A UNIQUE project is giving youngsters in interface areas in north Belfast a foot up the employment ladder through volunteering work.
The APP Project is providing cross-community afterschool clubs in four interface areas, with the project aiming to support children's learning and provide workshop activities for two age groups: primary school P6 and P7s and secondary school children in years 8 to 10.
After seeing the project's success among the age groups they currently work with, project co-ordinator Mark McFerran felt that something was needed to cater for older teenagers.
He came up with the idea of involving 16 to 18-year-olds as volunteers at the clubs -ndash; providing positive peer influence and mentoring for the younger children while boosting the teenagers CVs and increasing their employability.
"I knew that the older age group wouldn't want to come along and be part of an afterschools club because it's a bit beyond their age, so I thought 'What are they looking to do?',"Mark said.
"Schools are pushing things towards employment, learning for life and things like that, so I thought it would be great if we could offer some sort of experience for them to put on their CVs when they're going for jobs or applying to university.
"Because it's so competitive in the world of employment, [people] need to have experience as well as their qualifications," he added.
The work would be particularly relevant for those keen to go into youth work or teaching, but volunteer hours would also count towards the Duke of Edinburgh Award Scheme favoured by schools, universities and employers.
Speaking of the importance of real-world experience when applying for jobs, Mark concluded: "If volunteers can do this alongside their GCSEs and their A Levels, they're showing potential employers they have essential skills like good time management and an ability to multi-task."
The clubs are funded by The Office of the First Minister and Deputy First Minister and Atlantic Philanthropies. They are free of charge and run for two hours twice a week.
The first hour is devoted to homework and revision and the second hour to workshops such as dance, drama, music, arts and crafts and lifeskills.
All sessions are supervised by two support workers from the local community and workshops are planned around requests from the children, with project workers keen to provide experiences that the children wouldn't usually obtain in a school environment.
Anyone interested in volunteering can contact Mark for more information on: 02890 278282.