21 Jan 2022

AONTAS STAR Awards 2022 Shortlist Announcement

AONTAS STAR Awards 2022 Shortlist Announcement

AONTAS is delighted to announce the shortlist for the AONTAS STAR Awards 2022

The STAR Awards recognise the very best in adult learning in Ireland. This year we are celebrating and acknowledging the incredible work that adult learning providers have done in adapting during COVID-19 to ensure that the learners’ needs continue to be met.

Winners will be announced during this year’s Adult Learners’ Festival 2022 (7th – 11th March). The Festival is a nationwide celebration of adult learning. It offers organisations and groups the chance to have a positive impact in their community or workplace, to promote the value of lifelong learning, and to reinforce existing partnerships in the community and establish new ones. For more details about the Festival, click here.

Nominations for the 16th AONTAS STAR Awards were received under five categories. These are adult learning initiatives that support:

Twenty-nine initiatives were shortlisted in these five categories, with some categories divided according to the size of the initiative (Small/Medium and Large).

**Considering the excellent calibre of nominations received this year an extra shortlisted category has been created for European Social Funded (ESF) projects. Five additional projects have been shortlisted in this category bringing the total number of shortlisted groups for the STAR Awards 2022 to Thirty Four.**   

The STAR Awards is judged by an independent judging panel comprising of adult learners, tutors, and adult learning experts. The judging panel will meet online with the shortlisted groups in mid-February before choosing the overall winners. Winners will be announced during the week of the Adult Learners’ Festival 2022.

The shortlisted adult learning initiatives are:

Health and Wellbeing - Small/Medium Organisations

HEADSUP (Kildare) - HEADSUP Kildare is a mental health education and training programme for men aged eighteen to eighty, who are finding life stressful, are unemployed, or feeling isolated or lonely, and who wish to learn positive ways of managing and improving their overall wellbeing. This twelve-week group programme encourages participants to make positive changes, develop resilience and offers guidance on accessing local services and supports. The programme covers four themes: Wellbeing and Resilience, Life Planning, Physical Fitness, and Positive Social Support. Since 2015, HEADSUP has worked with over six hundred men, and delivered 43 programmes, including online programmes during the pandemic. HEADSUP supports men to access challenges and problems, explore options, realise their abilities, and provides strategies to cope with the normal stresses of life.

Dare2Dip! (Donegal) - Dare2Dip is a new programme created, developed, and delivered by The LightHouse, a Social Enterprise powered by Inishowen Development Partnership in 2021. It provides introductory sea swimming safety guidance to new and novice sea swimmers, while promoting the mental health and wellness benefits of being in the sea. Since the beginning of the Covid-19 pandemic, there has been a notable increase nationally in the number of people who are swimming in the sea. Funded by Donegal County Council with support from the Irish Coastguard, the programme featured experienced sea swimmers, individuals who hadn't been in the water for years, and those from established small sea swimming groups from across the Inishowen peninsula, with a total of sixty learners, 100% of whom reported that they would recommend with programme to a friend.

Phoenix Women's Centre (Kerry) - This programme provides information on women’s rights and empowers women through education and peer support. It supports Kerry women who are experiencing domestic and gender-based violence and provides a safe space for women experiencing homelessness. It enables women to build resilience and effect meaningful positive change in their lives and communities, with an emphasis on raising marginalised women's voices. It provides access to affordable counselling through their partnership with Let's Get Talking. Phoenix Women’s Centre partner with Kerry Education and Training Board to encourage access to education and training opportunities around, for example, IT and digital access and returning to work. They offer opportunities to connect and raise women’s self-esteem through virtual coffee mornings and training programmes. They organise walks and have a writer’s group. They are part of the Healthy Ireland Initiative and provide a gardening course for thirty women. They have worked with approximately forty learners in the last year, many of whom have been experiencing severe isolation due to the pandemic. Through our courses we have provided opportunities for connection and helped women to access supports and, through the courses, they have gained skills and strategies that have helped them in navigating the crisis. The Phoenix Women’s Centre provides a sense of community, a safe space and a route to peer supports, which leads to improved mental health outcomes for women and a sense of belonging.

Health and Wellbeing - Large Organisations

Hep C Project (Dublin) - The Hep C Project counters misinformation about Hepatitis and Hepatitis treatment, particularly among the drug-using community, through providing training and up-to-date information about Hepatitis and its treatment, and the skills to share this information with others. The project also supports people through treatment. Working in partnership with different groups from the HSE to the City Clinic, to St James’s Hospital GUM Clinic and the Simon Community, the programme has supported 37 people in treatment to date, with 100% success rate in curing Hepatitis C. Over 150 people have completed the Hep C training programme, IC2. This innovative project combines medical intervention and educational opportunity for a typically hard-to-reach group.  

