NOW Group has a long-established track record of working with people with learning difficulties and autism to support them in to jobs with a future.
NOW Group’s European Social Fund funded Verve programme is targeted at participants with learning disabilities who need additional support in order to access sustainable paid employment or voluntary opportunities. It offers innovative pre-employment training which reflects labour market trends. Participants have the support of a dedicated Employment Officer who can assist with CV and interview preparation and offer access to training courses and a job club.
NOW Group also supports people through the Workable NI programme. This programme provides a flexible range of long term assistance to people with disabilities with substantial barriers to employment, to find and keep work.
In 2018/19 the team assisted 81 participants into paid employment with an impressive 89% retention rate after six months. Sixty-six employees were supported in their roles through the Workable NI programme and 34 voluntary jobs were secured. One hundred and fifteen work placements across all sectors of the economy were also delivered.
Expanding and excelling
As Northern Ireland’s hospitality sector continues to grow, NOW Group recently announced it would be replicating its successful Belfast Loaf Academy in Omagh in partnership with Fermanagh and Omagh District Council.
The Academy in Omagh will be available to people with learning difficulties and autism in the local area. The 12-week course provides both practical and classroom-based learning for people interested in a career in the hospitality industry. Participants will study for an accredited qualification, undertake a guaranteed work placement and have the support of dedicated NOW Group staff in their search for job opportunities.
The first academy intake of eight students will be based for their practical learning in the new Loaf Café at the Ulster American Folk Park. This café is the fourth run by NOW Group alongside its corporate catering business. All these businesses provide supported work experience opportunities for participants to learn in a real business environment.
Coupled with its commitment to working with people with learning difficulties and autism, NOW Group seeks to make a positive contribution to the communities in which it operates. It has recently been successful in attracting funding to expand its work at one of its sites.
Fresh produce and delicious pizza
Working in partnership with the Department of Agriculture, Environment and Rural Affairs through its Coastal Communities Fund, the Group will be able to grow its work in County Down. Its Loaf Pottery and Pizzeria opened in the rural village of Crawfordsburn, North Down in May 2018. The pottery will now be used to offer volunteering and employment opportunities for isolated residents alongside NOW Group participants.
The new project will create five additional part time jobs in the pottery and offer a monthly calendar of classes for local people. Local volunteers will be recruited and trained and, ultimately, the project will contribute to the long-term sustainability of the pottery and pizzeria. The pottery has a thriving garden which offers a great learning opportunity as well as providing fresh produce for the food served in the pottery and NOW Group’s other cafés.
The expanded work in the area will address issues such as rural isolation, ageism and the discrimination faced by people with learning difficulties and autism by developing the pottery into a true community hub.
Sean Hanna is Programme Manager at the NOW Group. Sean has been with the organisation for almost four years. He is responsible for day to day operations of all funded projects. He manages a team of 16 Employment Officers, 9 Job Coaches and 5 Skills Trainers respectively. Sean works with employers and organisations to identify and develop sustainable job opportunities for our participants. Another fundamental element of Sean’s role is to manage multiple relationships with a range of funders and stakeholders, which include local authorities.