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Social Affairs magazine for community/voluntary sector Website: viewdigital.org

Issue 19, 2013

VIEW VOLUNTEER NOW’S FUNDING SLASHED –

WHY?

READ FULL STORY ON PAGES 4-5 AND COMMENT PIECE

BY CHIEF EXECUTIVE WENDY OSBORNE ON PAGE 6 For FREE at http://bit.ly/1c2jb3G

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VIEW, issue 19, 2013

First year

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Cross border

CONTENTS

Pages 8-9 VIEW talks to programme director Dawn Purvis, right, as the Marie Stopes clinic marks its first year

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Pages 14-15 We report on a range of voices at a recent seminar in Newry, organised by the Building Change Trust

Looking back

Welfare fears

Page 10 The first in a new series where people in Northern Ireland reflect on where they grew up and the changes they have witnessed

Page 16 One woman talks to VIEW about her concerns as the prospect of huge welfare cuts in Northern Ireland comes closer

Masterclasses

City sleep-out

Page 11 Check out our range of VIEWdigital masterclasses. Something to suit everyone in the community/voluntary sector

Page 20 Volunteers take part in sleep-out to raise awareness about the growing issue of homelessness among young people

PHoToLinE Photographer Kevin cooper has more than 25 years experience in Press and Pr photography. Kevin works to a wide range of clients in community and voluntary sector organisations as well as the trade union movement. For quoTaTions conTacT Kevin cooper E: photoline@supanet.com T: 028 90777299 M: 07712044751

Editorial

VIEW, the online publication for the community/voluntary sector in Northern Ireland.

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ou would almost be forgiven for thinking that Northern Ireland was escaping the benefit cuts. Our politicians have given few indications of how they plan to protect vulnerable people from the cuts, which are already causing misery in Britain. In fact, they have not had much of substance to say on the issue since April when Social Development Minister Nelson McCausland pulled the Welfare Reform Bill before the consideration stage. But there are ominous signs that the cuts are coming. Last week, Finance Minister Simon Hamilton indicated that he was determined to push them through to avoid a reduction in funding from Westminster.

VIEW editor Lucy Gollogly With recent research showing that the benefit cuts will hit Northern Ireland harder than any other UK region, we speak to one woman in this issue about her fears for the future. The Co Derry publican was forced to shut her once successful bar

and take part-time care work to survive. Like many people, she is dependent on Working Tax Credit to pay her bills, and fears that the impending benefit cuts will push her and others like her over the edge. This is despite the fact that she still has a job. Others are in worse circumstances. Some cannot even afford to feed themselves. It emerged in recent weeks that the number of people in the UK relying on food banks has tripled over the past year. The Trussell Trust, which runs 400 food banks including a number in Northern Ireland, provided food to more than 350,000 people between April and September this year. A third needed food following a delay in the payment of benefits.


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Phillip Graham – media consultant for Oxfam Ireland What expression do you use more than most? “What about NI? as my Oxfam colleagues in Dublin will tell you”

What is your position and how long have you worked there?

John Lydon, George Best, Stephen Fry, Michelle Pfeiffer and Oscar Wilde.

I am Media and Communications Executive for Oxfam Ireland, where I have been working since 2007.

Favourite holiday location and why?

Your favourite film? It varies depending on mood. Terry Gilliam’s Brazil. Lawrence of Arabia or the original Planet of the Apes, with Charlton Heston. Goodfellas is another eminently quotable movie favourite. Even though I own them on DVD, any time they’re on TV, I always end up watching them all over again. Your favourite book or author? Brave New World by Aldous Huxley, or Oscar Wilde’s The Picture of Dorian Gray. I also love Wilde’s children’s stories – they make excellent bedtime reading for my two boys, though they are almost so painfully poignant that I can’t finish them without welling up. Five ideal guests for a dinner party – alive or deceased?

Vancouver, to visit relatives and the Rockies; Mauritius for the weather; and the wild west of Ireland for a staycation with unspoilt beaches and megalithic archaeology.

crisis. Their generosity, which extended to taking in other hungry migrant families who similarly were in need, was certainly humbling. The hundred of Oxfam volunteers and campaigners who freely give up their time, money and expertise also help motivate me – their energy, passion and dedication is infectious; and ultimately the country programme partners whose life-changing and life-saving work delivers real change.

Most embarrassing moment?

Pet hate?

Any time I try to impress by singing or playing guitar.

Being stuck behind someone tall when at a movie or concert.

What expression do you use more than most?

Favourite TV show?

