Just the ticket!
“It’s great that I had the opportunity to do this,” Fianna Fail leader Micheal Martin said before leaving the big, bright bus to tackle the tail-end of the campaign trail on the eve of Election 2011. “I think it has been the most impactful campaign of the election, which is difficult. This is the one that stood out… fundamentally, it affects people.”
For Communication Executive Amy Colgan, this was one moment that really affirmed what Get On Board For Youth Mental Health was all about, and what it was trying to achieve. “One of many!” she smiles before attempting an edited highlights of a colourful campaign that clearly has a thousand tales to tell.
Get On Board, Amy explains, came about when four organisations with one common concern got together just a month ahead of the recent general election. Reachout.com, Foróige, BelongTo and Headstrong.
all decided they’d make a joint effort to push young people’s mental health to the forefront of the political agenda.
Simon McKeagney, the campaign’s Creative Director, devised a wonderful, positive strategy aimed at making plenty of noise around the issue, by catching eyes and capturing imaginations. “We wanted toget people talking – and we wanted to make this something that people would be glad to support. We had a serious message – but we wanted to say, this is what’s happening and you can do something about it. That positivity was something that young people could respond to,” Amy said.
Spearheaded by energetic Campaign Manager, Elaine Geraghty, a website was to be a central hub to the campaign, Amy said. “We needed it to do a lot of things – it had to be easy to use, it had to strike the right tone and give the right message and, most of all, it had to empower young people to do something.” So the moment that the striking, user-friendly getonboard.ie went live was a pivotal one for all involved. “That was an exciting time. And we’re keen now to find a way to keep up the website; to carry it forward and keep young people connected.”
A really appealing aspect of the campaign was the physical bus – a shiny blue and pink branded double-decker – which candidates, young people and the simply curious were all invited to Get On Board, as it plotted a busy route around the country on the campaign trail.
Amy and her colleagues began by contacting as many would-be TDs as they could, asking for their support and a statement of intent as regards making youth mental health an issue in the Dáil. Those who responded, or who turned up to the bus to talk about their commitment to the cause, were then proclaimed to be ‘On Board’ – and their photos were duly displayed bearing an oversized ‘I’m on board!’ bus ticket.
“When the candidates started contacting us themselves, we knew we must be doing something right. In all, 192 candidates came on board, which was amazing given the volume of everything else that was going on around us,” said Amy.
“We met and chatted to each of the leaders from the three main parties, which was really important. In the time following the election we’ve written to all of the on-board candidates to thank them and to offer them some ideas for what they could do to improve youth mental health in Ireland. These are simple, realistic proposals that are very achievable, even allowing for budget constraints.
“This is a really urgent, serious need. Young people need to be given the skills to cope before a problem emerges. All of the young people we spoke to on the bus, from Tallaght to Tralee, Galway to Limerick, they were all so clued in. All they lack is the resources. Something can and must be done about that.”
So the bus was a beacon for two weeks in February, and the website lives on – but did Get On Board have an impact on the all-important programme for government?
“We were really pleased to see that mental health was given great prominence, and that the need for age-appropriate services was asserted. While there wasn’t specific mention of youth mental health, this was definite progress,” said Amy.
“But a really important part of it all was engaging young people themselves – because if you change young minds, you change everyone’s: you change the future.”
Between dancing with buskers on a sunny Eyre Square; serenading students at UL; painting a legal graffiti wall in Cork with Kev Robert; ducking for shelter and sweets on the bus with the kids in rainy Athlone; swinging frisbee in Ballymun; and a right old jamboree with Jigsaw in Tralee – in the short time that they had, Get On Board certainly did something pretty special to energise youth involvement up and down the country.
Written by Therese McKenna
Published in Y Now magazine in their spring 2011 edition.