Funding to ‘change lives’ of vulnerable

A Derry project supporting young people with learning disabilities who are at risk of becoming isolated and dropping out of education has been awarded a grant from the Big Lottery Fund.

Liberty Consortium has been awarded a grant of £444,264 from the Big Lottery Fund’s Reaching out: Empowering Young People programme which supports young people most at risk in Northern Ireland, including those who have been in care, involved in crime or disengaged from education. The local charity will use the funding to run a range of training and education programmes for vulnerable young people aged 15-19 with learning disabilities to help ensure they get the chance to achieve their goals and aspirations when they move into adult life.

Based at the charity’s Playtrail site on Derry City’s Racecourse Road, the project will offer the young people training in horticulture and gardening, education and life skills courses and a range of community activities.

Transition Coordinator Orla Drummond explained that, by improving the young people’s skills and education, the project will boost their confidence and self-esteem, improve their chances of gaining employment and help keep them involved in community life.

She said: “We will be working with young people aged 15-19 across the North West with moderate to severe learning disabilities. We want to improve their skills so when they leave school and move into adult life they don’t end up sitting at home or in a day care centre with nothing to do, without aspirations, feeling worthless and isolated.

“By 19 young people with learning disabilities are three times as likely as other young people to become disengaged from education.

“Once they leave school there just aren’t many opportunities out there for them.

“This can lead to a lack of confidence and self worth, they are less likely to gain training and jobs, and more likely to experience poor physical and mental health and long term unemployment.”

She continued: “We will offer a horticultural programme, run by North West Regional College, to teach the young people gardening, growing plants, fruit and veg from seed, and maintaining the area.

“We will also provide accredited training courses in life and independence skills covering skills such as numeracy and literacy, IT and foreign languages, courses on things like cooking and money management, and a personal development programme aimed at boosting confidence and self-esteem.

“We will be working with young people with different levels of ability to develop their skills so they can stay involved in community life or go on to further education, work placements or jobs.

“The project is helping them become independent and giving them the skills and education to make informed decisions about their own future, while also showing the wider community that young people with learning disabilities can play important roles in everyday life.”

Welcoming the funding announcement, Frank Hewitt, Big Lottery Fund NI Chair, said: “I am delighted that we are announcing the first grants awarded through our £20 million Empowering Young People programme to support the most vulnerable and isolated young people in our society.

“Organisations in Northern Ireland can apply now for grants of up to £500,000 to run projects that will help this group of young people transform their lives through activities such as training and employment schemes, one-to-one crisis support, mentoring programmes and street outreach work.”