“Pass it!” as my footballing mates will attest, or “What about NI?” as my Oxfam colleagues in Dublin will tell you. Who has been your biggest inspiration to date? Professionally, it must be the proud communities I met in remote Burkina Faso, caring for their families at the time of a food

News and current affairs shows for work, and for pleasure it’s BBC4’s music documentaries and re-runs of Top of the Pops with Buzzcocks and the Undertones. Your ideal job? Striker for Liverpool FC, though at my age it would ultimately lead to being my answer to the earlier question; “Most embarrassing moment”.


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30th Volunteer Week now facing the axe Una Murphy reports on a charity left reeling in the wake of funding cuts after helping to deliver the highly successful World Police and Fire Games

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orthern Ireland’s 30th Volunteer Week faces the axe next year following £600,000 government funding cuts to Volunteer Now, who organised the event. 138,213 volunteers took part in this year’s Volunteer Week and 3,500 volunteers also took part in the World Police and Fire Games – which came to Northern Ireland for the first time in the summer. Volunteer Now was coordinating volunteers to be the “Face of the Games” at the World Police and Fire Games – described by the WPFG Federation president Mike Graham as the “best and friendliest Games ever” – as news spread to their staff about the cuts. The £600,00 drop in funding at Volunteer Now over the next 18 months has led to staff being made redundant or a reduction in their hours at work. The Northern Ireland government announced last May that there was to be a “rebalancing” in the budget for the volunteer sector in favour of organisations involved in “frontline delivery”. Wendy Osborne, Chief Executive of

Volunteer Now, said: “The extent of the funding cut will effectively fracture the volunteering support role provided by Volunteer Now at both a regional and local level.” Top managers in Volunteers Now expected some cutbacks but were surprised by the severity compared to other third sector umbrella bodies in Northern Ireland, such as NICVA. “It is also difficult to rationalise why the volunteering infrastructure has had such a substantive and immediate funding cut when other third sector infrastructure bodies have had in some cases no reduction or a smaller and phased reduction in funding,” Ms Osborne said. “Sadly there is no infrastructure funding to support Volunteers Week now going into its 30th year.” This year over 840 organisations took part, 8,000 volunteer badges and 10,000 volunteer recognition certificates were given out; 580 of the organisations involved with the Week took part in a ‘volunteer count’ and the number of volunteers came to a staggering 138,213”, she said.

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Mary Peters and Wendy Osborne, chief executive of Volunteer Now, with some of the many volunteers who took part in the World Police and Fire Games in Belfast recently


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Comment Wendy Osborne, chief executive of Volunteer Now, tells of the ramifications for her organisation after the Minister for Social Development decided to reduce the level of funding support that they receive

Volunteer Now encouraging people in Northern Ireland to take part in the World Police and Fire Games (WPFG) which were held in August this year

The extent of this funding cut will fracture the volunteering support role provided by us

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e had the most fantastic summer event in Northern Ireland, the World, Police and Fire Games, and it was the 3,300 volunteers that helped deliver the ‘friendliest games ever’ who really stole the show. The sea of red uniforms clearly showed the community spirit of Northern Ireland and highlighted the important contribution of volunteers. This was good news for volunteering. Unfortunately there was less good news when the Minister for Social Development took the decision in May to rebalance funding support for volunteering with the result that volunteering infrastructure support was cut by 50 per cent from October 1. It is regrettable that there was no consultation with the volunteering infrastructure organisations or the wider volunteering sector prior to this announcement. It is also difficult to rationalise why

the volunteering infrastructure has had such a substantive and immediate funding cut when other third sector infrastructure bodies have had in some cases no reduction or a smaller and phased reduction in funding. The extent of the funding cut will effectively fracture the volunteering support role provided by Volunteer Now at both a regional and local level. Important regional support for volunteering that enhances key services such as promotion and capacity building has been lost or at best put under serious threat. Sadly, there is no infrastructure funding to support Volunteers Week going now into its 30th year. This year over 840 organisations took part, 8,000 volunteer badges and 10,000 volunteer recognition certificates were given out; 580 of the organisations involved with the week took part in a ‘volunteer count’ and the number of volunteers came to a staggering 138,213.

