South Belfast employment project creates 120 jobs for long term unemployed

By | Corporate, News, Newsroom

One hundred and twenty long term unemployed people are now in a new job thanks to a forward-looking three year jobs programme in South Belfast funded by the Social Investment Fund (SIF) under the Delivering Social Change framework.

EmployAbility South has helped find jobs for people who have been unable to find work because of low educational attainment, disability and health issues, lack of experience and other factors.

More than 500 people took part in the programme – with many leaving with either full-time employment, increased skills, mentoring support or work experience.

As the project finishes this month (March 2018), the organisation that delivered the programme, GEMS NI will continue to seek new funding to help support more people and give them the hope of a new chance in life.

EmployAbility South Programme manager Stephen Atkinson said they had more than doubled their jobs’ target and they now have a waiting list of employers seeking people for placement.

“We set out with a target of getting 50 people into work and have absolutely surpassed our expectations. Our clients have had 216 work placements and attained 1,000 plus qualifications; many are people who have in the past had barriers to employment so this is a significant achievement. Seventy per cent of people with a work placement ended up getting employment because of the qualifications, education and skills they received.”

The success of the project is due to the extra support and mentoring individuals received, he explained.

“By offering assistance with childcare and transport, this programme was much more accessible for people on benefits. It made going on a work placement affordable. In addition, we spent a great deal of time working with individuals, assessing their needs and skills and developing their confidence to get into the workplace. Then we worked with them to find a job that they were best suited to,” he said.

One successful area was childcare training. Of the 25+ participants who received qualifications in this discipline, 16 to date have secured post programme employment.

Mr Atkinson added: “They had the opportunity of six month’s work placement along with childcare training one day a week, leading to NVQ Level 2 qualifications. They were learning, earning and we were assisting with their transport and childcare costs. They were also meeting a need as there is a shortage of childcare staff in Northern Ireland.”

The programme officially winds up at the end of March and included a special celebration event on March 15 at the Wellington Park Hotel, one of the employers that participated in the programme. The hotel offered three work placements and employed two people.

Jamie Annet who now has a full time job at the Wellington Park Hotel as a result of taking part in the programme said the decision to participate had changed his life.

He said: “After leaving college I spent an entire year applying for jobs – I must have put in over a hundred applications. It was such a low point in my life, I was really feeling depressed, sitting around the house doing nothing. EmployAbility South gave me the chance to build up my skills and self-confidence. They re-worked my CV, I did two qualifications and they helped focus my job hunt. My three month placement has turned into a full time job and I have recently been promoted to supervisor.”

Participating employers came from the private, public and voluntary sectors. One of the companies offering placements and providing employment was Usel (Ulster Supported Employment Ltd) a social enterprise based in Cambrai Street.

Usel took on 15 participants and recruiting eight of them for full time positions. Chief Executive Bill Atkinson said:  “Usel were delighted to work in partnership with the EmployAbility South team.  Over the last year we have developed a strategic partnership that has allowed us to achieve mutually beneficial outcomes to support people into employment particularly those with a disability or health condition.  Championing ability is at the core of everything we do and therefore to have provided a significant number of sustainable jobs in partnership with EmployAbility South has been an extremely positive outcome”.

A spokesperson from The Executive Office said, “This project underpins what the Social Investment Fund set out to do; improve people’s lives. With seventy per cent of people in a work placement securing permanent employment and over a thousand qualifications achieved, it has empowered local people to change their lives for the better. Through the Social Investment Fund, the NI Executive invested £2.2 million in this project and it is great to see how this has really benefitted those most in need across South Belfast”

Holyland Spring Gathering bigger than ever

By | Festivals

The alternative St Patrick’s Day celebrations in the Holyland area of South Belfast are more ambitious than ever this year with a week-long festival from March 17-24.

The Spring Gathering, co-ordinated by the South Belfast Partnership Board and funded by Belfast City Council’s Community Festival Fund and the Department for Communities, brings together residents and visitors to enjoy a safe, family friendly festival.

The main event is on St Patrick’s Day itself with a host of fun activities taking place in the grounds of Union Theological College in Botanic Avenue from 12-4pm.

Highlights include a Street Ceili, a Drumming Circle, a café serving multi-ethnic food and Heritage Tours by local historian and academic Eamonn Phoenix of the college, including the room where the first Northern Ireland Parliament met and also the historic Friar’s Bush Cemetery.

Brid Ruddy, Holyland resident and Community Director of South Belfast Partnership, said this annual festival has continued to go from strength to strength, developing new partnerships and bringing more communities together.

“We have developed a new partnership with Union Theological College and its students, raising the profile of the festival and highlighting the rich cultural and historical nature of the area. We are expecting more visitors from all over Belfast, who may have been apprehensive coming into the Holyland area. This should be beneficial to the traders in Botanic Avenue.

“This festival had small beginnings but is continuing to grow to include all faiths and ethnic communities coming together in celebration. We are a highly diverse range of communities working collaboratively in the area to deliver such a great event. South Belfast Partnership Board is coordinating and managing the delivery with us as a regeneration vehicle whose mission is to empower communities in partnership to bring about positive change”

This year, the organisers have also joined up with Donegall Pass Community Forum and Accidental Theatre in Shaftesbury Square to extend the range of activities on offer.

