70 organisations from across Northern Ireland are celebrating after receiving €6.3 million through Erasmus+, a major new European funding programme.
Today (21 May, 2015) they will be joined by organisations from across the UK at Belfast’s MAC (Metropolitan Arts Centre) to celebrate the first year of funding through Eramsus+ and hear from several organisations on how they have benefited from the programme.
Managed in the UK by the British Council and Ecorys UK, Erasmus+ is the European Union’s (EU) programme for education, training, youth and sport, with the EU committing £12 billion to the programme between 2014 and 2020.
One organisation to benefit is the Irish Football Association (IFA). Having received €115,000 through Erasmus+ they have been improving coach education at all levels – from grassroots to professional – to see a steady rise in the number of female and participants with disabilities, thanks to an international perspective.
As part of an innovative project, IFA coaches job shadowed at sporting centres of excellence such as the Olivanova Football Training Complex in Spain, which works with players from clubs including Valencia and Villarreal FC.
Nigel Best, Coach Education Manager at the IFA, explained how this benefits the future of Northern Ireland community football.
He said: “The programme has given local coaches the opportunity to visit other European countries to develop their knowledge of club organisation and see how young talented players are brought up through the ranks. Spain and Portugal have fostered some of the world’s top players and there are many things that we can hopefully learn from them.
“Programmes like this are fundamental for Northern Irish football. We’re a very small community and there aren’t as many opportunities here to observe professional coaches and it’s expensive and hard to access. Through this programme however, we’ve been able to identify coaches from across Northern Ireland and develop and enhance the local game throughout the six counties.”
The funding also enabled Northern Ireland’s Cerebral Palsy squad to compete in the European Championships, where they defeated Germany and secured a place in the World Cup which takes place in London this June.
Nigel said: “Opportunities like this are fantastic and have seen the team come on in leaps and bounds, both on a professional and personal level. They are now 13 in the current world rankings and to qualify for this year’s World Cup is a major accomplishment.
“They’ve come home with more confidence and you can see they have developed a sense of achievement and enhanced their interactive skills. For them, Portugal is a completely different world and it’s been a life-changing experience.”
As well as the IFA, the Northern Ireland Deaf Youth Association (NIDYA), received a €25,000 grant for a project with a youth group called SINOSZ in Hungary. The project is for deaf young people aged 16 to 25 from various social, cultural and religious backgrounds from the two countries to provide them with the social, communication and educational tools to understand the rights of deaf people, the cultural diversity, and the Sign Language differences.
In both countries, the programme will see the involvement of participants attending seminars on the road to Sign Language recognition and legislation, visiting historical landmarks, and participating in social and sports activities provided by the local deaf communities.
Speaking about the importance of the visit, Michael Johnston, Director of Action Deaf Youth said: “As part of the visit, we were lucky enough to visit the Hungarian parliament, which recognised Hungarian sign language by law back in 2009, enabling deaf people to be treated with respect and dignity. I was there when the agreement was signed and felt it was important for our young people to see its impact.
“It has enabled deaf people in Hungary to receive better access to education, health, jobs and culture, with even two of their MPs being from, and representing, the deaf community. That is unheard of here in Northern Ireland and currently almost impossible to achieve. They have people in government with the power to make positive change, which is something our young people can now aspire to.”
Members of the youth group were so inspired by the visit, that on Monday (18 May, 2015) they will head to Stormont to put forward an action plan for Northern Ireland to MLAs.
Michael explained: “Ten members of our youth forum talked to some of our MLAs about what needs to be done so we can move forward to create a fairer and more just society. They were amazed that although we have a better standard of living in Northern Ireland, it’s actually better to live in Hungary if you are part of the deaf community. To change this, deaf people must be included in society through better employment opportunities and access to services.”
“Whatever the outcome, we understand that this will be a long and arduous process, but if we all work together; there’s every chance we can create change and a better Northern Ireland for everyone.”
To date, Northern Ireland organisations have received €6.3m* in Erasmus+ funding. And the proportion of total funding from the total funding pot (5.9%) was more than double the Northern Irish share of the UK population (2.9%).
Many of these organisations will meet others from around the UK to discuss their projects and how they are meeting the aims of the Erasmus+ programme, such as widening participation, at a Learning Networks event organised by the UK National Agency, which takes place in Belfast today. The Learning Networks event, which is held twice a year, brings together practitioners and policy makers to share good practice and discuss key policy developments on cross-cutting themes of the Erasmus+ programme.
For more information about funding opportunities visit see www.erasmusplus.org.uk or use the hashtag #epluspeople to see what other projects are doing across the UK.