Northern Ireland

Lough Erne retreat provides 'safe place' for troubled youth

Canoeing on the water
Image caption Roscor youth village is on the shores of Lower Lough Erne

The last year has been a long journey for 17-year-old Justin Metcalfe.

"This time last year, I was in Galway in a hospital because I had attempted some horrible things on myself," he said.

"It was a poor time in my life, I've just never had it easy."

Due to his difficulties, Justin was referred to Roscor youth village on the shores of Lower Lough Erne.

It provides short-term and short-notice residential visits for children in need.

"I came here and I started going out - started the canoeing, the trampolining, the boats, the climbing, the zip-lines, all that opened my eyes and made me realise, why have I wasted a year doing nothing, when there's so much out there to do, to experience, to learn?"

'Safe place'

For the past 21 years, Roscor has been a presence in the lives of more than 40,000 young people from Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland, whenever they have needed a little more support.

Mark Rogers, who has worked there since it opened in 1997, says it offers "respite from whatever is going on in their lives".

Image caption Mark Rogers says the children get a chance to "just enjoy themselves" at Roscor

As the western regional services manager for Extern, which runs Roscor, he has seen everything that can bring children to Roscor and how their lives can change by being there.

"Within their home, or their current care settings, there can be a whole variety of things - there can be mental ill health, ill health itself, low-income families, it could be anything," he said.

"So, what we try to do is help out and provide a safe place.

"If we can get them to leave down those worries they do have, just take time to step back and just enjoy themselves, just to play, then they get a chance to unwind and forget about things that have been worrying them in the background."

Peace work

As the site comes of age, thoughts are turning to keeping it a refuge long into the future.

"I think the challenges that young people face today are very different from the challenges they faced 21 years ago," said Gavin Adams, business development manager at Extern.

"The legislation has changed as well, so we need to make sure the site here meets the needs of these young people and meets the requirements of the legislation, so that they can make a positive contribution to society."

Image caption Gavin Adams says Brexit will mean we will have access to less funding

Brexit is also causing concern for Mr Adams and the team.

"One of the biggest challenges we are currently facing are the challenges arising from the UK's withdrawal from the European Union," he said.

"Brexit will mean we will have access to less funding, so ultimately that could mean fewer and fewer young people will have access to the peace and reconciliation work we pride ourselves on."

First splash

But for now the work continues, and the latest group of 40 children have been taken down to the lough.

Amid largely-unheeded cries of "don't splash me", some are enjoying the water for the first time.

"We did all these water sports and canoed to this island, where we played all these games," 13-year-old Niamh said.

"The best part was canoeing back because I've never canoed before."

For many, it is not their first visit.

Fresh out of the water, 11-year old Shea guzzles hot orange juice and a chocolate biscuit, and through teeth that chatter despite the wetsuit, he says he has been at Roscor three times.

"Me and my brother, when we are coming here we are so excited," he said.

"You come here if you have something to do with a social worker.

"It's just to help you out with your problems and all.

"It's really fun, so you just push your problems aside and just have fun, you don't let them get in your way."

Future plans

His new-found friend Mark, who is nine, is on his first visit.

"I usually don't go in the water, swimming and all - I usually just go on my bike or I'm playing on the Xbox.

"This is great."

For others, like 15-year-old Chantelle, it has inspired them not just to try new things, but to make plans for their future.

"I am actually at the minute doing childcare for my GCSEs, so I'm trying to get in to something like this when I'm older.

"It would be the dream to come back and work with children like me now."