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Learning and skills central to rehabilitation at Hydebank Wood

Dan Gordon, Ronnie Armour and Kathleen O'Hare at the newly refurbished Learning and Skills Centre

LEARNING and skills are at the core of rehabilitation at Hydebank Wood College, the head of the north's prisons has said.

NI Prison Service Director General Ronnie Armour was speaking at the opening of the newly refurbished Learning and Skills Centre at the secure college.

Hydebank, which has a focus on education, learning and employment, accommodates young people between the ages of 18 and 21. It also accommodates female remand and sentenced prisoners in Ash House, a house block within the complex.

It is hoped the investment in the new centre will allow young people to reach their full potential.

Belfast Metropolitan College will deliver a range of vocational, essential skills and employability programmes.

They are all at `level 2', which means those at Hydebank can compete at the same level with students upon release and secure employment.

This ties in with Belfast Met's policy on social inclusion and improving the opportunities and life chances for those in custody after they are released.

More than 70 per cent of people placed in the care of the Prison Service come in having left school between the ages of 14 and 16, and half have no formal qualifications.

Mr Armour said it was important that Hydebank gave them opportunities to learn and develop skills that would be useful to them when they left prison.

"Since its transition into a secure college, Hydebank Wood has gone from strength to strength with learning and skills central to its rehabilitative work. The opening of this new centre is an investment in the potential of the people who live in Hydebank," Mr Armour said.

"Learning is at the core of the Hydebank community and this is a safe environment for the young men and women to re-engage with education and work based skills.

"With our partners in Belfast Metropolitan College we can support and challenge those people to change, to learn and to become employable. Everything we know says, if someone has skills and is employable after release back into the community, then they are less likely to re-offend and that helps us to build a safer community."

The refurbished Learning and Skills Centre was officially opened by actor Dan Gordon who has a long association with Hydebank Wood.

"I first started coming into Hydebank in the early 2000s to work with the young men and to try to steer them down a different path," he said.

"I believe in second chances, especially when you are young. People need to be encouraged to take a different path when they come back into society. My father, who was a shipyard worker, used to say `don't stand and wonder how to do it - do it and wonder how you did it'."

Belfast Met governor Kathleen O'Hare said the facility would provide the opportunity to deliver a range of vocational, essential skills and employability programmes.

"This means our students at Hydebank can leave with the same level of accreditation as any other student at one of our colleges. This is all part of our work to address social inclusion and increase life chances for people leaving custody," she said.

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