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£1.6M Big Lottery Fund boost for young people across Northern Ireland

A project is boosting the employment skills of some of Northern Ireland’s most isolated young people and supporting them to inspire others, thanks to a grant from the Big Lottery Fund.

The Bytes Project received £464,827 for their three year Exodus 500 project. It is part of a Big Lottery Fund grants roll out of £1,650,843 to three groups – including Training for Women Network Limited and Include Youth - working with young people across Northern Ireland. (Download full list of awards)

The Exodus 500 project is supporting 500 young people aged 16-25 who are  facing employment barriers in Belfast, Derry/Londonderry, Limavady, Magherafelt and Lisburn. It is improving the employability skills and confidence of young people including those who are not in education, employment and training, lone parents, those in care or homeless, or from an ethnic minority background.

The project is using digital technology to create flexible learning experiences and involves mentoring, team building and employability skills, health and well being courses, and work, college and business experience. The project will support young people to gain qualifications, connect with their community and improve their self-esteem.

At 17 Anthony Turkington (now 21) became homeless following some family problems. For a year and a half he moved between friends and other family members, becoming involved in anti-social behaviour.

Just over a year ago he moved into Flax Foyer in north Belfast, which is temporary affordable accommodation for young people who are homeless. It has a Bytes Centre which offers mentoring and training in house three days a week. There he 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, especially my support worker Kevin McGuckin, 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.”

Thanks to support from the Bytes Project, Anthony has now achieved OCN qualifications and will start training to be a youth worker in the coming weeks. He has applied to go to university in September to further his youth work studies. The Bytes Project also helped him to find work and he is now an assistant retail manager.

He plans to leave Flax Foyer soon to set up home with his girlfriend and his relationship with his family is getting better. Anthony is also setting up a youth forum for the Bytes Project and will lead a group of young people who will help to steer the new project funded by Big Lottery Fund.

“My motivation in wanting to do youth work comes from knowing the impact that Bytes had and continues to have on me, and knowing that it’s going to do the same for other young people who are struggling,” Anthony said.

Kevin McGuckin, youth development officer at the Bytes Project said: “Anthony is using his negative experiences as motivation to encourage others to overcome social and educational disadvantage. Anthony’s journey has shown how a young person can develop and overcome life adversities if they have access to proper support and opportunities.

“We hope the new Exodus 500 project will provide more young people like Anthony with the confidence and skills to access employment, training or further educational opportunities, and build strong relationships in their communities.”

Include Youth has also received £595,346 for their three year Essential Potential project which is working to improve the skills, confidence and employability of with young people aged 16-24 including those young people in or leaving care, those who are not in education, employment or training, or are affected by poverty or other challenges. The project is building on Include Youth’s existing Give and Take Scheme to provide training in literacy, numeracy and ICT skills to at least 480 young people in Belfast, Bangor, Newtownards, Armagh, Ballymena, Derry/Londonderry and Omagh. The young people are being mentored by others who have come through similar issues in the past, and the young people are also helping to inform and shape the project.

Training For Women Network Limited also received £590,670 for their three year CREATE(Creative Education and Accredited Training Experience) project. It is supporting 300 young women aged 16 to 24 living in Moyle, south Belfast, north Belfast, east Belfast and north Down to overcome barriers to further education or employment including young women who are lone parents, carers, care leavers, have disabilities, or have experienced abuse. They are offering tailored support and mentoring, including training in work skills, numeracy, literacy and ICT, creative activities, personal development and event management.

Joanne McDowell, Big Lottery Fund NI Director, said: “I am delighted to announce the first three grants awarded under the Empowering Young People programme, which is investing £50 million over the next five years to help transform the lives of young people in communities across Northern Ireland.

“We want to fund great projects that put young people in the lead in increasing their skills and confidence, and support them to have stronger relationships so they can cope better with the challenges they face and reach their potential. We are looking forward to seeing the positive impact these three projects will make to many young people across Northern Ireland.”

The Empowering Young People programme can support projects working with young people across Northern Ireland including young carers, young people with a learning disability and young people who face barriers to education, training or employment. More information about Empowering Young People can be found on our website,

For media enquiries, please contact Lucy Gollogly at the Big Lottery Fund Press Office:

Direct line: 028 90 551 432

Out of hours media contact: 07580 811135


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Notes to Editors:

  • The Big Lottery Fund supports the aspirations of people who want to make life better for their communities across the UK. We are responsible for giving out 40% of the money raised by the National Lottery and invest over £650 million a year in projects big and small in health, education, environment and charitable purposes.
  • Since June 2004 we have awarded over £6.5billion to projects that make a difference to people and communities in need, from early years intervention to commemorative travel funding for World War Two veterans.
  • Since the National Lottery began in 1994, £34 billion has been raised and more than 450,000 grants awarded.
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