There is no funding to support training, for example, the Effective Management of Volunteers university accredited programme, the only one of its kind in Ireland, and the result is we have had to turn 75 potential applicants away. Last year we responded to over 5,600 queries in relation to volunteer management issues and responded to 31 policy consultations. Our Northern Ireland wide information and policy service cannot be sustained. Yet these services are all tried, tested and fundamental to supporting volunteering and the delivery of the Northern Ireland Volunteering Strategy. There is ambivalence between the rhetoric of the Volunteering Strategy which clearly states that a high quality volunteering infrastructure offering a consistent coordinated approach has a key role to play in the successful delivery of the strategy and the action taken to drastically reduce the infrastructure support funding.


Practical advice and a sensitive personal approach. We pride ourselves on our unrivalled commitment to clients’ needs.

Edwards & Co. solicitors advises charities and the voluntary sector in Northern Ireland on a wide range of legal issues including charity creation, charitable status and constitutional matters, trading and commercial arrangements, employment law, finance, fundraising and property law, as well as dealing with the Charity Commission for Northern Ireland. Our team offers a full range of legal services including mediation, wills,criminal law, clinical negligence and personal injury claims, as well as family/matrimonial work.

Contact Jenny and Teresa: Edwards & Co. Solicitors, 28 Hill Street, Belfast, BT1 2LA. Tel: (028) 9032 1863 Email: info@edwardsandcompany.co.uk Web: edwardsandcompany.co.uk


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I’m humbled by the me see and the help and s

As the Marie Stopes clinic marks its first year in Belfast, its programme director Dawn Purvis tells Lucy Gollogly about the challenges she and her staff face and why she is proud of the services they deliver

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t has been just over a year since the Marie Stopes clinic opened in Belfast, the first private facility to offer abortions on the island of Ireland. The charity, which provides reproductive and sexual health services in over 40 countries, must have expected opposition, and it got it. Dozens of anti-abortion protestors picketed the centre on Great Victoria Street on its opening day, 18 October last year, praying and singing hymns. They still gather on Thursdays and Saturdays when the clinic is open, and clients must walk past them to get into the building. So too must Dawn Purvis, the centre’s programme director. When we meet at the clinic, a light, airy and sensitively designed space on the eighth floor, I ask the former PUP leader whether her background in politics has enabled her to deal with the protests. “I don’t think it’s about being able to deal with it. Being able to deal with something means that you’re bothered by it, that you feel intimidated or threatened in some way. I absolutely don’t, because I’m humbled by the men and women who we see and the help and support that they need,” she said. “To listen to some of the stories and to read the many letters and messages of support we get just reminds you every day why you’re doing what you’re doing.” Ms Purvis said the protestors did not stop people using their services, which include STI screening and treatment, contraception and non-surgical abortion up to nine weeks gestation. In Northern Ireland, an abortion can only be performed to save the life of the mother or if continuing the pregnancy would have other serious, permanent physical or mental health effects. Women who are not entitled to an abortion here are given

information about abortion services in Britain. An unplanned pregnancy consultation at the centre costs £80 and an abortion is £350. Although they do not keep figures of the number of terminations they carry out, citing privacy concerns, Ms Purvis said more women with crisis pregnancies, including those carrying babies with fatal foetal abnormalities, are seeking help. “People who are in dire straits will seek out those services and we know that because we’ve seen our numbers increase, particularly since the start of the year,” she said. She said the draft guidelines issued by the Department of Health earlier this year have created a “chill factor” among clinicians afraid of being prosecuted, and clearer guidance was needed. “It’s not helpful for healthcare professionals working in that area and it’s not helpful for women,” she said. With Health Minister Edwin Poots due to present revised guidance in the coming weeks, the political row about abortion is continuing. Ms Purvis admitted it had been a challenging year, which included a grilling by the Stormont Justice Committee in January and a failed attempt by two MLAs to have the clinic shut in March. However, the former MLA is well used to facing down opposition. “To be part of that Marie Stopes mission, which is children by choice, not chance, and doing that here in my home city, is an amazing feeling. I’m so proud to be part of it. “Yes, it’s been quite challenging, particularly when the public and political spotlight has been turned on us, but I’m confident that our services are needed, “I’m confident that what we’re doing is within the law and I think we can only go from strength to strength.”


