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‘We support women and girls to improve their life opportunities’: Belfast group trains women in non-traditional skills

Amanda Ferguson from WOMEN’STEC, Belfast, talks to Catriona Doherty about a free DIY programme available to young mothers and the benefits of the initiative

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The Young Mum's Programme participants at work

The Young Mum's Programme participants at work

The Young Mum's Programme participants at work

WOMEN’STEC are the largest provider of training for women in non-traditional skills in Northern Ireland.

Based in north Belfast, the organisation supports women to return to employment in non-traditional sectors. Operating for more than 20 years, the training provider offers a range of programmes and courses including joinery, furniture making and wallpapering, and a lot more besides.

“WOMEN’STEC supports women and girls to improve their life opportunities,” says Young Mum’s Programme Coordinator Amanda Ferguson.

“We challenge gender stereotypes and encourage women and girls to explore careers in non-traditional industries, in particular, construction and IT. The organisation provides training in skills such as carpentry, plumbing, electrics, horticulture, tiling, painting and decorating, and information technology, accompanied with personal development and employability support to enhance the skills and confidence of participants.”

Amanda (44), who is from north Belfast, runs the Young Mum’s Programme, which was set up in 2018.

Young mothers are invited to participate in a free DIY course that’s aimed at women aged 16-30. Enrolment is now open for the September course, which will take place on Tuesday and Wednesday mornings at WOMEN’STEC.

“At WOMEN’STEC we have been helping young mum’s overcome obstacles by providing training and support services since 2018 when we identified a gap in programme services for young mothers.

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“It started in 2018 but we have significantly progressed it since the start of this year. The Building Independence Programme (BIP) is the official name, but we advertise it as The Young Mum’s group as that’s the demographic.

“The programme is funded by Rosa and the Smallwood Trust, and is aimed specifically at young mums aged between 16-30.

“These young women can face significant barriers when trying to access training and education services. For instance, the lack of childcare, low educational attainment and low levels of self-esteem are common obstacles faced by the young women we work with.

“The BIP addresses all of these, offering participants’ skills training, personal development opportunities, and access to free onsite childcare at our registered crèche operated by Wee Chicks.

“This enables young mums to have flexibility with their time where they can relax, learn and grow knowing that their child/children are safe and well cared for, and are able to play with other children and develop their own wee social skills.

“Participants are welcomed into a safe and comfortable environment where they learn DIY skills and how to safely use power tools and equipment such as a mitre saw, power drills, a router, circular saw, and bricklaying and cutting equipment. They can create a stool or other objects to take home with them.”

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Amanda Ferguson

Amanda Ferguson

Amanda Ferguson

The Young Mum’s Programme Co-Ordinator says there are many benefits of participating in the course.

“The programme is highly creative and for many a cathartic experience,” Amanda says.

“The classes are mostly participant led, as in the ladies discuss and agree on which skills they would most like to learn. Our young women often cite decreased anxiety and increased self-esteem as a positive outcome of their participation.

“[Participants benefit from] one-to-one mentoring, where I meet regularly with the young mums to identify any support that is needed.

“Also, the group peer support is an important aspect of the programme, and it is wonderful to see strong friendships forming and enduring, and the confidence of the women growing.

“This was particularly evident during Covid — how important a support system was, so we adapted to online training. But this isn’t always viable to young mums who have no support for childcare, so as soon as we were able to safely bring the women back onsite again, we prioritised bringing them in. We reassured them that we would be robustly following all Covid guidelines.”

Amanda is motived to continue doing the work that she does, by seeing first-hand the difference it makes.

“I have worked at WOMEN’STEC for six years and was recently promoted to the Young Mum’s Programme Co-Ordinator. I absolutely love working with our young women as I get to see development in their self-belief and progression in their self-confidence, which is key to success.

“It’s so lovely to see them create strong friendships within the group where they can encourage each other and eventually build a strong support network amongst themselves.

“I am currently working on the September programme, if anyone is interested, they can send me an email at Amanda.ferguson@womenstec.org, give me a call on 02890 749810, or send a DM through the Facebook page.

“I really look forward to meeting new mums who are ready to take that first step, if they want to call up and have a chat or a coffee and look around the building and creche before they start the programme then this can be easily arranged.

“We are very grateful to our funders for helping us to be able to provide this much-needed service, and with the cost of living rising it is vital that we are able to continue to offer free childcare.

“We welcome young mums from all over the country but unfortunately at present we do not have any funding to pay travel costs, which is also a barrier a lot of the young mums are up against, so we are working on securing additional funding to support this.”

Bethany-Kate Bayliss, who is from Belfast, took part in the September 2020 Young Mum’s Programme. Bethany (23), who is mum to two-year-old Belle Charity, learned new skills at WOMEN’STEC, that she continues to enjoy today.

“I have taken part in mosaics, Tiffany glass crafts, bag painting, frame painting and group art projects at WOMENS’TEC,” Bethany-Kate says.

“I have learnt different types of crafts that I can do at home as new hobbies. I also learnt that it’s OK to take time out to be yourself and not Mum all the time.

“I really enjoyed meeting other young mums who were my age and had been pregnant during the pandemic. It made me feel like I wasn’t alone.”

To people who are considering signing up for the September programme, Bethany-Kate says: “I would definitely recommend this course to other young mums, because it helps to get you out of the house after baby is born.

“You also forge friendships with women who truly understand you and what you’re going through, because they have recently gone through it or are going through it themselves.”


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