This will include a Community Street Market in Donegall Pass on March 22 from 1-7pm with artisan food, craft and community stalls, children’s play area, music and storytelling.

On March 17, Accidental Theatre will feature a Repair Café in association with Tools for Solidarity, a lunchtime documentary and the Orpheus Ball bringing together Irish and Northern Irish musicians for an alternative St Patrick’s Day extravaganza.

From March 18-24 the theatre also features children’s performances, a comedy improv night, acting workshops and a clowning skills workshop and theatre performances. Full details are on the website.

Queen’s University Belfast is another valuable partner and on March 22 from 12.30-2pm staff and student volunteers will join residents for a litter pick-up in the Holyland area followed by lunch.

This event has been organised by Queen’s Environmental Team, Students’ Union and Community Engagement with the support of Belfast City Council.  To find out more, contact

On March 24 from 12-4pm there is the launch of a community green trail map at ‘Horsey Hill’ pop-up village green at Collingwood Avenue in the Holyland, including a multi-sensory play area, seed planting and food and entertainment.

To check the Spring Gathering programme go to

Young people urged to address the ‘Elephant in the Room’ of mental health

By | News

Northern Ireland’s teenagers are being urged to complete an online mental health survey that will lead to the most comprehensive report of their views ever carried out in Northern Ireland.

The survey is part of the Elephant in the Room project run by the Youth Mental Health Steering Committee made up of members of the Northern Ireland Youth Forum, Belfast City Council Youth Forum and the Youth Advisory Panel to the Children’s Law Centre (youth@clc).

The committee aims to produce a detailed report in September that it is hoped will inform Government policy into youth mental health.

The survey, which went live at the beginning of 2018, is open until the end of March. So far more than 700 young people have responded but the organisers are urging more young people to have their say.

Amanda Stewart, one of the project’s co-ordinators, said:  “We need to get as many respondents as possible to make this report on mental health as wide ranging as possible. We would appeal to all young people to go online now and complete the survey.

“Our aim is to expose the ‘elephant in the room’ – the Government’s ongoing failure to provide adequate strategies and services to combat the rising number of young people affected by mental ill health, self-harming and suicide, despite the overwhelming amount of evidence presented to them by NGOs, practitioners and children and young people themselves in recent years.”

Niamh Mallaghan from Belfast City Council Youth Forum added: “Elephant in the Room is a campaign for young people by young people who care about making significant change to mental health services in Northern Ireland. We care about making sure young people’s voices are heard because we are the people who aren’t getting the services that we desperately, not only want, but need. We won’t let this campaign rest until change is made because something has to be done and young people are going to make sure it happens.”

By using the evidence gathered from their own peer research, the committee is aiming to achieve the following outcomes, on behalf of all present and future generations of children and young people:

  • Change public perceptions of mental health by promoting greater awareness and understanding of mental health i.e. challenging the myths, supporting the facts and reducing the‘stigma’.
  • Encourage/support more young people to talk about mental health and by doing so increase the likelihood that they will seek help if and when they need it.
  • Engage with key decision makers at departmental and ministerial level on young people’s recommendations for change needed to improve mental health education programmes, young people’s access to early intervention support, using evidence gathered from the survey, focus groups and conferences and the social media campaign.
  • Advocate for increased funding for Child and Adolescent Mental Health Services (CAMHs) and make it more accessible to young people in line with the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child’s 2016 recommendations to Government.

To complete the survey go to:


NI Social Enterprise on top of the World

By | General

A Northern Ireland social enterprise that creates jobs for people with disabilities has been recognised as one of the world’s leading green businesses.

Usel (Ulster Supported Employment Limited) won the Green Apple World Environmental Award for Environmental Best Practice at a presentation ceremony in Dubai, beating off the challenge of more than 500 other international organisations.

Bill Atkinson, CEO of Usel said: “We are delighted to have won a Green Apple Award, one of the world’s most prestigious environmental awards. Previous winners include Canon, Vauxhall and George at Asda so for a social enterprise from Northern Ireland to be recognised on this world platform is a special honour.”

Usel’s many projects include a thriving recycling business saving thousands of mattresses from ending up in landfill and creating new jobs for people with disabilities and health-related conditions.

The company disassembles the mattresses into components such as foam, polyester, ticking and steel which are sent on for further processing and reused for things like carpet underlay, equestrian surfacing, acoustic dampening for cars and the steel springs are shredded so they can be melted down for re-use.

Mr Atkinson added: “Usel are fully committed to environmental best practice through the delivery of a Circular Economy model across Northern Ireland in partnership with local authorities”.

The company’s winning paper will be published in The Green Book, the leading international work of reference on environmental best practice, so that others around the world can follow their example and learn from their achievement.

The Green Apple awards were established in 1994 to find the world’s greenest countries, companies and communities.

They are organised by The Green Organisation, an international, independent, non-political, non-profit environment group dedicated to recognising, rewarding and promoting environmental best practice around the world.

They are supported by the Environment Agency, the Chartered Institute of Environmental Health, the Chartered Institution for Waste Management and other independent bodies.