Usel helps people with disabilities STRIDE Into Work

By | Business, Charities, General, News, Newsroom

A young Gilford man is one 75 people with disabilities who have found work thanks to the STRIDE Project run by Portadown based social enterprise Usel (Ulster Supported Employment Limited).

Twenty-year-old Joshua Ryans, who has autism, found lockdown very difficult and withdrew into himself but his life has been transformed after starting work part-time for industrial cleaning company ServiceMaster in Portadown.

Joshua said: “Usel really helped me get through the pandemic. At the start I did a number of courses with them and it was very motivational. The tutors are really nice and they pushed me on. I’ve got a job now and I’m really enjoying being part of a team.”

His mum, Joanne said Joshua has made unbelievable progress since joining the STRIDE project.

“They have given him the most amazing support, boosting his confidence and self-belief. They have done much more than find him a job, they have completely changed everything for him. Joshua is doing really well, he is just loving his job and is hoping to proceed into full-time employment,” she said.

Now the family are encouraging others to try Usel’s series of free events in May aimed at supporting more people into work. The company is holding two weeks of online activities including taster sessions and mental health and wellbeing support aimed at people with disabilities or health related conditions who wish to upskill or get support so that they can seek employment.

‘STRIDE Into Work’ will offer two week-long sets of activities and workshops starting on May 10 and 17 led by Usel’s experienced STRIDE team.

Mary McCann who manages the STRIDE (Support and Training to Realise Individual Development and Employment) project which is part funded through the Northern Ireland European Social Fund Programme 2014 – 2020 and the Department for the Economy, explained that the organisation has adapted over the past year to provide remote support and learning to its participants.

“We changed our curriculum to suit the new and evolving labour market, helping people to prepare for remote interviews and increase their skills to work in growth/priority areas. We concentrated on well-being – helping to look after mental health. There was a lot of focus on resilience and overcoming anxiety and fear,” she said.

The social enterprise continued to offer this support over the lockdown, delivering 982 courses over the past 12 months, with 58% of people who completed STRIDE finding work and 21% moving into further education or other training. Many of those found jobs in areas such as domestic and care work, retail, and logistics, including deliveries and warehousing.

The STRIDE project, which is free for all participants, works with people with disabilities or health conditions who are unemployed or working less than 16 hours per week.  The project is also accessible to those on furlough currently.

Mary said that many of the people referred to the STRIDE project found life during the pandemic very difficult and stressful.

“Many of the people we worked with had to isolate and found it difficult to engage online or didn’t want to think of work at first. But as lockdown progressed, people re-assessed their lives and wanted to get back into employment and wanted support to do that,” she said.

The company has offices in Belfast, Derry/Londonderry, Ballymena and Portadown but with everything moving online, they found they could reach even more people who would find it difficult attending face to face meetings.

Mary said: “Location is no longer a barrier and the number of people we can support has increased. This has been one of our most challenging years but also our most important year as an organisation. The people we support have massively improved their online and IT skills and this will be a huge benefit to them both personally and when they are seeking work.”

To find out more about the taster sessions in May, go to

New animated video focuses on young homeless people

By | General, News, Newsroom

The Stormont Executive must invest in better support services for young homeless people, including the provision of purpose-built youth accommodation.

The call comes as young people share their harrowing stories of life on the streets being exposed to drugs, alcohol and increasing desperation.

These young people have been supported by the Relentless Change Programme (RCP), run by the Northern Ireland Youth Forum (NIYF) and funded by the National Lottery Community Fund, which supports homeless young people and advocates on their behalf.

For the past four years the RCP Programme provided opportunities for homeless young people to engage in experiential group work, university and work placement opportunities, residentials and developmental one to ones. They also created a youth steering group that provided homeless young people with a platform to have their voice heard.

The project has produced its second animated film, Pinball II: Young People’s Journeys Through Homelessness, which was created by three young people who have gone through the system.

Paul Dynes from the RCP project said: “We are hopeful that this video will shine a spotlight on some of the issues faced by young homeless people. It is vital that more funding is put into support services and the creation of appropriate facilities that meet the need of young homeless people”

RCP member Matthew, who shares his story in Pinball II, said: “I felt nervous but excited sharing my story as I didn’t know who was going to listen or if it is going to have a positive impact on other young people. I hope young people hear my story and realise that they don’t have to do it all alone, and that you can ask for help. There are organisations out there that are more than happy to help. I hope our video attracts a lot of attention as we need everyone out there to come together and fight the same fight against homelessness”.

