The Ravine NI conservation project in Belfast provides young people with the opportunity to change lives.

Ravine NI has youth at its heart. This was announced by David Walsh, COO of the Advantage Foundation Ltd, the organization that manages Ravine.

avine is a conservation project and social enterprise in Belfast that gives young people the opportunity to gain hands-on work experience alongside horticultural and agricultural professionals. The initiative is aimed at teenagers between the ages of 18 and 24 who are facing mental health issues.

“The project provides the most valued skills and experience in the industry in a completely unique and supportive environment,” explains David (32).

“At Ravine, young people are empowered to play a more active role in society by providing them with quantifiable benefits such as an employment certificate, an OCN level 1 in horticulture, valuable work experience, and the opportunity to become an integral part of an exciting new nature-based social enterprise. located on 85 acres of land in the south of Belfast.

“But perhaps more importantly, Ravine boosts young people’s confidence, improves their health and well-being, and increases their sense of purpose and motivation.”

David from Portglenon sees firsthand the impact this project and connection to nature can have on young people. He says that one of the trainees did not want to leave his house before joining the program and now his self-confidence has increased to the point that he rides two buses and walks from the bus stop to the program site to take participation in the program.

“The change we see in every young person from their entry to completion is astounding – not only in their academic achievement, but also in their positive personal growth,” says David.

“One parent told us, ‘I haven’t seen my son smile for six months and now he only talks about Ravin.’

“Most of our young people start out very shy and withdrawn with us, but through our training and the work experience offered, we have seen many return to education, part-time work, or other training programs with more confidence and increased self-efficacy.

“Ravine’s big success story is with one of our young people who joined the project in 2019 as they had a hard time finding a program that met their needs. They believed that most of the projects designed to help young people involved a lot of academic content and classroom work, which exacerbated their mental health problems rather than improving them.

“So when they discovered an outdoor training program that provided hands-on hands-on experience, they were itching to join.

“While participating in the program, they completed their work experience, received the John Muir Award and an OCN Level 1 qualification in Horticulture. After the completion of the project, they continued to work as volunteers, and Ravin helped in all areas and even took on the role of a mentor for new young people who joined the program.

“Through hard work, positive attitude and dedication, this young man became the first Ravine employee to go through the project.”

David says he finds his role as Chief Operating Officer of Advantage rewarding: “I have been with Advantage for more than eight years and what I love most about my job is the fact that my work is an opportunity to make a difference in the lives of young people and is also recognized as a specialist by this organization. in my area,” he says.

“I have been involved in the design and implementation of successful projects for public and private sector organizations both nationally and internationally.

“I have had incredible opportunities to work with students, young graduates, young business owners, and the hardest to reach and most vulnerable in society, including prisoners, young people with mental health issues, and those furthest from the labor market. All our efforts have one common goal – to unlock the potential of everyone with whom we interact.

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David Walsh, COO of The Advantage Foundation Ltd, the organization that runs Ravine.

Ravine offers 24 different job opportunities, all of which are free. Participants will be reimbursed for travel and lunch. A uniform and study materials are also provided.

Interns gain experience in all aspects of Ravine, including their working farm, polytunnels, conservation stations, and nature trails.

The Social Enterprise welcomes referrals from young people or any health professional, institution or organization working with young people with mental health problems.

“The program runs for a minimum of 16 weeks, with days available on Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday from 10:00 am to 3:00 pm,” says David.

“However, the frequency and duration of training will be determined for the young person, and his individual training plan will be agreed with him at the time of introduction.

“All activities that involve young people improve the local area by creating facilities that promote health and well-being.

“These include maintenance of the Ravin market garden; creation of a wildflower meadow that will significantly contribute to the area’s biodiversity; creation and maintenance of an apiary and an orchard; development and maintenance of our coastal and forest trail; restoration and conservation of habitats unique to these sites; and the development and maintenance of our interactive conservation stations.

“Our young people work with entrepreneurs, naturalists, conservationists and horticulturists to protect natural habitats, showcase the wonder of our wildlife and produce a range of products for commercial sale.”

All funds generated by the social enterprise are reinvested or used to help young people further develop their skills.

“Our main beneficiaries are young people under the age of 25 with mental health problems,” says David.

“Our secondary beneficiaries are families of young people with mental health problems, health services, local residents and users of the new facility.

“We recently launched our local vegetable crate scheme. A large number of herbs, microgreens and garlic are grown in the fields and in the greenhouses of the Ravine. Members sign up for a weekly or bi-weekly box of seasonal vegetables that promises to be flavorful.

“Our vegetable crates offer amazing value for money, and each one is filled with the freshest of the season.

“We also have seasonal one-time gifts that people can purchase from our garden, such as baskets of strawberries, baskets of lettuce, baskets of tomatoes, potted plants, and more. Subscribe to us on social networks to be aware of our offers.

“We have a lot of opportunities open not only for young people, but also for adults and companies. We are always looking for volunteers to come and take part in our work, assist in our conservation efforts, and help maintain and develop our properties. If you need more information, please contact us.”

David encourages families, groups and all members of the community, young and old, to visit this social enterprise.

He says: “The gorge is home to hundreds of species of plants and animals living in our forests, grasslands and rivers. We encourage everyone to get to know nature better by visiting us.

“School groups, families and communities will have the opportunity to learn about the unique characteristics of different wildlife species, conduct their own experiments, take the Wildflower Trail, or even dress up as a beekeeper and visit our bees.

“Our rangers are committed to sharing their knowledge and love of nature, as well as educating visitors on the importance of caring for the environment.

“Opportunities for learning abound, from seasonal programs and activities to individual group adventures.

“Come explore on your own or take part in one of our naturalist-led classes. It’s fun hands-on learning for the whole family or class.

“And then end your visit with a packed lunch in our dedicated picnic area.”

For more information about Ravine, visit www.ravine-ni.com, RavineProject on Facebook or theravineproject on Instagram.