Belfast Telegraph

Charity buys house for unemployed teens to renovate

By Catherine Lynagh

A charity is risking £120,000 of its own money on a groundbreaking business innovation to help unemployed teenagers gain work-experience — and hopes to make a profit at the same time.

In the first scheme of its kind here, Springvale Learning has bought a derelict house for its students to renovate.

The charity on Belfast’s Springfield Road, which specialises in vocational training, has been faced with an uphill climb trying to get its students construction industry apprenticeships.

This prompted training manager Bill Atkinson to come up with an innovative solution when he joined Springvale eight months ago.

With his help the charity decided to invest nearly £120,000 buying a derelict semi-detached property for its students to refurbish, thereby offering them the placements they needed to achieve their qualifications.

“I came into the role and started to look at all the problems we were having,” Mr Atkinson explained. “I came back to this line of work from a big corporate and brought a lot of learning and experience with me.

“This project is us having a cold hard look at some of the challenges we face in our marketplace and doing something about it.”

He added: “We are a small organisation and I feel this is a really innovative solution in a challenging time. We have really set this up as a free-standing business style project.”

The charity believes the investment illustrates its aim to get the best possible learning experience for its students.

The house is being run like any typical building project and is expected to take up to 10 months to complete.

At the end of the scheme, the renovated house will be put on the open market. Almost 60 young people will leave the house with work experience and general skills in plumbing, electrical engineering and joinery.

Laura Lyons from Springvale Learning says the project offers much more than a job for the young men, especially coming from an area where suicide rates are so high.

She said: “All the guys here were extremely unmotivated and less confident about their lives and about gaining employment.

“You only have to look at the |statistics of the rate of unemployment in west Belfast to know |how their lives have been affected.”

She continued: “Unemployment has risen considerably, then look at the rate of suicides in the area and you understand how important this project is.

“This project will enable them to gain experience in all trades and then hopefully get jobs.

“This is the first project of its kind in Ireland and has been undertaken with great risk to us.

“There are massive risks, because if anything was to go wrong we would be at fault for it.”





‘We need jobs ... I don’t want to stay on dole’

Darell Magee, 17, from Twinbrook, wants to be a joiner:

“I want to specialise in joinery. It might take a couple of months before I’ll get used to working here — like learning how to do everything.

“I’m here at 9am, we get three breaks during the day at 10am, lunch 12.30pm and then 3.30pm. It is just like having a job.

“It has been sweet working here so far. It’s going to get me a job, hopefully as a joiner. We all need jobs. I don’t want to stay on the dole.”

Blue Hunter, 18, from Ligoniel, wants to study to be an electrical engineer:

“I want to study electrical engineering. It means a lot to be here, that I was chosen out of all the other people studying it in Springvale.

“They only chose a few guys and I feel like it is a real privilege to work here.

“It’s better than being stuck in the class all day.

“We are coming here and doing things. I feel more motivated in my life, being in this environment.”

Kevin Heron, 20, from Clonard, got involved through the Three Steps to Work programme:

“I was unable to a get a placement with joinery contractors, so Springvale bought this house to provide experience in the skills we need.

“It is going well so far. I think it is a good idea. It helps people from workshops to gain real experience in a real-life work environment.

“Over a period of one and a half years I had sent out between 100-150 applications.”

Sean Polan, 18, from west Belfast, wants to qualify as an electrical engineer:

“I applied through Springvale and it’s a brilliant idea.

“The on-site experience is brilliant, because there is not that much work out there and, through this, we are getting our hands dirty.

“There is no work out there in the trade and this has given me more confidence in myself. I have made friends and feel happy.

“I think I will get work in the future now, too.”

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