William helps Young Farmers' Clubs in 'Bridging the Gap'

A DROMORE man has helped the Young Farmers' Clubs of Ulster launch a £125,000 youth project called 'Bridging the Gap'.

William McElroy (21) of Aughnaskeagh Road has for the past six months worked as a YFCU Rural Youth Liaison Officer.

And the success of 'Bridging the Gap' in landing a 125,000 investment package means the work of William and his Rural Youth Liaison colleagues is funded for the immediate future.

The Project was awarded 94,000 under the EU Programme for Building Sustainable Prosperity (BSP), administered by the Department of Agriculture and Rural Development's Rural Development Programme.

Another 12,000 came from BT Northern Ireland and the YFCU itself contributed 19,000.

William, a former member of Spa YFC, worked the family farm before taking a position at YFCU headquarters and later taking on the job of Rural Youth Liaison Officer.

He said of the role, "We're really just here to encourage and facilitate young people from rural backgrounds and encourage them to contribute to their rural community.

"We aim to help them get more involved in rural based organisations and contribute the skills they learned as YFC members to other groups, such as the Ulster Farmers' Union."

William explained the YFCU caters mainly for ages 12-25, though older members can maintain a more restricted membership until age 30.

'Bridging the Gap', he said, was aimed at ensuring the skills members' learned were not lost in later years, but rather maintained and passed on to other groups.

The Dromore man is enjoying his job as Rural Youth Liaison Officer for Counties Down and Armagh, though with 11 Young Farmers' Clubs in Co. Down and four in Co. Armagh, he concedes there is a lot of work involved.

"It's quite a big undertaking," he said, "but it is both a challenging and a satisfying role that includes addressing a variety of important issues.

"For instance, I'm working with a group for the Banbridge and Craigavon Trust on a project about suicide in rural areas."

Securing the investment package came as welcome news, said William, for without it, he said, he and his colleagues simply wouldn't be there.

Meanwhile, speaking at the launch, DARD Deputy Secretary, Roy McClenaghan, said, "The money will be used to employ Rural Youth Liaison Officers who will form networks with young people and so encourage and create opportunities for them to play an active role in local rural organisations".

"The 'Bridging the Gap' Project plans to encourage organisations across rural Northern Ireland to recognise the potential of rural youth as a valuable resource.

"The YFCU aims to ensure that its skills training is made available to young people in rural communities that do not have access to this support at present."

Marnie O'Neill, Head of Corporate Relations, BT Northern Ireland, said BT was delighted at the success of the Bridging the Gap project.