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Funding provides learning opportunities for diverse communities in the Midlands

It continues to support community education partners make sure that these learners are not left behind.”

The Education Training Boards in the Midlands have released two fantastic pieces of good news. Longford and Westmeath ETB have been awarded €200,000 in REACH funding to assist marginalised learners in accessing community education programmes, and the Offaly Traveller Movement (OTM), in collaboration with Laois & Offaly Education and Training Board (LOETB), will launch Ireland’s first Traveller-specific pre-apprenticeship programme.

Ireland’s first Traveller specific pre-apprenticeship programme in Offaly

The landmark initiative in Offaly is designed to equip members of the Traveller community with the necessary education and skills to advance into further education or craft apprenticeships. Over half of Irish Travellers leave school by age 15, and less than 1% advance to higher education. This stark educational inequality has far-reaching consequences, contributing to an unemployment rate of 80.2% within the Traveller community.

Andrew Brownlee, CEO of Solas, Sandra McDonagh, Managing Director of Offaly Traveller Movement, Lorna Middleton, LTI Co-Ordinator, OTM, Cathaoirleach of Offaly County Council, Cllr. Tony McCormack

A key part of the Further Education Training (FET) strategy is focused on fostering inclusion and providing tailored pathways to encourage the participation of learner cohorts who are less likely to take part in education. Speaking at the launch of the initiative, Andrew Brownlee, CEO of SOLAS said: “This creates opportunities to achieve their goals, whether that’s to access quality employment or to improve their self-confidence and mental well-being.”

The programme’s key characteristics include the creation of a bespoke curriculum that tackles both academic and practical skills, as well as cultural awareness and traveler-specific support. This curriculum will encourage strong partnerships with local businesses to offer apprenticeships. The LOETB will play an important role in providing high-quality training and mentorship, ensuring that participants have the resources they need to succeed. This programme is a pilot model with the potential for nationwide rollout through other traveler organisations and local Education and Training Boards (ETBs). 

€200,000 in funding for Longford and Westmeath ETB

SOLAS, the state agency responsible for Further Education and Training (FET), announced the funding, which will support almost 800 learners across the Longford and Westmeath areas to access and participate in local community education provision, including online learning, literacy, and basic skills programmes.

In Longford, both the Family Resource Centres, Lus na Gréine in Granard and Bridgeways in Ballymahon, have used Reach funding under ‘Innovative Green Projects’ to develop community gardens.

The Innovative Green Projects initiative team at Granard’s Lus na Gréine

Manager of Lus na Gréine, Eileen Finan, said: “Reach funding has empowered Lus na Gréine FRC to overcome educational barriers through the ‘Innovative Green Projects’ initiative. This project has successfully attracted individuals eager to learn in a dynamic environment, integrating conversation and hands-on activities with green spaces and living plants in our new community garden space. Participants have highly praised this approach. We commend this innovative project and extend our gratitude to our funders, SOLAS and LWETB.”

Antonine Healy, Director of Further Education and Training at LWETB, believes this vital funding will go a long way toward supporting some of the hardest-to-reach people in our local communities. “Funding will be used to build a digital infrastructure in our local region and enable us to continue delivering access to learning opportunities for our diverse communities. I would also like to commend the work of the community education facilitators who, on behalf of LWETB, work continuously with community groups across Longford and Westmeath.”

Women’s Community Projects, Mullingar.

Safe Learning Places

Since 2020, thousands of initiatives have received Reach Funding, which has helped to empower learners, build digital infrastructures to foster inclusion, and support learning in the Longford and Westmeath regions and across Ireland. It has helped to develop safe learning spaces, the digital divide, build stronger learning communities, and increase the capacity of community education organisations across local communities.

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