Opportunity Youth was awarded a grant of £10,000 through Awards for All NI in November 2010 to run a project involving young offenders from the Hydebank Wood Young Offenders Centre in the restoration of a train carriage.
Owned by the Railway Preservation Society of Ireland (RSPI), the train carriage, known as the ‘Brown Van’, used to be used as a parcels van, built by Harland and Wolff, and having now been beautifully restored, will be used by the RSPI as a mobile museum.
I had the pleasure of speaking at an event to mark the carriage’s return to service last week, on Wednesday 17th October, and to hear the RSPI’s plans for further development work as they laid the first brick of their new station building at Whitehead Excursion Station.
The weather added to the excitement of the day, a blustery, rainy day and, with lots of billowing, black smoke from the steam engines, we gathered outside to admire the fine restoration work that had been done by the young men.
I was lucky enough to chat with two of the guys who had been involved in the project.
It was clear from their expressions and the animated way that they talked to me that their participation in the project had meant a great deal to them.
They had spent around five to six hours a day working on dismantling the carriage and then rebuilding it. This had been an opportunity for them to learn new skills as part of the rehabilitation programme within the centre.
I could tell that this meant a lot to them and they were proud of what they had achieved, and rightly so.
I hope they go on to realise their full potential and take up new opportunities in the months ahead as they leave the centre. Perhaps they might be amongst the beneficiaries of the Adjust project also delivered by Opportunity Youth, funded under our Empowering Young People programme, which will address the personal support and development needs of centre leavers. I wish them all the luck in the world.
For me, the impact of the Awards for All grant cannot be underestimated, dwarfed though it might have been on the day by the hundreds of thousands of pounds secured and yet to be secured for the building and construction work relating to the station.
Another example of how a small amount of money can make a really big difference.
To find out more about the Big Lottery Fund’s Awards For All programme in Northern Ireland visit: http://www.biglotteryfund.org.uk/prog_a4a_ni