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en and women who we upport that they need

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Dawn Purvis in her office at the Marie Stopes clinic in Belfast Image: Brian Pelan


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Experience

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The first in a series where individuals in Northern Ireland reflect on the communities where they grew up and the changes they have witnessed over the years

Alice Murray, left, tells her story about growing up in the Short Strand, Belfast, to Lucy Gollogly Image: Brian Pelan

Everybody knew everybody else in the area. Even to this day, you know if you see someone from Ballymacarrett

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lice Murray, 78, is originally from the Short Strand of east Belfast. She moved to the lower Ormeau Road after she got married in 1956. She and her husband had seven children. She looks back on how Short Strand has changed over the years. There were eight in our family – five boys and three girls. There were only two younger than me. Everybody knew everybody else in the area. Even to this day, you know if you see someone from Ballymacarrett. There was a great community spirit. Short Strand has changed a lot. Although there were a lot of businesses, local people did not get a job then because of the different religions, except in

Richardson’s manure company. That has all changed for the better now. In those days, they could put ‘no RC (Roman Catholics) need apply’. I was a child of about six during the Blitz. There was an air raid shelter on O’Kane’s Lane (a street off the lower Newtownards Road which is no longer there) where my granny and granda lived. I remember being in the shelter and people saying the Rosary. The next thing there was a bomb dropped on the picture hall on the other side of the road, and it was demolished. I remember the flames going up. It was called the Popular and I heard people say, ‘There’s the Pop away. What will they do next?’ We used to go up to the Ormeau

Park at night for safety. There were times when it was very dark because there were no streetlights (because of the blackout). But at that age, as long as you were with your mummy and daddy and they held your hand you were all right. The wall of the Sirocco Works was right against the yard of our house and if it had been bombed during the war, we would have had no house. They were small houses. But it was a treat to go to my granny’s house.Very few people had a toilet but she did. When we would have gone there as kids, the first thing she would say was, ‘do you want a pee?’ It sounds funny now. People were always very friendly. There was a closeness there, even if you didn’t know them to speak to.


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A VIEWdigital masterclass to suit your every need – book now VIEWdigital media training workshops are held at VIEWdigital, Cromac Regeneration Initiative (CRI) 169 Donegall Pass, Belfast BT7 1DT and include lunch with discounts available if there are several participants from one organisation. VIEWdigital also offers media workshops tailored to the needs of individual organisation for 10 participants. • October 31: TV Interview with Julia Paul – price £139 (including lunch) • November 6. Shoot, Edit & Upload video production with Willis McBriar – price £99 (including lunch) • November 19. Social Media Strategy with Louise Friel – price £99 (including lunch) • November 20. Digital Content Development with Kathleen Holmlund – price £99 (including lunch) • December 3. TV Interview with Julia Paul – price £139 (including lunch) To book a place, send an email to unamurphy@viewdigital.org

• December 5. Introduction to Digital Photography with John Rush – price £99 (including lunch)


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The day VIEW met The VOICE

Lucy Gollogly, left, with Andrea Begley and top right, Andrea celebrates after being named as the winner of the BBC’s The Voice programme

By Lucy Gollogly

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INGER Andrea Begley said she felt humbled that her victory on the television talent show The Voice UK had given hope to other visually impaired people. The 27-year-old from Co Tyrone said she shied away from describing herself as an inspiration, but was happy that her achievements had given others a confidence boost. “A lot of people contacted me who were visually impaired or who had a visually impaired child for example. They told me that they feel my achievements on The Voice and in life in general has given them a bit of hope and some inspiration to try things that they would have put off because they were lacking in confidence,” she said. “It’s really humbling and it’s very nice to hear things like that.” Andrea was speaking as she helped to launch the RNIB publication This IS working in Northern Ireland. Andrea, who lost 90% of her sight after developing glaucoma as a child, is one of 11 people featured in the booklet. It aims to show how blind and partially sighted people can participate in the workplace. The Queen’s University law and politics graduate, who was a civil servant in the Department of Health before winning The Voice UK, said her experience of the workplace had been “exceptionally fulfilling”. Also speaking at the event on September 26 in Belfast was David

Galloway, director, RNIB Northern Ireland, who said: “Simple adaptations can be made to the workplace and the ever evolving technology that can assist people to work means there are so many options available – sight loss certainly does not mean having to give up your work.” Andrea has been involved with the RNIB since her student days and now sits on its Committee of Trustees. “I think the work that they do, especially on the campaigns side, is so vital. Despite the fact that there are so many visually impaired people in the community, I think a lot of the time there does tend to be a certain amount of ignorance or lack of understanding about the issues that you face as a visually impaired person,” she said. The singer said the format of The Voice had appealed to her as a partially sighted person. “It is literally The Voice. It’s very much not about all the razzmatazz, the backing dancers and people doing back flips across the stage. Don’t get me wrong, I enjoy people who are performers but I also think it’s good to be able to enjoy the simplicity of someone as a singer, and I think that is what the show offers. “And there’s no doubt about it, for someone in my position I think it definitely gave me that initial comfort to know that I was on the same footing as everyone else who was participating in the auditions.” • Andrea Begley’s album, The Message, is out now. She plays the Ulster Hall in Belfast on November 3.


