Marking 20 years of transforming lives

James McCarthy.
James McCarthy.

Lisburn-based charity Stepping Stones NI is celebrating 20 years of supporting people with learning difficulties and learning disabilities to gain meaningful training and employment.

The charity opened its doors in Lisburn in 1998 as a pilot project. Twenty years on it has grown significantly, now providing services across greater Belfast, Downpatrick, Newtownards and surrounding areas.

Stepping Stones NI has received several awards over the years and is currently a finalist in three categories for the 2018 Lisburn and Castlereagh City Business Awards. The charity is current holder of ‘Best Social Enterprise’, with its Chief Officer, Paula Jennings, ‘Business Person of the Year’.

Commenting on the charity’s development, Paula said: “We have learned, grown and matured in the last two decades. We know that by working together with parents, carers, the business community and funders we can support our clients to progress towards a better life. Every day we see progress, accomplishment, self-belief and independence in our trainees. They are the heartbeat of our organisation and prove to us and the wider community that with the right support people with a learning disability and leaning difficulty can secure paid employment and stay in that employment.”

With strong links to employers, Stepping Stones NI provides tailored support to each client to gain new skills, confidence and paid employment. Their team provides training, mentoring and one-to-one support to find employment and stay in employment. Employment officers work with each client and employer to ensure a smooth transition and supportive environment.

Employment Service client James McCarthy from Lisburn was supported to secure an NVQ and full-time work in retail and says: “The support has changed my life, I have achieved greater independence and self-belief. The encouragement and training I received really helped me to move forward and to secure a job which I enjoy. I no longer let my ADHD and Dyslexia hold me back, I have a future to look forward to.”

Clients also have the opportunity to develop new skills throughout the charity’s six social enterprises which include four cafes, a guild commended picture framing business and wedding stationery business. Each business serves as a realistic training platform, with 100 per cent of profits reinvested to support the charity’s work.

Stepping Stones NI is part funded though the Northern Ireland European Social Fund Programme 2014 – 2020 and the Department for the Economy.

If you know someone who could benefit from support to gain development towards employment, contact Claire Humphreys on employment@stepping-stones.org.uk or call 028 9266 6404.