On 9th September 2019, Supporting Communities held a graduation event at Belfast City Hall to mark the success of their 2018/19 graduates who all gained OCN NI qualifications. The learners came from different community groups to celebrate their achievements and officially receive their certificates of completion in courses such as Community Capacity Building (CCB), Understanding Social Enterprise, Community Development, and Tenant Participation.
Opening the ceremony, Sheenagh Mc Nally, Head of Corporate Services for Supporting Communities, talked about the evolution of the training service over Supporting Communities’ 40-year history. This event marks the beginning of a new phase for the organisation with the very first annual graduation ceremony bringing participants from many different communities together. She told the assembled graduates, “I hope that this is only the beginning of your journey and that you grow in confidence and feel empowered to reach your full potential both personally and for your local communities.”
Next on the agenda, Martin Flynn, Chief Executive of OCN NI, spoke about the impact that vocational training has on both individuals and communities. Supporting Communities is an OCN accredited training centre delivering level 1-3 courses tailored to the needs of community groups in Northern Ireland.
Lorraine Campbell, the Chair of Supporting Communities, had the honour of handing out the certificates themselves, as one by one, the graduates came forward to receive their awards to great applause from their peers.
The Housing Executive, who fund Supporting Communities' training programme through an annual Service Level Agreement for members of the Housing Community Network, was in attendance to congratulate the learners on their accomplishment as well.
Colm McQuillan, the Housing Executive’s Director of Housing Services, presented a special award to Andrea Wiltshaw for ‘Excellence in Learning’. Andrea has completed Supporting Communities Community Capacity Building Level 1, Level 2, Level 3 and has now received a certificate for her latest course, Community Development Level 3, amassing over 350 classroom and learning hours in the past three years. She now plans to start the Understanding Social Enterprise Level 2 course this autumn.
The ceremony concluded with some words of encouragement from former students Aaron Thompson and David McPhilips. Aaron and David are volunteers from the Killynure area of Carryduff who started on their journey of learning with Supporting Communities several years ago and have since completed the full suite of CCB Levels 1, 2 and 3, Community Development Level 3, Social Enterprise Level 2 and 3. It was through the social enterprise programme that Aaron and David were then able to access the Advanced Diploma in Social Enterprise at Ulster University where they graduated last year. Dave and Aaron told this year’s graduates to make the most of any opportunities that come their way. “Now that you’ve taken this step, keep going with your education as far as you can. For yourself and for your community.”
There were 30 graduates from seven groups represented at the event; Westland Community Group, the New Beginnings group, Whiteabbey Community Group, Glencairn Community Project & Glencairn Residents Group, the Hillhall Regeneration Group, and Tonagh Community Association.
The group of learners from the Whiteabbey Community Group picked up a couple of awards each having successfully completed Community Capacity Building Levels 1 & 3 in a record-breaking four months. The group has expanded their knowledge in the areas of governance, funding, communication, planning and social enterprise with plans to put their new skills to good use at their local community centre.
Supporting Communities Training Officer Karla Turner said, “The Whiteabbey group are such a motivated and hard-working bunch! They have put a lot of hard work into their OCN qualifications over the last few months and I’m very proud of how far they have progressed, not just as a group, but individually as well. It’s been an absolute pleasure getting to know them all. They have a lot of exciting plans to come and I cannot wait to see it all happen.”
Doreen Minford, a member of the Whiteabbey Management Committee, commented, “I really enjoyed each of the CCB courses. I was apprehensive about getting back into education and completing assignments again, but we were able to work with Karla as a group on each assignment, which was brilliant – it even helped us plan new ideas for our centre.
Other graduates in attendance were receiving their certificates in Social Enterprise. Supporting Communities’ Social Enterprise Programme includes the Level 2 and Level 3 courses ‘Understanding Social Enterprise’ and ‘Developing Social Enterprise’.
These courses were designed by Supporting Communities to complement the Housing Executives’ Social Housing Enterprise Strategy which supports individuals and organisations in the growth and development of social enterprises to improve economic activity in Housing Executive communities. The Housing Executive also covers the certification cost for each of these courses under the Social Enterprise Programme.
Stephen Marks, course tutor and programme co-ordinator said, “All of the students this year were excellent and displayed a good understanding of the subjects covered. We hope many of them will look to continue their learning and development with Supporting Communities.”
One learner remarked, “Stephen is a great teacher. We have many ideas for possible social enterprises. Watch this space!”
The event was sponsored by OCN NI, Connswater Homes, the Housing Executive, and Belfast City Council.
Supporting Communities offers a range of both accredited and non-accredited courses to help community groups to develop their skills in community development, governance, financial management, social enterprise and more. Our accredited courses are certified through OCN NI up to Level 3 and make an excellent path to higher education for anyone looking to get back into more formal education.