Waterford Women's Creative Cocoon (Waterford) - Waterford Women’s Creative Cocoon is a social networking project which promotes creativity, positive mental health, wellbeing, and education. Established in April 2020, and now supporting over 240 members and community groups, this is a joint initiative between Waterford Area Partnership Social Inclusion and Community Activation (SICAP) programme and the Waterford and Wexford Education and Training Board Community Education programme. Using social media, and traditional post, it has been addressing the needs of women's groups during the COVID-19 pandemic. This includes combatting rural and social isolation, educational disadvantage, unemployment, and social exclusion. Through activities such as virtual tea parties, Mindful Mondays, and a guided art programme, the Creative Cocoon initiative helps women and women’s groups to share knowledge skills and information, build relationships, and develop an improved sense of wellbeing. 

Orchardville (Antrim) - Orchardville is a registered charity and social enterprise that delivers training and education programmes to support adults with learning disabilities and/or Autism to get into the workplace. They deliver a mix of health and wellbeing courses alongside employment qualifications. This includes fitness sessions in a local gym, nutrition programmes and mental health training. This successful wellbeing programme has been running for almost four years, with participants reporting 97% positive change to their wellbeing. This has a significant impact on participants’ capacity to gain employment. The project is funded through European Social Funding (ESF) and Belfast Health and Social Care Trust. They deliver accredited training through OCN-NI, which is very beneficial to participants who may have left school without recognised qualifications. Participants improve their physical health and extend their life expectancy. People with learning disabilities are 58 times more likely to die under the age of 50, and four times more likely to die from a preventable cause than the general population. This is attributed largely to lack of health awareness, physical activity, education, and accessible services. With access to this programme and the inspiration for future activity it generates, Orchardville is making a positive and life-altering impact on the participants and their wider families.

Third-level Access and Engagement - Small/Medium Organisations

HEALTHCARE LEVEL 5 (Cork) - The Healthcare Level 5 Programme, developed by SECAD Partnership, with Ballyhoura Local Development, Cork Education and Training Board, Limerick Education and Training Board, and University College Cork, offers training to women wishing to upskill, return to education and to the employment. The programme, now running for four years, is targeted at women who were at home for a number of years caring for their children or parents, with 164 women registered in the second programme. Modules are offered in personal development and work experience and career workshops. Benefits include increased self-confidence, positive benefits to families overall, and the development of skills and qualifications for women to progress to third level education or employment. Healthcare hosts visits from Cork Autism, COPE Foundation, nursing homes, HR departments, HSE recruitment drives, and UCC to provide options for participants to pursue employment or progress into further education.

Cultural & Heritage Studies, CSN, College of Further Education (Cork) - Cultural and Heritage Studies a one-year full-time programme focusing on Archaeology, History, Folklore and the Arts and has been running for over 30 years with over 1,000 graduates. Run in the CSN College of Further Education under the guidance and support of the Cork Education and Training Board, this ground-breaking course was the first of its kind in Cultural and Heritage Studies in Ireland, and facilitated the establishment of NCVA and FETAC certification in the field. It is open to individuals of all ages and backgrounds, including those who left school early and people who have retired. A key feature of this course is its extensive field-trip programme, where students have the opportunity to visit heritage and cultural organisations and institutions in both the public and private sectors, which is central to students in gaining experience and employment opportunities. As many of students are now working in the Heritage industry, from The Aran Islands to the Cork City Library to Blarney House and Gardens.

Amplifying Voices Scholarship Scheme (Cork) - Amplifying Voices is a scholarship scheme for the Level 9 postgraduate course in Creativity and Change at Munster Technology University. The scheme aims to facilitate greater access to the course for people from minority backgrounds, in order to reflect the diversity of Irish society and ensure that all voices are heard. The accredited course is funded by Irish Aid and hosted by the Department of Arts in Health and Education at Crawford College of Art and Design. The scheme, which began in 2020, facilitates people from the Direct Provision centres in Cork, migrant groups, representatives of the Travelling community and other non-formal learning projects with participants from a wide variety of backgrounds. Amplifying Voices scholars are supported to complete the course, gain accreditation and progress to work or further education. The scheme continues to amplify these diverse voices in order to gain new perspectives on creativity, justice, development and learning.

Third-level Access and Engagement - Large Organisations

Irish Refugee Council Education Team (Dublin) - The Irish Refugee Council Education Team supports refugees and people living in Direct Provision to access education. The initiative began in 2015, and offers an Education Fund annually for fees, transport and materials for learning in further and higher education, they advocate with Government to expand financial supports, they encourage and support universities to provide Sanctuary Scholarships, and they train and communicate with guidance counsellors, outreach organisations, and staff in Education and Training Boards and colleges of Further Education to help them support refugees and those living in Direct Provision. They have provided support and advice to over 2,000 people and have directly funded almost 300 people. During the COVID-19 pandemic, they provided information sessions via the University of Sanctuary directly to people living in Direct Provision.

