A project is boosting the employment skills of some of Northern Ireland’s most isolated young people and supporting them to inspire others, thanks to an Empowering Young People grant from the Big Lottery Fund.
The Bytes Project received £464,827 for their three year Exodus 500 project in February. (See list of other grants awarded)
The Exodus 500 project is supporting 500 young people aged 16-25 who are facing employment barriers in Belfast, Derry/Londonderry, Limavady, Magherafelt and Lisburn. It is improving the employability skills and confidence of young people including those who are not in education, employment and training, lone parents, those in care or homeless, or from an ethnic minority background.
The project is using digital technology to create flexible learning experiences and involves mentoring, team building and employability skills, health and well being courses, and work, college and business experience. The project will support young people to gain qualifications, connect with their community and improve their self-esteem.
At 17 Anthony Turkington (now 21) became homeless following some family problems. For a year and a half he moved between friends and other family members, becoming involved in anti-social behaviour.
Just over a year ago he moved into Flax Foyer in north Belfast, which is temporary affordable accommodation for young people who are homeless. It has a Bytes Centre which offers mentoring and training in house three days a week. There he found the support he needed to get his life back on track and inspire others like him.
“I was reluctant when I first came here to Flax and I didn’t want to bother with anyone. I was involved in anti social behaviour and alcohol, because I didn’t have anything else to do. I was desperate. I had no hope for my future and I never thought my life would be stable enough to be able to move on,” he said.
“I had a lot of anger and frustration at that time. I have dyslexia, and if I wasn’t able to do something I just cracked up. I had left school without the qualifications I needed for further education. But Bytes helped me get back on track with qualifications. The people at Bytes, especially my support worker Kevin McGuckin, taught me how to rise to the challenge and find creative ways to deal with the dyslexia.
“It’s really the people that make the difference. The youth workers at Bytes talk to you on your level. They treat you like an equal. They take your needs into consideration and work with you whatever way works for you.”
Thanks to support from the Bytes Project, Anthony has now achieved OCN qualifications and will start training to be a youth worker in the coming weeks. He has applied to go to university in September to further his youth work studies. The Bytes Project also helped him to find work and he is now an assistant retail manager.
He plans to leave Flax Foyer soon to set up home with his girlfriend, and his relationship with his family is getting better. Anthony is also setting up a youth forum for the Bytes Project and will lead a group of young people who will help to steer the new project funded by Big Lottery Fund.
“My motivation in wanting to do youth work comes from knowing the impact that Bytes had and continues to have on me, and knowing that it’s going to do the same for other young people who are struggling,” Anthony said.
Kevin McGuckin, youth development officer at the Bytes Project said:
“Anthony is using his negative experiences as motivation to encourage others to overcome social and educational disadvantage. Anthony’s journey has shown how a young person can develop and overcome life adversities if they have access to proper support and opportunities.
“We hope the new Exodus 500 project will provide more young people like Anthony with the confidence and skills to access employment, training or further educational opportunities, and build strong relationships in their communities.”