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Cross border work in voluntary and community sector is an uphill struggle

Lucy Gollogly reports on a range of voices at a recent seminar in Newry, organised by the Building Change Trust

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he absence of a policy framework means cooperating across the border in the voluntary and community sector is an uphill struggle, according to a leading community consultant. Paddy Logue was speaking after Andy Pollak and Brian Harvey of the Centre for Cross Border Studies presented the findings of a report on the issue on October 18. The study, the Potential for Cross Border Exchange and Learning in Respect of Change in the Community and Voluntary Sector, concluded that a higher level of cross border cooperation could help minimise waste and duplication and

encourage innovation in the sector. It said cooperation was becoming increasingly important in a sector hit by government cuts and a drop in philanthropic funding. Mr Logue, who was one of six panel members at the seminar hosted by the Building Change Trust in Newry, said progress on the issue had not lived up to hopes raised by the Good Friday Agreement. “The absence of a policy framework makes it very difficult for community groups, local authorities or indeed the governments to engage in cross border cooperation,” he said. “Without a framework that gives direction, support and authority to cross

Clockwise, from above: Andy Pollak, left, with Avila Kilmurray, Bill Osborne, Deirdre Garvey, and Brian Harvey at the Building Change Trust seminar. Community consultant Paddy Logue, Ruth Taillon, director of the Centre of Cross Border Studies and Seamus McAleavey, chief executive of NICVA Images: Copyright © Kevin Cooper Photoline

border cooperation, projects run out of steam or they’re good for a limited time but there won’t be any sustainability or long-term learning. “They’re going it alone and some of them are doing brilliant work but a sense of direction, a sense of purpose, a sense of being in the mainstream – that still eludes cross border work.” He said that the North-South Ministerial Council had failed to deliver the policies the sector needed to collaborate effectively. “While that absence or gap is there it will always be an uphill for struggle for cross-border cooperation.” Another of the panel members, the director of the Community Foundation for


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Northern Ireland, Avila Kilmurray, said both jurisdictions had become more insular, inhibiting mutual learning. “It’s probably more difficult to engage in cross border exchange than it was in the 1990s, largely because both north and south have turned inwards to look at their own issues – the south in terms of austerity and the north in terms of seeing if the peace process will work,” she said. Deirdre Garvey, CEO of the Wheel, told delegates that one of the issues was the lack of interest in cross border cooperation. “There isn’t any demand from our members to work across the border. When there was in relation to the

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Charity Commission, NICVA and the Wheel were on it like a hot knife through butter. We did what was needed and we did a lot of it,” she said. The study’s co-author Brian Harvey said there were some good examples of cooperation in the sector, including the collaboration between NICVA and the Wheel and smaller projects in border areas. However, he said cooperation was mainly of a practical, short term nature. “The implications of how the north and south work together is rarely captured. That is a major loss that good work is not being captured and put in a place where it can be disseminated,” he said. The report made eight proposals

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about how the sectors in Northern Ireland and the Republic might work more closely together. It said gains could be made in areas including shared learning, the development of social enterprises and social finance initiatives. Bill Osborne, chairman of the Building Change Trust, said he wanted to see collaborative work in civic society becomes a priority. “Civic society for me is a driver for both peace and prosperity on the island,” he said. • Contact Building Change Trust at www.buildingchangetrust.org or email the organisation at info@buildingchangetrust.org


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Concerns: ‘I would love to go and say to those people at the top (in Stormont), come and you see what it is like down here where we are. It rips the heart out of your community’ Image posed by model

One woman tells VIEW about her fears as welfare cuts loom

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ith research showing that Northern Ireland will be hit harder by the planned welfare cuts than any other part of the UK, VIEW spoke to one woman about her fears for the future. Tess* ran a successful pub in rural Co Derry until a downturn in business forced her to close last year. Married with a young son, she is now a part-time care worker. Her husband works as a taxi driver after losing his job.

“I had the 10-year mortgage paid off on the bar and I’m currently sitting waiting for the bank to take it off me or to go bankrupt any time,” she said.

