16 Dec 2004

Comments by Nigel Williams, the Northern Ireland Commissioner for Children and Young People at the launch of the PSNI URZONE website on Thursday 16th December at the Innovation Centre Belfast.

It is a tremendous pleasure for me to be here at the launch of the URZONE web site and I would like to congratulate all those who have been involved in its production. I know that we are also taking the opportunity today to reward a number of school pupils who have won prizes in the Chief Constable’s Christmas Anti-Bullying Poster competition.

So before I say something about the web site I would like to say a few words about dealing with bullying. My office recently did a major piece of research to find out what issues most concerned children and young people in Northern Ireland, and where they felt their rights were most threatened. One issue that came out as a very strong concern was bullying. We also know from Childline’s figures that the main issue prompting young people to phone them is bullying.

And in my first year as Commissioner for Children and Young People I have dealt with a number of individual complaints about bullying. I have also recently met with the Education Minister Barry Gardiner to stress the importance of the Department making sure that schools really do develop and carry through their bullying policies.

I have to say though, that in the middle of all this activity, I think the most effective way of getting across the message about bullying is for young people themselves to do so – through being involved in the approach schools take to dealing with bullying, and through media like this poster competition. So I would like to congratulate all those who are going to get prizes later. I hope your posters get displayed in your own school, and get bullies to think twice.

Before I took up my current position as the Commissioner for Children and Young People, I spent 8 years founding and then developing the international children’s charity, Childnet. The focus of Childnet’s work is to help make the internet a great and safe place for children. I am glad to say that the charity continues to go from strength to strength in both promoting positive internet use by children and young people, and in ensuring that use is safe.

While I was at Childnet I spent a lot of my time looking at web sites for children. I helped write a book published by Usborne on 101 things to do on the Internet. I chaired the judges for an annual award programme which attracted over 200 entries annually from around the world of innovative online work involving young people. In summary, I have probably looked at more websites for young people than you have had hot dinners!

But I have now been out of that world for just over a year. It was tremendously refreshing for me therefore to have the chance to look again in detail at a web site aimed at young people – the  URZONE site.

My criteria for a great web site for young people are as follows: It must be interactive, it must be fun, it must not be patronizing, it must be updated regularly, and it must have practical information. In Northern Ireland there is the additional challenge of reaching all the community.

So I have looked at the Urzone site with these criteria in mind. Let me give you my quick assessment:

  • Interactivity – the site is bubbling with things for young people to do. The designers have not fallen into the trap of simply making it a booklet that has been put online. They have taken advantage of the Internet’s features and made it truly interactive, and they have included an opportunity for feedback.
  • Fun – I think the characters JJ Lou and Baz are great. The whole of the site has been designed to avoid being too heavy. I have to say this is very good, because a number of other sites done by Police Forces do end up being rather worthy.
  • Not patronizing – the messages on this site are carefully pitched as coming on a peer to peer basis rather than an authoritarian figure laying down the law.
  • Updated regularly – this launch is in fact and upgrade and improvement of the existing site which was already very good. The challenge for the developers will be to continue to keep it relevant. That means adding news each week, and doing a major overhaul at least once a year. You also need to think about what will keep visitors coming back to the site.
  • Practical information – well the site is brimming with this. The key issues is making it as accessible as possible, and again I think the designers have done a great job. I would suggest putting a few more links to external resources, which helps with the breadth of the information.
  • Reaching the community – considerable effort has been put in to make this site have very broad appeal. I think it would be very interesting to follow this up with some polling to see how it may have changed attitudes towards the PSNI.

So all in all, I think this is an excellent site – undoubtedly by far the best police service site I have seen. I would encourage schools and youth clubs to link to the site, I certainly intend to ensure that my own website www.niccy.org does link to Urzone.

So let us hope that Urzone becomes the zone for every young person in Northern Ireland.