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Our stories

Read how we impact our participants' lives


People with Purpose

Meet Amanda

I have been involved with the NOW Group for years now, I was participating in a Transition 1 group, and when Lisa told me about the Kidnap group, I decided to look into it. I decided to join the Kidnap group to make new friends, to keep myself busy and to get out of the house.


We did a lot of activities, but I enjoyed watching movies, listening to music and cooking omelettes. I even tried cooking the omelette again at home for my mum! I have a lot more confidence cooking now; I would never have even tried to cook at home before, but now I know I can. 

The Kidnap group is great! It’s central, it keeps you busy, and you get to meet lots of new people. It’s simply the best!

girl cafe student Amanda
girl cafe student conor

Meet Conor

I first heard about the NOW Group through a leaflet at college. I thought it looked very interesting, so I got involved. I then heard about Kidnap through the NOW Group. I wanted to join so I could make new friends, face new challenges and get a chance to be independent. I liked getting to work with other people, talking to new people and enjoyed cooking because it’s something new every time! 


I especially liked cooking the brownies. Now at home I can help my mum cook. I am up to a challenge and will face it head on, I am determined to get around any issue that comes up. I used to cook but had lost interest, but now I would like to attempt to do more cooking.

Meet Chrissy

My brother was the first person to tell me about the NOW Group, I originally didn’t want to come but he got the bus with me and made me go in. I realised that it was actually very interesting and could help me get involved with things. I was doing some gardening when I first heard about the Kidnap group, I spoke to a group of people that were already participants in it. 

I joined the Kidnap group to get to socialise. It gives me something to do and gets me out of the house so that I’m not bored. I really enjoyed getting to DJ, the meditation in the mindfulness was relaxing and I really enjoyed the exercise we did. 

boy cafe student Chrissy
boy cafe student answer

Meet Andrew


I joined the NOW Group in 2015, and then heard about Kidnap the following year through word of mouth. I decided to join in September 2017 because I knew I would enjoy myself. It’s something to look forward to, I got to make new friends, it was fun exploring on different trips, and I enjoy getting to help out with things!

We got the chance to cook Irish stew at Kidnap, I used to not like stew until I tried making my own! It was delicious! From Kidnap I have learnt a lot more about safety in the kitchen, about calorie control, and learnt more about healthy eating. At home with practice and some help from my mum, I know I can cook now. I don’t need to rush it and just need to stay calm. I’m very proud that I can successfully cook a healthy meal myself! 

Meet Danielle

I first heard about the NOW Group through a social worker. After I started, I heard about Kidnap through word of mouth through Lisa. I started the Kidnap programme in November because I like to keep busy and getting to socialise with new people.

I really enjoyed organising a Valentine’s disco, making posters for the disco, making Mother’s Day presents, getting to see the Belfast Giants and cooking! My favourite thing to cook was the salmon dinner. On Mother’s Day I treated my mum and was able to cook her dinner! I made salmon with baby boiled vegetables with parsley sauce!

girl cafe student DANIELLE
boy cafe student Sean

Meet Sean

I first heard about the NOW Group from my friend, and then people in the NOW Group told me about the Kidnap programme. I wanted to take part in it because it gives me something to do and somewhere to go. I like to meet new people because I can get bored on my own.

I enjoy all of the art projects we do. I like making things, so I thought the drawing and cooking was fun. I can now make a healthy meal for myself if I have some supervision, which is much better than before. 

I would recommend the Kidnap programme to anyone, it’s very good and there’s always lots of interesting things to do! 

Meet Chris

I first heard about the NOW Group when I started going to a youth service, my friend texted me about it, so we decided to go and see what it was. Once I started with the NOW Group, the staff told me about the Kidnap programme as they were encouraging more young people to go and get involved. I decided to join because it gives you a bit of a break. It gives you a chance to meet new people, and the different social trips allow you to connect with the others in the group. 

I particularly enjoyed the trips we took, and the mindfulness exercises where we got to take part in creative artistic things, and we got to meditate. 

girl cafe student chris

Participant journeys

barman and co-work at bar

David Henderson, Duty Manager, Lavery’s

David Henderson

“NOW worked with us to provide training and advice around how we can make Lavery’s a place everyone feels welcome.”

When David Henderson began working at Lavery’s bar in Belfast as a Duty Manager it was clear to him that inclusion is a key part of the organisation’s ethos. From gender neutral toilets to a lift that allows wheelchair users access to all parts of the venue, it is committed to ensuring accessibility for all.


As part of this commitment, David wanted to get professional advice about how best to support both customers and staff with a learning difficulty, autism or an associated health condition. Someone recommended he get in touch with NOW Group as the organisation works closely with businesses to help them provide an inclusive and supportive environment for both customers and staff.


