By Lucy Gollogly
The Big Lottery Fund announced a £500,000 grant for an exciting new project that will boost the employment skills and confidence of some of Northern Ireland’s most isolated young people.
Cool Choices is an innovative project from Start360, who will work in partnership with Cool FM, to help young people learn digital media skills, as well as vital skills that will help them get employment in other sectors.
It comes as Big Lottery Fund celebrates its 10th birthday, having supported more than 7,000 community projects. In that time, it has invested £302 million across Northern Ireland.
Cool Choices will give young people aged 16-24 the support they need to overcome their barriers to employment throughout the 15-week intensive programme, which will include a five-week work placement at a ‘micro-station’ at Cool FM’s studios, the ‘Cool Academy’.
The project, which starts in September, will target young people who are not in education, employment or training. Start360 will support the young people every step of the way providing employability training and essential skills support.
The project will help young people like Conor McHugh, 24, from Dungannon whose life was transformed with support from Start360. He took part in Start360’s GRIT Plus employability programme, which is targeted at young people at risk and those who have not succeeded in formal education. Conor is now studying for an Open University degree.
“I’ve worked a lot with Start360 over the years including doing their GRIT programme when I was unemployed. The staff helped me with every aspect of my life and helped me fulfil my ambitions and overcome obstacles. They have given me a new outlook on life – you could say they saved my life.”
Conor added: “Now I’m studying with the Open University and volunteering with Start360 – I want to work there in future. I’d definitely recommend them. The Cool Choices project is an amazing opportunity for any young person who wants to improve their skills and get a job they love.”
Anne-Marie McClure, Chief Executive of Start360, said: “Start360 is really excited to be part of Cool Choices – it’s vital that we provide our young people with the skills that will help them to succeed in growing and emerging industries, including the media.
“Cool Choices will offer young people an opportunity they might otherwise not be able to access, with the advantage of 360-degree support.”
Frank Hewitt, Big Lottery Fund Northern Ireland Chair, said: “We are delighted to be able to announce this grant to Start360 to deliver Cool Choices, which will develop the digital skills of some of Northern Ireland’s most isolated young people.
“I’m particularly pleased that Start360 have developed a partnership with Cool FM. This will deliver vital on-the-job work experience for young people to help them develop important digital skills, which will be easily transferrable to other areas of employment.”
He added: “I can’t think of a better way to celebrate the difference Big Lottery Fund has made over the past ten years than to invest in this exciting project.”
Mark Mahaffy, Regional Managing Director at Cool FM, said: “Cool FM is proud to be involved in the delivery of the Cool Choices programme through the innovative Cool Academy.
“Our association with Start360 in the Big Lottery Fund supported Cool Choices project is an important starting point for providing choice and direction for young adults. We are confident that we can deliver positive outcomes that will make a real difference to their employment prospects.”
To register your interest in applying to the programme, please go to