A groundbreaking grass roots educational project in Derry is to be wound up within days after a shocking decision to stop its funding.
The Outer North Family Questing Project are now pinning on their hopes on an eleventh hour reprieve for their project after being told last week that they will no longer be funded past next week.
The Questing project was started up in January 2014 and since then has worked with 60 children and around 200 of their relatives in a pioneering educational initiative.
As well as fun educational trips, the project also visits families in the home and sets weekly educational family tasks, games, puzzles and goals which are carried out by parents and children together, with a focus on each individual member of the family.
The programme was rolled out to three groups of children- those transitioning from nursery to primary in schools across the Shantallow and Galliagh areas, kids moving from primary to secondary school in the same areas and Year 10s at St Brigid’s College about to enter their GCSEs.
Its aim was to improve literacy and numeracy and build up the confidence of the children and their parents, with many parents moving on to take up educational and employment opportunities themselves.
The families also liaise with other agencies if issues arise such as housing need.
The Family Questing Project was one of four distinct and different local initiatives in each neighbourhood renewal area funded through the same Community Education Initiative Project grant- each of them different.
The three staff and project manager at the Family Questing project however believe that the success of and need for their project in what is one of the most deprived areas of the north may have not have been fully understood when the decision to cut the funding was made.
Feedback from schools and families shows the project has been highly successful. So much so in fact that it was selected to be profiled as an example of good practice in a Department for Education video for the Every School’s A Good School(ESAGS) initiative.
Project manager Jacki Connolly, who is also manager of the Rainbow Child and Family Centre in Galliagh, said she was shocked sat the decision.
“It’s awful news, really awful, awful news,” she said. “I was gutted, particularly since it was working so well.
“This to me is a brilliant project and it has affected so many families.
“They have spent a year building up relationships with these families.”
The project has run over the past 15 months from St Brigid’s College on £65,000. This has included the wages for Questing Project co-ordinator Fiona Page and Community Learning Partners Ruth Heaney and Elaine Young, paying for games and equipment and educational packs and materials, as well as the money for day trips to places including Aviva Stadium to watch Ireland v USA, Belfast Zoo, Crumlin Road Jail, Portrush and Portstewart.
Having purchased the equipment, the Questing staff said that they could run the project for a mere £50,000 a year if necessary.
Ms Page said the project has been “really successful”.
She said: “Basically what we did throughout the year we worked with 60 families from Outer North in all the transition stages, where they are saying the money should go now.
“What was really different about our project, and I don’t think this was every done before, was we worked within the homes. We had trips where we took everybody in the family out for the day and they would have been educational trips and they would have got an educational pack to complete as a family, colouring in or quizzes, things like that.
“We did a summer scheme as well and we did 13 trips altogether. A lot of our families were really surprised because they wouldn’t have had access to these things. Some of families had never been to the beach together.”
Once the team got to know the families, they looked at the specific educational needs of each family.
Ruth Heaney and Elaine Young went out every week once a week to each of the families and gave them an educational pack including board games, jigsaws, and even i-Pads and Kindles for the older children.
“It was very tailor made to that specific family,” Ms Page said. “Everybody in the family had to do something. Then they were given a weekly task- play a game with each other, go to the library, provided with telescopes, electronics to show how electricity works and that for the older kids.
“The feedback was unbelievable. The big thing we noticed once we got to know people and we weren’t statutory, if there were other issues within the homes we could help out with that, signposting etc.
“Some parents went back to education. These are all the targets they keep saying in Stormont they want to hit.
“If there was any issues with school they were able to approach us and we were able to work with the schools and families.”
Ruth Heaney, Community Learning Partner, said: “We were going into the house to try and knock down any barriers to education and we were also helping people out with other social issues. It created capital.
“Parents are more confident in helping with their children’s education and in approaching the school as a result.”
Elaine Young added: “ They trusted us, that’s the bottom line. We’re a good team and it’s a great project.
“We even had a waiting list of 15 families from one school.”
The Questing Project team now plan to submit a report to the Department outlining the success of their project and are also hoping that if there is no reversal of the decision that other funders will step into the breach to help ensure it can continue.
The Department for Education were unable to deliver a response by the time of going to press.