L’Arche Belfast is one of four groups across Northern Ireland to share funding of over £2.3 million today, through our Empowering Young People programme.
L’Arche Belfast received £573,164 for their four year Grow Cook Cater project. The project is helping young people with learning disabilities feel more confident and develop their skills for independent living, volunteering and employment. They are involving young people aged 16-25 in Belfast, Lisburn, Castlereagh, Antrim and Newtownabbey. Activities include growing fruit and vegetables, cooking, taking part in social activities, and completing work placements.
Conor Boyle, 22, has Down’s Syndrome and has been taking part in activities at L’Arche’s allotments for three years. He lives in south Belfast with his father Michael, mother Rosie and sister Louise (21). Being involved with L’Arche has improved his team work and horticulture skills and confidence, and helped him gain work experience.
Conor said: “I love being outside in the fresh air, it doesn’t matter what the weather is like. I like weeding, construction work, digging and seeding. I’m really strong so I’m good at using the wheelbarrow and building things. I help build the allotment beds and then plant seeds in them to grow food.
“I’m not great at cooking yet but I’d like to learn how to cook the food I grow. I have a vegetable patch at home which I look after — I grow potatoes and carrots.
“I feel really good when I’m out working at the allotments, I’m proud of the work I do there. Sometimes I help out other people and show them what to do. One day I’d like to have a job working outside.”
Conor’s mother Rosie said: “It’s great that there are projects like L’Arche that Conor can go to. I know he loves it and it makes me happy seeing him come here and seeing the enjoyment he gets from it.
“Conor currently goes to the allotments one day a week but that’ll increase to three days with this new project — which is brilliant. He’ll be able to develop his skills more and increase his confidence in his abilities. He started the vegetable patch at home because of everything he’s learnt here so far.
“Conor also works at the business centre at Orchardville which is good work experience for him but he’s definitely an outdoors person — he loves being out in the garden and the allotments. He also helps out at conservation volunteers and attends Tap 2, a course at college run through Orchardville.
“Academic activities and school have always been hard for him. So he thrives more by doing outdoor activities and working with his hands.Getting the opportunity for work experience with the new project at L’Arche will be a good stepping stone for him to gain employment.”
L’Arche is based on the Ormeau Road and their allotments are on the Castlereagh Hills overlooking Belfast. They have over 100 raised beds which were built by young people with learning disabilities.
Patricia Wallace, project worker at L’Arche Belfast said: “Our allotment is a lovely place for anyone to be, but we find that people with learning disabilities especially benefit from the fresh air, freedom, space, physical work and fun.
“Their confidence grows and grows as they take part in our activities. We’ve seen people go from very shy, not wanting to get out of the car at the allotments to taking on jobs they thought they could never do. They are learning skills for independent living and for gaining employment.
“It’s what L’Arche is all about — showing that people with learning disabilities all have a lot to offer, we just have to give them the opportunities.”
Also receiving funding today:
Orchardville Society Limited also received £599,977 for the four-year Connect which supports young people with learning disabilities and/or with Autism Spectrum condition through activities to develop their independence, social confidence and employability skills to make informed decisions about their future.
ADDNI Limited has been awarded £599,757 for four-year Tackling ADHD: Steps to Success project which supports young people with ADHD who are struggling with education and are isolated.
Foyle Down Syndrome Trust Limited has also been awarded £599,032 for the five-year Healthy Hearts and Minds project which provides support to children and young people with Down Syndrome and their families.