Lead partner South West College (SWC) officially launched the Rural Economic Accelerator Programme (REAP) in partnership with Fermanagh and Omagh District Council (FODC), First Step Women’s Centre (FSWC) and South Tyrone Empowerment Programme (STEP) on Thursday 5 October 2023 at The Workhouse in Enniskillen.

The new £2.8m employability programme is funded through the Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities (DLUHC) as part of the UK Shared Prosperity Fund (UKSPF) under the Northern Ireland People and Skills strand.

With funding available until 31 March 2025, REAP aims to engage 1,340 economically inactive beneficiaries from the Mid Ulster and Fermanagh and Omagh District Council areas, moving at least 20% into employment using an innovative three phase employability model.

SWC, working in partnership with Fermanagh and Omagh District Council, First Steps Women’s Centre, and South Tyrone Empowerment Programme, aim to engage participants across 5 strands (NEET young people, 50+, Health conditions, Ethnic minorities and Women) to support them in gaining new skills, building their confidence and helping them further develop their career path either into employment, education or training.

During the event attendees heard from partners Michael McGoldrick (FSWC), Fintan McAliskey (STEP) and Anne Quinn (FODC) regarding the partnership working and how the programme aims to support individuals from a variety of backgrounds and circumstances. Participants who are currently engaging on the programme within FSWC shared their journeys with attendees and funders from UKSPF; it was truly inspiring to hear the participants’ experiences and the need for programmes such as REAP.

Speaking at the launch event, Chair of Fermanagh and Omagh District Council, Councillor Thomas O’Reilly, said:

“The REAP Programme aims to provide comprehensive support to local people to help them to navigate their journey to employment. The support includes training, mentoring tools and resources to enhance skills in confidence building, digital technology, job searching, CV development and interview preparation along with opportunities for work experience.

By successfully developing and enhancing such skills, our residents will be able to embrace employment opportunities and achieve greater financial stability. In addition, individuals can also benefit from increased social interaction which can lead to improved mental health and wellbeing.”

Also speaking at the launch event, Celine McCartan SWC CEO said

“I am thrilled to announce that we have secured £2.8 million in funding to address economic inactivity, enhance skills development, and expand educational opportunities in our community. This substantial investment is a testament to our commitment to empowering individuals with the tools they need to thrive in today's dynamic workforce.

This funding will enable us to bridge the gap between education and employment, providing innovative programs and resources that directly address the economic challenges faced by our community. We are dedicated to nurturing talent, fostering inclusivity, and ensuring that everyone has access to quality education and training.

We extend our gratitude to the organisations and individuals who have supported us in this endeavour, and we look forward to the positive impact that this funding will have on our students, our community, and our society as a whole."

The programme is now live across the Mid-ulster and Fermanagh and Omagh District Council areas. If you would like to find out further information about the programme and receive support in gaining employment or to further develop skills, please contact South West College, First Step Womens Centre, South Tyrone Empowerment Programme or Fermanagh and Omagh District Council.