Last week we announced £2.3million to four projects through our Empowering Young People programme. ADDNI, Foyle Down Syndrome Trust, L’Arche Belfast and The Orchardville Society have been awarded grants to support young people across Northern Ireland.
The Orchardville Society received £599,977 so that more young people with a learning disability can access support to prepare for their move from school to the next phase of education, training or employment.
The four-year project Connect project offers young people with a learning disability and / or an Autism Spectrum Condition in the Greater Belfast area personalised training, work placements and learning. The activities and support will develop their independence, social confidence and employability.
Beth McKinty (19) attends Clifton Special School in Bangor and has been supported by The Orchardville Society’s pilot transition programme for almost two years. During this time she has been learning skills such as money management and work placements have boosted her confidence and self-esteem.
Beth’s mum, Sian, said: “Beth has two older sisters, so they’re her role models. My husband, Hugh, and I wanted to give Beth as much freedom in making her own choices about her future as we did with the other two. Although she has a learning disability Beth’s very sociable and very aware of what she wants to do and she’s also watching her two older sisters.
“That’s daunting because you know she needs to be protected, you know that she’ll not take the same route and you’ve got all of those emotions flying about – in a perfect world you’d like them all to follow the same pathway in their own way. We know that isn’t going to happen with Beth.”
A dedicated transition officer has worked with Beth and her family during the past two years.
Sian said: “Beth will always need support, but we want her to have a real sense of her own achievements. Orchardville were able to give us advice and say, ‘these are your options’.
Beth, who has always wanted to work with children, is now on a work placement in a nursery one day a week. At the moment, her parents drop her off there, but there are plans to develop her confidence around independent travel.
Sian said: “The transition programme has been helping Beth with training courses and getting her into work placements, and it has also been stretching us as parents. It has helped us start planning for Beth to take public transport, maybe stay in the house for an hour on her own, things like that. The transition programme helps us look ahead and plan.
“What they have done to me as a mummy has been amazing because it’s opened my eyes as to what is out there for Beth.”
The new Connect project takes referrals from schools in the Belfast, North Down and Ards, Lisburn and Castlereagh and Antrim and Newtownabbey areas for pupils with severe or moderate learning disability.
Margaret Haddock, Chief Executive of The Orchardville Society, said: “This funding will change not only the lives of the young people but also the family network around them. We are excited to be able to work with young people to provide a service which will allow them to make informed choices on the direction for “life after school”. We cannot wait to work in partnership with the young people and assist them achieve their goals.”