PINBALL II shows the challenges that vulnerable young people face, including strain on their mental health, drug addiction, lack of appropriate facilities in some hostels, and a lack of support services. It will be launched on Thursday, April 22 at 3pm via Zoom on the NIYF Facebook Page.

Conchuir Mac Siacais, from the RCP project said: “In creating both short films, we sat down with RCP members, listened to their stories, and used creative methods to bring their experiences to life. The PINBALL series demonstrates what can be achieved when young people take control of their own narratives and use those stories to lobby those with power for change”.

All three young people who created the film signed up for RCP while homeless, they connected to the youth work approach, that was at the core of the project. RCP staff were able to support them through challenging times and they are now all living independently and have transformed their lives for the better.

PINBALL II is a follow-up to the initial project film created in April 2019, which depicted three young people’s journeys into homelessness. The problems raised in the first video led to the creation of two peer advocacy posts held by young people with experience of the system. It also led to the creation of an out of hours homelessness service by the Northern Ireland Housing Executive. The aim now is to develop a third video Pinball III which will illustrate young people’s journeys into independent living.

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New education resource helps NI children tell their creative stories

By | Charities, Creative Industries, Film, General

Education charity Into Film has launched an exciting new initiative to use the magic of movies to help pupils create stories.

Story Builder is an activity pack for young people aged eight to 11, which catches pupils’ imaginations and allows them space to create and build their own stories as if developing a film.

The pack will give students an understanding of the building blocks of film including story, character and setting to create imaginative narratives.

Sean Kelly, Project Delivery Manager for Into Film, said: “Children innately understand the visual language of film and engage with its core elements, easily distinguishing between horror and musicals, heroes and villains. We want to harness that engagement and give it purpose with our new Story Builder resource.”

Each fun and accessible element of the resource can be used as a stand-alone activity or combined so learners can plan a film composed entirely of their own ideas.

Primary school teacher Bernadette Boyle said: “Pupils will get a real sense of fun and independence when completing Story Builder. As a teacher it is heartening to see children so engaged with their imaginations when completing the tasks and creating their unique story.”

Into Film, a UK-wide charity with a base in Northern Ireland, has developed a range of educational support materials that work with the curriculum and can be used in school or for home learning.

Into Film Story Builder facilitator Naomh Cullen added: “Story Builder engages with the curriculum seamlessly, harnessing the creative talent of young people and building confidence and strengthening understanding. There are millions of great stories in the world, waiting to be told and everyone has their own unique story.”

To access Story Builder, go to


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Growing games industry gives young people chance of dream job

By | Charities, Creative Industries, Gaming, General, News

Turning a passion for drawing comic books into a successful career in Northern Ireland’s growing game development industry is a dream for many young people.

Now through the free ScreenWorks programme, students are being given a unique insight and training to help them get a foot on the career ladder by Stephen Downey, director of creative at Belfast company Outsider Games.

His company, which employs seven people from its University Road studio, is wrapping up production on its latest game, Jennifer Wilde: Unlikely Revolutionaries. They have now moved on to creating a new game called Tax Force, where players track down billionaire tax avoiders in space.

“You hunt them down and make them pay! I got the idea a few years ago when I was doing my tax return and then I saw someone on TV saying their company made billions but didn’t pay taxes. The two things just came together and I thought this could be a lot of fun,” Stephen said.

The ScreenWorks programme, delivered by Into Film and funded by NI Screen, has brought together 15 screen industry professionals from a range of fields to help young people better understand career options. As well as online group sessions, each of the professionals will mentor a small number of young people on a one-to-one basis.

“The gaming industry is really starting to take off here. When I started Outsider Games 10 years ago, there were few studios in Northern Ireland and no university courses offering training. There’s so much more opportunity now,” he said.

Stephen began his career as a freelance comic artist 15 years ago, creating his own work and showing it at comic conventions. His networking paid off and he got hired to draw for comics Torchwood, How to Train Your Dragon and Flash Gordon.

He continued to network and got work drawing storyboards for Halo: Nightfall and Krypton as well as working with movie studios to create apps used to promote their films.

“People can be quite fearful of freelance work because they feel it isn’t a guaranteed income. While that’s true, there are so many opportunities out there if you’re flexible and keep connected to people. It opened up a lot of doors for me,” he added.

Through ScreenWorks online he talks to young people about their drawing and storytelling skills and explains the roles of all the others who put the game together including animators, 3D modellers, music composers/sound designers and programmers.

Sean Boyle of Into Film said: “Game development is a serious business with huge potential. Stephen’s online workshops have shown young people the opportunities that are out there and has given them first-hand knowledge of this exciting new industry.”

ScreenWorks Online is aimed at young people aged 14-19. For more information go to Into Film’s new learning platform at

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