“I would love to go and say to those people at the top (in Stormont), come and you see what it is like down here where we are. It rips the heart out of your community. I just want to get up and leave this country. I’ve currently got the house up for sale. “You hear all the mums at school talking about the welfare cuts. They are saying, ‘because I have two girls and live in a house with three or four bedrooms, I’m going to have to pay extra’. “I was talking to a girl recently who had two bald tyres on her car. I thought to myself, that’s sad that she is putting her three children’s lives into danger driving about with bald tyres because they can’t afford new ones. That’s how bad things are now. “There is a lot of fear. They’re not

getting a lot of information (about the benefit cuts). You see the strain on marriages – I know a lot of girls who have said, ‘things aren’t good at home. He’s not working and he’s under my feet’.You hear people saying, ‘what’s it going to be like next year? “I get Working Tax Credits. That is a great help to me. That is what is running my home at the minute. It’s the first time in my life I’ve ever had to get anything like that. “This year with Derry being City of Culture, we had the Fleadh and it was fantastic. And everybody was saying it’s been a fantastic week, but wait until next week and the months that follow – it’ll be a real downer.” * not her real name


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Shining a light on prisoners’ issues By Ruari-Santiago McBride http://youtu.be/KfKnYW9_9WY ueen’s University’s Naughton Gallery and the Whitla Hall were the focus for events on prisoners’ issues to mark World Mental Health Day in October. An art exhibition by prisoners in Northern Ireland, called Inside Out: What You Don’t See, was held in conjunction with the launch of the first annual Northern Ireland Mental Health Arts and Film Festival. The art was produced in Maghaberry’s Donard Centre – a day unit which provides therapeutic and vocational support to prisoners with mental health problems. The exhibition explored themes of mental health and the realities of prison life, including isolation, depression and fear. The art work consisted of predominately group-based pieces produced in a variety of mediums. In the Whitla Hall more than 70 people attended a panel discussion about prisoners’ issues. Questions were raised about the impact of current prison reforms on mental health service provision and whether society listens to the voices of people coming out of prison.

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The Big Picture Managers from the Boots regional team putting their best feet forward in aid of MacMillan Cancer Charity in Belfast outide their main store in the city centre Image: Brian Pelan If you would like your community/ voluntary organisation to be selected for The Big Picture in the next issue of VIEW, send images, marked ‘Big Picture entry’ to editorial@viewdigital.org

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Some of the volunterers who took part in the Belfast event as part of ‘Byte Night’

Volunteers take part in city sleep-out to raise awareness of homeless youth

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ocal techies swapped their smart apps for sleeping bags recently as they joined in an open-air sleep-out at the Belfast Activity Centre in a bid to raise awareness of youth homelessness.  Dubbed ‘Byte Night’, more than 40 sleepers took part in the event on Friday October 4, which saw the team braving the elements on behalf of the charity Action for Children. TV ‘mentalist’, and Byte Night Belfast patron, David Meade supplied entertainment on the evening while MLA Basil McCrea joined in for the sleep-out.  Byte Night is a UK-wide campaign involving more than 1,000 sleepers across five UK locations – including Belfast. This year, organisers raised over £1m across all events. Homelessness has a devastating effect on the life chances of young people. Statistics reveal one in three will attempt suicide,one in seven have been physically or sexually assaulted and up to half have no qualifications. Across Northern Ireland, Action for Children helps over 5,000 young people and their families through mentoring, counselling and help in gaining skills to turn their lives around.  Anyone who would like to ‘chip in’ and support the charity effort can donate at www.actionforchildren.org.uk/donate or by texting ‘BYTE’ to 70800.

‘I cannot imagine what it must be be like to sleep rough every night’ By WILLIS MC BRIAR I first heard about Byte Night, the IT industry’s annual sponsored sleep-out in support of Action for Children, around a year ago. I liked the idea, but it was too late to sign up. This time around I wasn’t going to miss out. Camped out on Belfast’s streets for the night, I would be experiencing just a taster of what many homeless young people are facing in the UK. Last year the temperature on Byte Night was 3°C, about the same as the inside of a fridge. Since I had done a bit of camping as a lad, I had some idea of what sleeping outside might be like, but this time there would be no tents, just sleeping bags, bivouac bags, warm clothes and umbrellas to keep the rain off. In the event, it was a reasonably mild 10°C and there was no rain. I slept in the open air with about 50 others. Although I got six hours sleep, the experience of waking up in an unfamiliar place was still unsettling. I was absolutely shattered afterwards and I cannot imagine what it must be like to sleep rough every night. I was lucky enough to be able to go home and get into bed for another four hours sleep – a luxury a homeless person wouldn’t have. I set myself the challenging target of raising £500. The overall target was to give £1 million to Action for Children and I am delighted to report that target has just been achieved.


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