June 11th, 2021

The First Minister and Deputy First Minister, has praised the Communities in Transition employability project in Derry-Londonderry, operated by leading social justice charity Extern, which has helped dozens of local people find new employment over the past year.

The Back on Track programme, which is funded by The Executive Office as part of the Communities in Transition (CiT) programme, and managed by Co-Operation Ireland provides employability and training opportunities to those aged 16-plus living in the Brandywell and Creggan areas of the city.

The project aims to improve employability skills and create meaningful pathways into work for those who have been involved in, or are at a higher risk of becoming involved in, paramilitary or coercive activity.

Since its launch in March 2020, the project has achieved a number of notable successes in helping to create employment opportunities for people across a range of ages and personal backgrounds. Key achievements from the programme to date include:

  • 60 participants engaged from the Creggan and Brandywell areas
  • 100% of service users completed OCN Level 1 qualifications in Personal Success and Wellbeing, including Citizenship
  • 100% of participants achieved accredited training related to their chosen career path
  • 59% of participants secured permanent, meaningful employment at the end of their placement

Praising the life-changing work of the project First Minister Arlene Foster MLA said: “I’m delighted to see the success of the Back on Track project in creating meaningful employment opportunities for people in the Brandywell and Creggan areas.

“This is down to the positive partnership working between Extern, the participants and local organisations and local businesses. The project has created a shared confidence that through working together the cycle of coercive control can be challenged and broken within communities.

“The Executive Office is committed to supporting better life choices and enabling improved life chances for everyone, as part of our overarching Communities in Transition programme.”

Marking the success of the project, deputy First Minister Michelle O’Neill said: “The Communities in Transition programme is transformative, both for individuals and communities.

The success of this employability project in the Creggan and Brandywell areas is testament to the difference the programme makes to participants’ lives. But we can also clearly see the wide-reaching positive impacts of CiT interventions; in developing capacity within communities and narrowing the space for those who would seek to exploit others and cause harm.

“I congratulate all those who have taken part in, or helped to deliver this initiative and look forward to seeing the continued benefits in Creggan, the Brandywell and beyond.”

Over the past 15 months, the project has supported participants with an intensive programme of activity, aimed at overcoming barriers to employability. This includes work-readiness mentoring, soft skills development and wrap-around training, as well as a 24-week paid work placement with a suitable local employer.

Participants have also benefited from accredited educational and vocational training programmes tailored to their specific needs and chosen career path.

Among those to have benefitted from the programme were local woman Mary Nash, who joined the programme in 2020, following a period of unemployment.

She said: “I am very happy with what I’ve been helped to achieve through the Back on Track project. The course helped me see some things in a very different light and adopt some new attitudes towards myself and others. I feel I’ve developed my capabilities and confidence and will take that forward with me.

“The most important thing this placement has done for me, though, is give me a sense of usefulness during this difficult time in lockdown. It has given me a reason to get up and get dressed every day.”

Meanwhile, Danny Harkin, from Harkin Roofing, which was one of the local employers which engaged with the Back on Track programme, also praised how the project had matched their business with a motivated and capable new employee.

He said: “In the future we would certainly consider taking part in another programme like Back on Track. It not only benefits us as an employer to potentially gain new employees who are suited for the job, but it also lets us play our part in helping those in the community who are unable to strive towards further education or are not quite sure on which career path they wish to take.”

Lucy Geddes, Communities in Transition Project Manager for Co-operation Ireland, said: “When we talked to people in Creggan and Brandywell about what was needed for those who have been involved in, or are at a higher risk of becoming involved in, paramilitary or coercive activity, support into employment was high on the agenda.

I’m delighted to see the passion with which this project has been delivered and the successes achieved for the benefit of both the participants and their wider community.”

Interim CEO of Extern Danny McQuillan said: “We officially launched the Back on Track project at a time when so many people in this city were concerned about their jobs and their futures.

That is why we are delighted to see the success that the team has had, not only in offering new employment opportunities for those taking part, but in providing them with meaningful alternatives to the pressures they may have faced within their own communities. Well done to all of those who took part for their hard work.

“Extern has a long track record of providing positive pathways into employment and training for those who are vulnerable or marginalised, and I am pleased and proud to see how we have drawn on this experience to make such a great success of the Back on Track project.

Without doubt, the programme has made a real difference to the lives of people who were facing challenges with finding employment, particularly during such unprecedented events recently.”

He added: “I would like to thank our partners in the programme, The Executive Office and Cooperation Ireland, without their support this project could not have enjoyed such great success.

I would especially like to thank those local employers who put their faith in this new and innovative programme by providing such wonderful opportunities, and lastly to our participants who have shown great perseverance to seize these opportunities and overcome the barriers in their lives to carve out new careers.”

For details on the work of The Executive Office and Cooperation Ireland, please follow:

Twitter - @ExecOfficeNI @cooperationirl

Facebook - @CooperationIreland

Instagram - @cooperationireland

For further details on the Back on Track project, as well as Extern’s other projects across Ireland, please visit www.extern.org or follow Extern on social by searching for @externcharity.