NOW worked with David to provide disability awareness training to management and door staff that educated them on how to provide excellent customer service to someone with a learning difficulty, autism or health condition.


Lavery’s also availed of NOW’s supported employment service. The organisation’s dedicated employment team work closely with businesses to match them with job seekers who would be an assist to the team. Once a position is secured the employment team continue to support both the employer and employee to ensure it is a successful relationship.


Catherine Matthews from North Belfast had been working in Lavery’s for 2 years when she approached NOW to support her in her job. Catherine felt she lacked confidence in her work and found it difficult to follow instructions. As part of NOW’s relationship with Lavery’s they were able to appoint an employment officer, Tara McKevitt, to work alongside Catherine and David. Tara meets with them once a month and has supported them to develop Catherine’s role into one that she feels happy and confident in. 


Speaking about working with NOW Group, David comments, “At Laverys inclusion is part of our culture and this includes making sure we are looking after all our customers well. I had been looking in to the needs of our customers and staff and wanted to get some guidance around how we can best support people with learning difficulties and autism and that’s when I got in touch with NOW Group.


“NOW have worked with us to provide training and advice around how we can make Laverys a place everyone feels welcome. They have also work closely with us to support our staff who have additional needs, this has been great for us as it means we always have someone to ask for advice and ultimately will help us make sure our staff are happy in their role. We’ve found NOW to be great to work with; they have made everything easy for us.”

chief and trainee

Daniel Thompson, Employment Service

“It is great to have money coming in; it means I can be more independent. I’m glad I contacted NOW, it was worth doing.”

Daniel Thompson works in the Culloden Estate and Spa, Northern Ireland’s most prestigious 5 star luxury hotel which has welcomed guests including U2, David Beckham and Tony Blair. To be working in such lavish surroundings everyday is quite an achievement for someone who just a few months ago wasn’t sure they would ever get a paying job.

Daniel, aged 21 and from Holywood, was interested in a career in catering and completed a level 2 catering qualification through SERC as well as a 3 month placement in a busy kitchen. However once he completed his training he lacked the confidence to secure paid work and became unemployed. It was at the Jobs and Benefits Office he was first told about NOW Group. 

Daniel joined NOW’s employment service in February 2017. He was introduced to Employment Officer for the North Down and Ards area Natasha McQuade who worked closely with him to determine where his interests lay, what his aspirations were and how NOW could work with him to achieve his goals.

They soon discovered that Daniel wanted to find a job as a Kitchen Porter and work his way through the ranks. Natasha and Daniel began to fill in job applications for vacancies and search for suitable opportunities as well as meeting up regularly for one to one mentoring sessions on CV building and interview techniques. Daniel was soon being offered interviews and work trials for suitable positions. Unfortunately these didn’t result in a job offer straight away, however with each experience he gained more confidence and improved his interview techniques – Daniel was more determined than ever to keep striding toward his goals. 

Natasha approached the HR Manager of the Culloden Estate and Spa who had previously offered positions to NOW Group participants; she offered Daniel an interview and a work trial with a view to it turning into a paid Kitchen Porter role if it worked out. 

His work trial was a success and Daniel has now worked at the Culloden for 3 months. To ensure the job works out successful in the long term for everyone involved, Daniel is still supported in his job by his Employment Officer at NOW who speaks with him by phone and meets with him regularly to offer ongoing support. This support includes providing advice around money management, confidence building and managing stress. 

Speaking about his experience of finding a job with NOW and the ongoing supported employment Daniel comments,

“If I hadn’t got in touch with NOW I would still just be in the house all day sleeping. The support I received to get the job, and that I still get in work, has been really helpful. It is great to have money coming in; it means I can be more independent. I’m glad I contacted NOW, it was worth doing.”

Daniel works alongside Executive Chef Paul McKnight in the busy Culloden kitchen. Paul is delighted to have Daniel on his team and believes the ongoing support NOW provides to both employers and employees is a reassuring way to ensure they end up with the best staff possible. Paul comments, “I could see the potential in him right away, it was clear he had the right attitude. He is always chasing work which is what we need in the kitchen. Daniel has the personality to succeed and is a valued member of staff. “Knowing that there is the support of NOW Group there if there were any problems is reassuring. Working with NOW is a journey I would recommend for people who are looking to get into work.”


When a client joins the NOW Group employment service they are provided with a dedicated employment officer who will work with them to help prepare for looking for work or volunteering, support them in applying for jobs and then support them in their new position.

