Restorative Justice Week 2016 - A Volunteer’s experience of working with the Youth Justice Agency in Newtownards

Date published: 23 November 2016

Restorative practice is at the core of all that the Youth Justice Agency delivers for young people who offend, for their victims, and indeed for the communities within which they reside.

Andrena Murray
Andrena Murray receives her Youth Justice Agency “Commendation for contribution to Volunteering” certificate from Justice Minister Claire Sugden

Many of these restorative and reparative activities are delivered through the use of Volunteers and today, as part of Restorative Justice Week 2016, we have an opportunity to hear of the experiences of one such person, Andrena Murray, who is from Bangor but who works as a Volunteer with the Youth Justice Agency’s Eastern Area Team, based in Newtownards.

Andrena was commended for her contribution to volunteering at the Youth Justice Agency’s annual volunteer awards 2016, and was presented with her certificate by Justice Minister Claire Sugden. At an evening reception held in June, the Justice Minister acknowledged the valuable role that volunteers like Andrena play in helping divert young people from crime and said:

“Volunteers are positive role models for young people, assisting them in making good choices about their lives and diverting them from crime. They can really help young people develop the skills and maturity they need as they move towards adulthood”.

Andrena’s experience of working as a volunteer with the Youth Justice Agency is illustrated below in Q&A format:-

What did you know about the Youth Justice Agency (YJA) prior to becoming a volunteer?

I knew that the YJA worked with young offenders.  I work in education and am involved in a number of community based education programmes – as part of that I provide Secretariat for a cross departmental group set up to support the Children and Young People Zone in the Shankill and the YJA is represented on that group.  This provided useful background on the work that YJA is involved in.

Why did you want to volunteer with children referred to YJA?

I work for the Department of Education and part of my remit is to improve links between schools and the community, encouraging and facilitating them to work together to help alleviate underachievement, especially in areas of high deprivation.  In the course of this work, I became more aware of the many challenges that young people face and that for some of them to get through the school gates in the morning is an achievement.  I think that departments need to work together to help our young people.  No single department can do it in isolation and there is strength and value in working on a cross departmental basis – we all have a role to play.  When the advertisement came up for volunteering, it seemed like a natural progression for me from my day job.  And if I could help in any small way then it was definitely a worthwhile investment of my time.

What qualities and skills did you bring to your volunteering role?

I think that I bring an open, non-judgemental mind.  I’m prepared to get stuck in to whatever needs to be done.  I’m consistent and determined.  I think that young people who are in the system are perhaps waiting to be let down. Therefore, being consistent lets them know that you will be there for them, no matter what.  I have worked with young people before (a leader in youth organisations, running craft classes for young people with special needs, working with my son’s football team).  I am able to react quickly to different situations and can adapt my style of communicating with different people.

How would you describe your volunteering experience with the YJA?

The volunteering experience has been really great!  It has really opened my eyes to what some of our young people are dealing with on a day to day basis.  I loved the training which we had to undergo to become a volunteer.  The time that the staff have invested in the training programme shows that they value the role of the volunteer.  I have learnt so much during the training period and subsequently on other training courses that I have undertaken in relation to dealing with young people (mental health issues, and drugs and alcohol).  I have met such a diverse group of people and have even made some new friends.    The support that is provided by my key worker within the YJA has been invaluable.

What skills have you developed during your volunteering with the YJA?

I have become more aware of the issues that young people face and am more informed in issues surrounding drugs and alcohol.  In addition, I have become more tolerant and have also learnt not to take things too personally.   If a young person doesn’t engage it may not necessarily be down to anything that I may or may not have done. I have found that sometimes the work can be upsetting and challenging but I have learnt that it is important to remain committed and be a constant in the young person’s life.  I have also learnt how important it is to commit to something only if you are able to follow through with it.

Do you think the YJA is making a difference to the lives of young people, the families and community in general?

I think the YJA is definitely making a difference to most of those that are in the system.  Since volunteering, I have realised just how much they actually do.  I think a very important part of their work is facilitating meetings between the offenders and the victims. This is such a positive thing for everyone involved and it is also commendable that they are using volunteers in such a constructive way.  As a volunteer I certainly feel that I could be making a difference to young people and if I help them to make better choices and not reoffend then this in turn will help them, help their families and make the community a better place to live in.  Also, turning around someone’s life and getting them back on the right track means that they will be more able to contribute to the community in which they live.

Notes to editors: 

  • Restorative Justice Week 2016 runs from 21-25 November 2016
  • Andrena Murray received a commendation for her contribution to volunteering at the Youth Justice Agency’s annual volunteer awards evening reception held in Lisburn on 29 June 2016
  • Andrena was presented with her award by Justice Minister Claire Sugden
  • Media enquiries should be directed to George Lowry on 028 9031 6421 or 07717 732691. Alternatively email

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