ILMI’s three year EU funded IT and Social Inclusion project, in the border counties, named ONSIDE completed delivery of its final group M a few weeks ago. The project finished with full participation with the ILMI Project team delivering the six weekly Social Inclusion and IT zoom workshops. This final group, with the excitingly named Group M, tops-up our ILMI project participant numbers to 627 of an overall original EU Project target of 625 graduates since winter 2019.
ILMI ONSIDE Community Navigators (CNs) Orla Beirne and Edel McGinley began our first Social Inclusion and IT workshops in-person at community centres in November 2019. The very first workshops were Disability Equality training sessions delivered by ILMI ONSIDE Coordinator Peter Kearns. These were soon followed by weekly workshops in Monaghan & Donegal which included such themes as financial wellbeing hosted by the Competition and Consumer Protection Commission and county council information sessions on accessing rights on-line. In 2020, ILMI recruited further border county CNs in Sligo/Leitrim (Marie Gilligan, Fiona Brennan & Audrey Wilson), Louth (Clive Lowry) and Cavan (Mark McCollum).
According to the project’s Coordinator, Peter; “One aspect of the Social Inclusion afternoons we were keen to emphasise was how the disabled participants could create community connections in their local areas by having speakers from the local volunteer centre, various sports and cultural clubs and the local ETB venues“.
When the Coordinator and team developed the programme further in early April of 2020 during the Pandemic Lockdown, ONSIDE Disability Equality Officer Dr James Casey remarks that Covid in-person restrictions, while an overall terrible national experience, did allow ILMI’s on-line pro-active Zoom based workshops response to identify: “the Social Inclusion workshops to become a useful space where participants could find out more about taking part as peer researchers or peer volunteers. As ILMI ONSIDE to a wholly on-line format in early spring 2020 – while our UK partners re-started their NI ONSIDE in autumn 2020 – the ILMI ONSIDE team integrated the Social Inclusion workshops so that they complimented the IT training that our average of 60-70 participants were receiving on the initial 8-week programme design that later was refined to a six week delivery”.
According to ILMI programmed designers Peter and James the preferences of the workshops were always to have topics and interests from mainstream services. Integral to the Social Inclusion programme was a foregrounding of disability rights, Independent Living narratives and the format of disability equality workshops that began each ILMI ONSIDE project group.
Although ILMI ran sessions at Donegal and Monaghan community centres from Nov. 2019 to March 2020, the pandemic zoom based Social Inclusion workshops ran on a Thursday afternoons from April 2020 – September 2022. Logistically, during the several lockdowns, there were many challenges, but these were challenges – not barriers and the team dealt with these creatively and differently in the drive to maintain and continue the delivery of the project to the participants.
In 2021 the ILMI Coordinator persuaded partner Coordinators to reduce the programme from eight to six weeks so as to enable more participants to take part in the IT and Social Inclusion training. Our NI partners embraced the need for regular Social Inclusion guest speakers in summer 2021 alongside the purely IT training towards the final 2022 groups of disabled people.
From April 2020 – September 2022 ILMI ONSIDE completed 13 combined groups in the IT and Social Inclusion programmes, plus a unique ONSIDE Summer Youth Camp in July 2020. 143 Social Inclusion Workshops were held and consisted of the following training:
- 13 Disability Equality Workshops
- 13 Personal Finance and electronic banking with Eve Curran (Ulster Bank/CPCC) workshops.
- 13 National Advocacy Service workshops.
- 13 ETB Workshops (these are local adult and continuing education colleges)/Library Service Workshops
- 78 County specific workshops: These workshops varied from county to county. Usually the local Volunteering centre or a local Men’s Shed or Hens Shed, the local employment service or local LGBT+ groups gave the participants an overview of their services and how to get involved in their communities.
- 13 Final Workshops with ILMI ONSIDE and ILMI guest speakers and feedback sessions.
- 627 Disabled adults took part (and finished) in the Social Inclusion Workshops over a period of 28 months.
In addition, the project Coordinator and team ran a specific Youth Camp in June/July 2020 for young disabled people. In addition to the usual ONSIDE IT and Social Inclusion workshops the team worked with Youth Work Ireland who delivered a tremendous workshop for the young people on sexual health and relationships, this was the first time this had been delivered to young disabled people by the mainstream Youth body.
The Coordinator would very much like to thank Dr James Casey and all the ILMI Community Navigators for their dedication throughout the project and would like to quote from James’ most recent report: “ We did things that may have seemed unorthodox at first but these methodologies were what enabled us to meet the challenge of Covid and not only continue the programme but excel at it, this to their credit is down to the tenacity and creativity of our co-coordinator and my colleagues. Retrospectively, what we achieved and the impact we have had on hundreds of people’s lives during a once in a life time event is immense and perhaps not fully apparent yet”. And Dr James Casey would also like to add; “What is apparent and clear, is that 627 disabled people in rural border counties of Ireland completed the Onside project are now more technologically able, more social included and more part of the local communities and that is something for ILMI to be proud of.“. Peter would also like to point-out the importance that each ILMI ONSIDE Social Inclusion workshops programme schedule all began with an Introduction to Disability Equality, which was initially led by the Coordinator but later delivered by CNs and Dr James Casey.
Other workshops that were delivered on the A to M 6-week programmes of 13 included: an Introduction to ILMI resources (Regular speakers were Patrick Flanagan, Shelly Gaynor, James Cawley, Fiona Weldon and ILMI CEO Damien Walshe) and then into the growing popularity of On-Line Money Management Eve Curran (Ulster Bank rolled these workshops out nationally following their development with ILMI ONSIDE Team). The further Social Inclusion sessions were delivered by ETB adult education presentations and Local Development Company workshops with Community Development Workers. Other guest speakers on the ILMI ONSIDE Social Inclusion included cooking and healthy eating, well-being, on-line fitness training, arts, disabled film-makers and LGBTQIA+ talks and speakers
ILMI’s final contact numbers were beyond the 627 graduates by our Navigators and have included direct One-to-One contact with over 1,500+ border county disabled adults and youth throughout the past three years.
Although, ILMI’s ONSIDE EU Project is coming to the end of its 2019-2022 funding our Community Navigators have secured full-time permanent roles with various community and supports services from Donegal across to Louth. ILMI’s ONSIDE Coordinator has continued to facilitate mentoring contacts with the remaining Cavan ILMI Community Navigator and Dr Casey as ILMI ONSIDE Disability Equality Officer continues to support the Organisations various groups that have formed with ILMI since 2019. The ILMI Onside team would like to thank everyone who has engaged with and supported the project since June 2019. It has been an honour and extremely fulfilling to work alongside the hundreds of disabled people in the border counties and beyond and to collectively strive for full inclusion and disability rights.