Over the last few months, the youth sector in Northern Ireland has had to adapt to an unprecedented set of circumstances as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic. At Bytes, we have used our experience in digital and online youth work to continue delivering projects, as well as to find new ways to reach young people.

Engagement with existing groups of young people has taken various forms and has been flexible, depending on the needs of groups. At the start of the initial lockdown period, for example, young people in Moville, Co. Donnegal, took part in a weekly ‘Walk With Me’ challenge, where the group used an app to track the distance they walked each day and, with a prize for the participant with the largest distance. This served to keep the group connected with each other, as well as encouraging exercise & wellbeing. Since then, Bytes has also organised a series of online video and photo challenges for participants, and through our team in Derry-Londonderry has also been running regular online gaming nights for interested participants.

Meanwhile, our filmmaking skills have been used to organise a series of live streamed, remote interviews, where young people were able to ask community figures questions about both the lockdown and other issues. These have proved to be highly popular, as has the series of live streams on Health & Wellness that we have organised with our partners TIDES Training.

At the same time, young people taking part in programmes that include formal qualifications have been supported in completing these via Google Classroom and other platforms. OCN qualifications have been completed and we are looking at ways to expand this service from September as needed.

We have also continued to look for new ways to engage with young people, as well as continuing to recruit new groups for our existing programmes. Several new cohorts on the EU Funded Peace Bytes programme in Belfast and Derry-Londonderry have been organised during lockdown, with young people beginning an online version of the 30-week Peace Bytes scheme. Meanwhile, we have been working with a range of external stakeholders to find new methods of engagement. These include a scheme, with Belfast City Council, to set up a series of Tech Sheds in Belfast's Family Support Hubs so that young people from disadvantaged backgrounds have access to tech at home. This is something that is vital considering the digital nature of school and college teaching during the Covid-19 restrictions.

As some restrictions have been lifted during the summer, we have also been able to deliver care packages to groups members at home, as well as beginning to plan socially distanced meet ups with some groups (as pictured above, with members of one of our groups meeting with their youth worker in Derry-Londonderry). It is hoped that this trend can continue and that face-to-face group work will be able to resume soon. However, until it is safe to do so, we are continuing to use digital platforms to work with young people across Northern Ireland.