Two years ago, the Bytes Project in Belfast received £464,827 of money raised by National Lottery players for their Exodus 500 project, boosting employment skills of some of Northern Ireland’s most isolated young people and supporting them to inspire others.
The Exodus 500 project, which will run until 2019, works with young people aged 16-25 in Belfast, Derry/Londonderry, Limavady, Magherafelt in Lisburn. These young people gain the skills and experience they need to overcome barriers to employment, including lone parents, those in care or homeless, or those from an ethnic minority background.
We chatted to Anthony Turkington, now 24, a young man who was supported by the Bytes Project. From a difficult start in life, Anthony has been able to transform his life and become a role model for other young people like him.
Anthony was just 17 years old when he first became homeless. Family problems led him to moving between friends and family for a year and a half, eventually getting involved in antisocial behaviour.
Then he moved into Flax Foyer in north Belfast, which is temporary affordable accommodation for young people who are homeless. The Bytes Centre runs out of Flax Foyer, and offers mentoring and training to residents three days a week. It was at the Bytes Centre that Anthony 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 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.”
With support from the Bytes Project, Anthony has successfully graduated from university and now hopes to help other young people in a situation like his. And, thanks to National Lottery players, the Bytes Project is able to continue the fantastic work they do with projects like Exodus 500.
The Exodus 500 project will provide other young people like Anthony with the confidence and skills they need to transform their lives. It works with the young people to help support them as individuals, offering them mentoring, team building, employability skills, health and well-being courses, and work, college, and business experience.