A Derry man who attends the Destined learning disability facility in Derry has spoken of his joy at getting the chance to help build their state of the art new centre.
Daniel McLaughlin (27), from Lettershandoney, has been taken on as a construction worker by Woodvale Construction Limited and has now commenced work with his new colleagues on building what will be the first purpose-built learning disability centre in Ireland.
Construction is now well underway beside the current Destined premises at the Foyle Valley Railway Museum site on Foyle Road.
Daniel has been a member of Destined since he finished training at the North West Regional College around a decade ago and he said of his early days there: “It was good. I liked meeting other people and as the years went on I was looking after pigeons and doing the car wash.”
Through Destined, Daniel was also given the opportunity to work at Gortlee Social Farm in Claudy, which provides people with disabilities with the chance to gain farming skills.
Daniel went out on the pilot scheme and ended up staying there for two years.
“I was feeding cattle, cutting turf, putting sheep into different fields. We put a fence up. I enjoyed learning all the different experiences, cleaning out sheds and stuff,” he said.
He has also undertaken a very successful six month placement with Derry City & Strabane District Council’s Environmental Department at Brooke Park as part of the WAM (What About Me) Project between Destined, Foyle Down Syndrome Trust and the local council.
The aim of the WAM project involves working for the full inclusion of people with a learning disability into the vast civic, social and economic life of the council area, to end disadvantage and improve the lives of people with disabilities.
ON THE SITE
Following on from all his past experience, Daniel said he is delighted to be given the opportunity to work with Woodvale. “I started last Monday as a labourer. I’m learning new skills, learning how to mix cement and I was stacking blocks there this morning for the bricklayer. I get on well with them.”
Daniel, who will work on the site until its completion, said the craic was good on site and he hoped the skills he is now learning will stand him in good stead for a potential future career in the industry.
He is also looking forward to seeing the new centre open.
Construction is due to be completed in April, 2019 and the new facility is expected to be fully operation by September. “I can’t wait. There’s a lot of excitement,” he said.
Hardly surprising really because as well as attending the new centre, Daniel will also have helped build it. And his new construction role hasn’t gone unnoticed by his friends next door in Destined’s current building.
“Whenever I am out on site now they are looking out the window to see me and see what I am at every day.”
Daniel said joining Destined has been life-changing and that the charity has been “very helpful” in ensuring he has a broad base of new skills.
Dermot O’Hara, Director at Destined, said: “It’s brilliant for Daniel. We have always said that Daniel is very capable and would end up working.
“When we were doing the contract with Woodvale, we put in about the Social Employment clauses for people in the ‘hard to reach’ category and Woodvale have been very proactive about it. They have been down this road before and the door was open.
“Daniel met the foreman Shane a few times beforehand and they smoothed the way for him coming in.”
When the new Learning Disability Centre opens next year, it will be offering services to local people from birth right through to old age.
“Alongside that,” Dermot said, “the whole idea of it is to promote social inclusion so we will be inviting the wider community to come in and use the facilities and integrate with our people and then for our people to go out and be included in the community.”
The Learning Disability Centre is one of three flagship Big Lottery’s Space and Place funded projects across Northern Ireland.
HISTORIC TRAIN RETURNING
The current Destined building, meanwhile, is to refurbished to become disability compliant with funding from the Northern Ireland Executive Office’s Urban Villages initiative.
In another exciting development, the iconic red Meenglas train is due to be returned to the Foyle Road site over the coming days, a year after it was taken away for major refurbishment.
A launch event is being planned to mark its return as part of the Meenglas Project, which involved a partnership between Destined members and students from St. Mary’s College and St. Joseph’s Boys’ School.
The team were involved in researching the history of the five railways that once operated locally and to set up the opportunity for people to tell their stories of the railways.
Those students collected memories from people who remember the old lines will be unveiled at the launch.
This will also mark the establishment of a new Foyle Valley Railway Preservation Society and it is hoped all this will take place this side of Christmas.