
There are many programs and activities which run throughout the year at Kingdom with help from Education Authority funding. Joseph Donnan, Secretary at Kingdom Youth Club said, there are many paperwork forms in relation to applications and grant funding but it is all worthwhile to provide this service to the local community. I have been here from the very beginning when we started off in much smaller premises. It is great to see how the club has grown and moved to larger premises over the past number of years, he said.
Bethany said the After School’s Club has been extremely successful with numbers continuing to increase monthly. This particular club caters for primary school children in which they help them with their homework, outdoor activities and some free-time to play.
The Youth Club is cross-community and have recently received funding to start their ‘Good Relations’ Programme which is aimed at encouraging respect, deflecting sectarianism promoting good relations towards all people regardless of their background. It also gives young people a safe place to speak about their own personal experiences and broaden their awareness of issues in today’s society and how they can overcome them.
Other programmes offered at the club include the Transitions programme which helps those transitioning from Primary to High school. This programme was created as after COVID the staff noticed an increased anxiety and worry in the children who were moving on to high school. Bethany said, this programme has been extremely beneficial to the kids as it has helped them to develop their skills at making new friends and understand the differences between primary and secondary school.
Kingdom also runs Sexual Health, Healthy Lifestyle, Safe Driving, Mums and Tots and an All -Abilities Programme. These programmes allow the club to cater to a wider range of ages.
The Kingdom has plans to run more clubs throughout the year as they have just received additional funding. They plan to run a programme called, ‘Pointer’ which will hopefully enable them to take some of the young people on a holiday later next year. Beth said seeing the young people coming in, their faces lighting up and making new friends is the highlight of working at Kingdom Youth Club.