Through learning, knowledge sharing, and nurturing the skills required to discuss important issues constructively, PiA supports young people to be actively engaged citizens, creating a more equitable, inclusive political landscape.
Politics in Action was founded by former BBC and Discovery Executive, Peter Weil. Peter hails from Northern Ireland but spent most of his career working as Head of Youth Programmes, BBC Northern Ireland, Head of Topical Features, BBC Network and General Manager, Animal Planet International. He was also CEO of CTVC, which is part of the Rank Foundation. He established PiA on an entirely voluntary basis and ran and developed the organisation for four years. The organisation was developed to support his belief that young people should have their voices heard at the heart of Government.
In 2018, the first school partnership between St Dominic' Grammar School for Girls in Belfast and Friends’ School Lisburn was established. Peter invited some incredible people to form our first board and allow Politics in Action to apply for funding. Early support from the Rank Foundation and the David Cross Young People's Fund allowed us to grow our network of schools. Our accountant John Magee provided fantastic support to Peter's voluntary commitment.
In Spring 2020, PiA had to adapt fast to the challenges of an unfolding pandemic – working with our funders and school partners, we ensured that we could continue to work with young people in clusters of schools virtually, whether they were in school or at home.
A series of ‘Town Hall’ sessions allowed us to bring high-profile speakers to a greater number of young people and schools, including; Deputy First Minister Michele O’Neill, DUP Leader Sir Jeffrey Donaldson MP, Education Minister Peter Weir (now Lord Weir), UUP Leader Doug Beattie, Alliance Party Leader and Justice Minister Naomi Long, SDLP leader Colm Eastwood MP and (then) Tánaiste Leo Varadkar.
Funding from the Irish Department of Foreign Affairs (Reconciliation Fund) and then the National Lottery Community Fund in 2021 allowed us to continue and develop our work in local cross community clusters involving over 25 schools. In partnership with Start 360, we worked with Castle Tower School in Ballymena, supporting students with additional learning needs.
We hired our first Executive Director – Dr. Patricia O’Lynn - in November 2021, and Peter retired at the end of December 2021. Patricia worked on developing our practice model and plans for the future. She left in May 2022 to pursue her political career, and was elected to the Northern Ireland Assembly.
In February 2022 the organisation became a charity registered with the Northern Ireland Charity Commission.
Paul Smyth became our second Executive Director in June 2022, bringing his extensive experience of active citizenship and good relations work in schools and youth work settings to help us think about the next stages of our development. He has been building a more robust organisation, managing a rebrand with young people, and working with the Board to clarify our vision and values for the years ahead.
Our Treasurer Antoinette Burke and freelance Finance Manager, Colleen Thompson have worked hard to get our finances into top shape as we work with our funders and identify new sources of support
In September 2022, we moved into our first office at Mediation House in Belfast. Funding from the International Fund for Ireland allowed us to establish a cross-border partnership between Portadown College in Co. Armagh with Loreto College in Milford, Donegal.
This allowed us to hire our second staff member Dr. Thérèse Cullen who had previously worked as one of our freelance facilitators. In December, we also hired Catherine Kilgallen as Office Administrator.
In January 2023, Ireland Funds, Heart of the Community grant supports a young person-centred evaluation project, where young people are trained as evaluators and will be actively involved in collecting information to demonstrate the impact of our work.
On 18 April 2023 we were part of the incredible events at Queen's University to commemorate the 25th Anniversary of the Belfast/Good Friday Agreement - bringing 250 young people to share their ideas for the future.
In June 2023 new funding from IFI has ensured the extension of our cross-border 'Poreto' project. The Department of Foreign Affairs and the Ireland Funds have awarded new grants that help to secure our core costs for the year ahead.
We have exciting plans for the next few years, with details to follow. If we have missed something important on this timeline, please tell us as we are keen to continue developing it as our story unfolds. Check back too - there are many exciting things in our future!