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New partnership helps unemployed people break new ground

Alpha Housing, a local housing association providing mainly sheltered housing to older people, has joined forces with Outwork, a grounds maintenance firm run by social enterprise The Turnaround Project to assist people serving sentences in the criminal justice system to get the chance to make a fresh start.

Outwork has been appointed to provide grounds maintenance on Alpha’s 30 sites across Northern Ireland until at least March 2022. This partnership will enable Outwork to help people serving sentences in the criminal justice system turn their lives around through transitional employment opportunities. In providing high-quality grounds maintenance, Outwork’s trainees will also be creating more attractive gardens for Alpha’s 1,000 elderly tenants to enjoy.

Alpha Housing and Outwork have marked the launch of the partnership with a large-scale planting project at the Lowry Court sheltered housing scheme in south Belfast. In December, hundreds of native trees and shrubs were added to the property’s grounds, a former arboretum. As well as enhancing the quality of life for residents, the new trees and hedges will provide valuable new wildlife habitats on the site adjoining the Annadale Embankment and Lagan Valley Regional Park.

Having been unhappy with the state of its communal gardens, Alpha Housing started working with Outwork early in 2020 on a year-long trial to improve its sites. Having been very impressed with the results to date, Alpha was keen to extend the partnership.

Established in 2018, Outwork is a grounds maintenance service set up by The Turnaround Project to break new ground for people facing barriers to employment. Using social enterprises, The Turnaround Project provides transitional training and employment, strengths-based support, and shared supportive communities.

Alpha and Outwork believe there is great scope for public service providers to use their buying power to better support social and environmental change, including in rehabilitating people leaving the justice system. Both organisations support a Social Value Act in Northern Ireland to help achieve this.

Alpha Chief Executive Cameron Watt said: “We are delighted to be extending our partnership with Outwork, one of Northern Ireland’s most dynamic social enterprises, into 2022. Improving our communal gardens whilst helping give second chances to people in prison and probation is a real win-win – everyone benefits.

This planting project at Lowry Court will complement residents’ recent gardening successes, including the planting of a herb garden and construction of raised beds to grow vegetables.

There’s great potential to increase the social dividends from public procurement. As the NI Executive plans to rebuild after the pandemic, a Social Value Act in NI can produce many social benefits by enabling many more partnerships like this.”

Tom Morgan, a resident of Lowry Court sheltered housing scheme, said: “Lowry Court is a lovely location and residents enjoy spending time outside. Outwork has been doing a great job in improving our gardens and this planting project will make them even better still. The Outwork crews work hard and it’s good to know they’re being helped to make positive changes in their lives.”

Richard Good, Director of Outwork, said: “For people leaving the justice system, jobs are often hard to find, and difficult to sustain.  Transitional employment helps people to overcome the challenges they face in securing long-term work.

“The partnership with Alpha has already helped provide nine people with a route back into employment, with seven coming from within the justice system and two from unemployment. We’re delighted to see it improving the wellbeing of Alpha’s residents and giving people a second chance to get their lives back on track through employment.”