For people who aren’t ready to apply for work when they first join the service the NOW Group team work to help them prepare for applying for work and building their CV with a range of training courses including customer service, communications and essential skills. The service also offers tailored career guidance and access to a Job Club.

girl Amanda with mother and friend

Amanda Jones, Transition Service

“We do lots of different things that I wouldn’t have done before like going to the gym and volunteering at events.”

Finishing full time education can be an unsettling time for someone with a learning difficulty or autism. Often they go from a safe, supportive environment into an unknown world full of pressures they have not experienced before. Many are not in a position to enter further education or look for a job, which can lead to unemployment and becoming increasingly isolated from society.

NOW offers a Transition service aimed at preparing school leavers for the next chapter of their lives, as well as a 5 day a week programme called Transition 2 for 18-30 year olds with a learning disability who have left education but are not yet work ready. 


Amanda Jones is 23 and from North Belfast.  Amanda attended Glenveagh School in Belfast and first worked with NOW when a Transition Officer came from the organisation to the school to take classes aimed at preparing the students for moving on from full time education. The Transition Officer talked to the pupils about various career paths and gave them the opportunity to discover new skills.

When Amanda left school she went on to attend college, however soon found that the environment wasn’t suitable for her. It was then her Mum, Karen, got in touch with NOW to find out if they had any other services which might be a good fit, Transition 2 had just been launched and so Amanda joined. Speaking about Transition 2 Karen said, “Amanda went to tech but she didn’t like it and it wasn’t the right environment for her to develop. There were too many people and she didn’t get enough support, she was even bullied. 

“Since she has been going to Transition 2 I have seen a real development in her skills. In particular I notice a difference in how she handles money and her maths and English has definitely improved. The variety of the activities she does there is fantastic and keeps her interested. As a parent it is reassuring for me to know that Amanda is happy when she goes there and that she is progressing.”

Speaking about her experience of both the Transition and Transition 2 service Amanda said,

“When I was at school it was helpful having NOW come in and talk to us about careers, it helped us think about what we might want to do in the future.

“I was bullied when I went to tech and didn’t like going there. I was nervous about starting Transition 2 incase it was the same, but I’m so much happier there. There is a really nice atmosphere and I’ve made good friendships. I love going to Trans 2, I’d recommend it to anyone!

“We do lots of different things that I wouldn’t have done before like going to the gym and volunteering at events. My favourite thing is probably learning about money management because it really helps me every day.”

nursery work and kids

Shelley Ritchie, Family Service

“My confidence was at zero before I started on the service and now it is at 100.”

Shelley Ritchie is 28 and from North Belfast. She is the mum of two boys – Reo who is 2 ½ and Darren aged 1. Shelley has a learning difficulty and was referred to the NOW Group Family Service just before she became pregnant with Darren. 

Shelley felt isolated and wanted to join the service as she hoped it would help her meet new people and get out of the house more. She ended up getting much more out of it than she expected as the service was able to support her throughout her second pregnancy and adapting to being a mum of two boys under two. Speaking about the impact the service has had on her life Shelley said, “The Family Service has made me a better mum to my two kids.”

Shelley worked in Iceland supermarket for 10 years before she had her eldest son Reo. When he was born she gave up her job to look after him, however she found it difficult to adapt to life as a mum and Reo’s Dad ended up being his main carer. Shelley found she became isolated and felt that she didn’t have any friends, so was interested to find out more when she found out about NOW Group’s Family Service.

NOW’s Family Service is a five year Big Lottery Funded project that supports new and expectant parents who have a learning disability, difficulty or an Autism Spectrum Condition. The service provides one to one and group based support to participants with a child under 5 years old who live in the Greater Belfast area and attend either the Royal Jubilee or Mater maternity units. 

When Shelley joined the service she had just found out she was pregnant with her second son. She was set up with a key worker called Naomi Campbell who went to doctors appointments with her and helped her understand all the information she was being told. 

“With my first baby I didn’t hear anything the doctors said to me. But when Naomi came with me she made sure I understood what was happening.”

As well as supporting Shelley with medical appointments and advice with her children her key worker also helps her set and achieve short term goals. These have included getting out more and going for walks, learning how to budget better and making plans for training and employment. 

Shelley’s long term ambition is to run her own bar and NOW are supporting her on the path to making this dream a reality. She has been assigned an employment officer who is working with her to take part in suitable training courses and when her children are a bit older she would like to gain experience of working in a bar.

“I’ve made loads of friends through the Family Service. I get to meet people who are in similar situations and that really helps me, we meet up for Rhythm and Rhyme classes and go on day trips with the kids to places like Portrush and Bangor.

Having the Family Service help me through my second pregnancy was great and everything seemed so much easier than the first time. Now I am working towards getting training and hope to get a job when the boys go to school. My confidence was at zero before I started on the service and now it is at 100.”

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