Three projects across Northern Ireland are celebrating today after receiving funding from Big Lottery Fund’s Empowering Young People programme. Oasis Caring in Action is using a £600,000 grant for Antrim Youthways, an alternative education programme for young people aged 12-19 in the Antrim area. Leonard Cheshire Disability’s Access for Success project, which is working in Omagh and Derry/Londonderry, is using the £595,804 grant to support young disabled people aged 18-25 to improve their well-being and become more involved in their community. Off the Streets’ FATE project, which is working in Derry/Londonderry, is using the £599,635 grant to work with young people aged 8-25 who are having problems at home or school.
Oasis Caring in Action’s project is helping young people who are facing issues including bereavement, bullying, caring responsibilities and eating disorders that can affect their education. Paige Floyd (17) is one of those who has been helped by the group to turn her life around.
Paige, from Antrim, had started life in care until she was adopted as a toddler and those early years left an impact. Three years ago she found herself struggling in school, getting in trouble and feeling lost. Then her beloved mum, Rosemary Lindsay, was diagnosed with lung cancer, and Paige had to return to care temporarily.
But with support from Oasis Caring in Action, she’s got her education back on track, rebuilt her relationships and moved back home.
“In secondary school, I was really troubled and quite difficult. I had bottled everything up from my past and it became too much to handle. I became angry and felt like everyone was against me. My behaviour was out of control,” Paige said.
Paige’s parents had divorced some years earlier and she continued to live with her mum. Around the time of her behaviour issues, her mum was diagnosed with lung cancer. Paige was terrified she was going to lose her.
“I was trying to keep my mum happy. I was getting myself up in the mornings then helping my mum get dressed and get breakfast. Some nights I hardly slept because I was constantly worrying about her and worrying that I would have to go back into care as well, because there is only my mum and me.”
While her mum was ill, Paige did have to return to care temporarily. She was living in a foster home when her teachers advised her to go to Oasis Caring in Action. There she received the support she needed to get back on track with her education including one to one and group support.
“The first year, I had some ups and downs but the staff at Oasis saw potential in me. I decided to put my head down and work well in my classes there. I developed a bond with my key worker, Jenny and I have a lot of respect for her. I worked hard and came out with good qualifications,” Paige said.
“I got a lot of positive comments from everyone and that wasn’t something I was used to in education. I finally started to feel like I was getting somewhere in life.”
With support from Oasis, Paige gained seven GCSE equivalents and has earned three more since. The keen footballer is currently completing a Sports Studies Diploma at the North Eastern Regional College in Antrim.
Rosemary’s cancer went into remission and the support they both got from Oasis helped them to build up their relationship again.
Rosemary said: “Coming along to the centre with Paige for the health and wellbeing classes gave me an opportunity to meet with other mothers whose children found it hard to cope in school. Over a cuppa we were able share stories and support each other. Sometimes Paige joined us for craft activities like making jewellery, and our relationship steadily improved.”
Paige moved back home with renewed hope for the future. She is now training as a young leader at Oasis, helping out as a mentor with the new five year Big Lottery funded Antrim Youthways project.
Paige said: “I love working with the younger people coming through Oasis. Some of them look up to me because I have come so far. I explain to them how it was with me and they find that very inspirational. I am excited about my future for the first time, and I am so proud at this moment in my life.
“My mum is over the moon for me too. I’m learning to drive and if and when I pass my driving test I’ll be taking the 0asis staff out and treating them. I feel like they’re part of my family now.”
Pamela Shields, Antrim centre manager with Oasis Caring in Action, said “Paige is an amazing young woman who has excelled on the programme and transformed her life. Together with Paige and the other young leaders, Oasis Caring in Action Antrim are excited to move into a new era, knowing that this new funding from Big Lottery Fund will allow so many other young people in our community like Paige realise their potential and move into education, employment and get involved in the community again.”