Emer Loughran and Colum Duffy are Area Managers from Probation Board For Northern Ireland (PBNI) who jointly manage the Probation Team in North Belfast. They jointly manage 24 staff who operate out of Duncairn Gardens which is an interface area and flashpoint for sectarian tensions.
North Belfast is an area with a complex political and social landscape. Some of the difficulties experienced by the local community include a high number of suicide deaths, low educational outcomes, poor health and high deprivation levels. A third of children live in poverty. The area has also suffered as a result of the legacy of the ‘Troubles’. A very significant number of deaths occurred in the area over the 30 year period of conflict.
The teamwork was hard with a significant caseload in the area. At present, within the team, we are supervising 436 community Orders and Licence supervision. We are also supervising 74 Community Service Orders involved in completing work in the local community.
Unsurprisingly many of the service users PBNI work with have poor mental health and addictions issues. Emer explains: “The North Belfast Team is a busy team working in the centre of a very complex urban area. Many of the people we work with have very deep-rooted mental health and addiction issues. A large proportion of people on the caseload have been misusing prescription drugs, and we have seen an increase in the numbers using drugs like heroin. This means we need to invest a lot of time and effort into trying to change very ingrained behaviours”.
Colum continues: “There is a very energetic community and voluntary sector in the area and we work closely with community partners to enhance service user’s employability and training. We also work with sporting organisations that can help individual’s build their confidence and self-esteem. We have strong working relationships with accommodation providers in the area and our staff link in with local mental health organisations including Old See House which is a Community Mental Health Resource Centre and Lighthouse which provide assessment and care for those who are mentally ill and the.”
Emer states: “We also have a very close partnership with the local police and work together through the ‘Reducing Offending in Partnership’ arrangements to tackle prolific offenders. This initiative has made a real difference in reducing crime and improving community safety.”
“We also have a very successful community service team who work with service users to enable them to pay back to local communities. Work squads carry out work in local churches and community hubs. The local communities really benefit from service users carry out unpaid work for the benefit of local people.”
Colum concludes: “While north Belfast has significant challenges the work carried out by the local probation team is making a real difference in changing lives for safer communities.”