An Cosán - Wraparound Learner Support Initiative (Dublin) - The Wraparound Learner Support Initiative provides free childcare to enable women to attend adult education courses. An Cosán works with the Institute for Technology, and with a network of 180 partner organisations across Ireland including Family Resource Centres and Community Development Projects, corporate partners and the Government. These partnerships facilitate students to access technology, create peer learning communities, and gain funding opportunities. In 2020-2021, there are 521 adult learners in higher education as a result of this initiative. 75% of learners are women and one third live in Direct Provision. Students receive access to supports in many areas including IT and technology, laptop loan schemes, counselling and family, financial supports and learning challenges. Students report increased self-confidence as a primary outcome achieved through participation in the programme. An Cosán’s initiative is learner-centred, with each learner having their own personal learning plan. An Cosán’s ethos of wraparound supports and our education model are central to facilitating students’ success.

Trinity Centre for People with Intellectual Disabilities (Dublin) - Trinity Centre for People with Intellectual Disabilities (TCPID), from the School of Education at Trinity College Dublin, promotes the inclusion of people with intellectual disabilities in education and society. They enable people with an intellectual disability to develop their potential with a combination of high-quality research, dissemination of new knowledge, lifelong learning and professional training. They provide people who have intellectual disabilities with the opportunity to fully participate in a higher education programme. The goal of this is to strengthen their ability to fully participate in society as independent adults. TCPID offers a Level 5 Certificate in Arts, Science and Inclusive Applied Practice, which is an innovative education programme designed for students with intellectual disabilities, and is the first of its kind to be formally awarded by the University Council of TCD. This two-year programme seeks to help students develop a broad range of skills including preparing graduates for employment, developing self-confidence, self-esteem and social skills, and a love of learning and interest in knowledge.

Social Inclusion - Small/Medium Organisations

Aiseiri Progression Programme (Waterford) - The Aiseiri Progression Programme is a specialised education and training programme which supports men and women in addiction treatment with Aiseiri and in the early years of recovery from addiction to access meaningful education and training, to set career goals, and to develop the confidence and skills needed to achieve these goals. Established in 2014, the project has grown from supporting nine participants to 27 participants and many more in the community in Waterford city and beyond. The programme partners with other institutions and groups to deliver this initiative, such as the Waterford and Wexford Education and Training Board, Skillsnet, and Pobal. They were awarded €60,000 in 2021 under the Mitigating Against Educational Disadvantage Fund. They support people who typically had poor experiences of education, chronic low self-esteem, and social isolation or disconnection. Their weekly programme includes health and fitness courses, training, creative courses such as drama and art, wellbeing classes in yoga, meditation and horticulture, volunteering work, and core skills such as IT and career planning. Their community-based facility has created a thriving recovery community in Waterford city, which promotes belonging, builds confidence, and is a stepping stone into broader community life.

ABILITY (Cork) - The Ability programme helps young adults with disabilities to engage in the community and to find employment. It supports them through training, workshops and employer engagement, with 31 people supported over a three-year period. Ability is an initiative organised in partnership with SECAD, Ballyhoura, Cork Education and Training Board, and IRD Duhallow to help young adults to develop the confidence and independence required to participate in education, training and employment. It also supports employers to have the capacity to take on young people with disabilities. It is a person-centred programme, and delivers supports based on the learners’ needs. The initiative partners with Cork Education and Training Board to provide training, and other local arts and culture groups such as Graffiti Theatre (to develop interview skills through drama). Supporting learners from diverse background, the initiative continued offer help throughout the COVID pandemic, including supporting the families of the learners, offering sessions with an occupational therapist, and continuing training and guidance over Zoom. The initiative has developed relationships with local businesses in hospitality, pharma, biodiversity, catering and volunteering. As a result of the initiative, learners have gained certificates in various trainings from manual handling to biodiversity, entered the workforce, and progressed to further education.

Staying Connected Programme (Clare) - The Staying Connected Programme was developed during the COVID-19 lockdown to combat social isolation and promotes positive mental health in older people. The lack of access to local services resulted in significant decrease in contact for many older people, who ranged in age from seventy to ninety years old. In response to this, the Staying Connected programme was established in joint consultation with local partners, including Carrigoran Health and Wellness Centre, Limerick and Clare Education and Training Board, Clare County Council and the local community. The programme involved the sourcing of IT equipment and training to use the technology to stay connected online, to nurture existing life skills and learn new ones. This equipment allowed for the delivery of learner-centred inclusive programmes which promote lifelong learning. Classes delivered included Arts and Crafts, Horticulture and Exercise and Fitness. All programmes delivered focussed on social and personal development, team building, communication skills, active citizenship, social networking, and community development and participation. Learners developed confidence in everyday use of interactive communications technology such as email, Zoom, and WhatsApp. Some are applying their skills to connect with their community, attending local mass services virtually, reading news online, and accessing local newsletters. Many have reported the positive impacts of their participation, describing the project as a lifeline that provided a sense of purpose.

Social Inclusion - Large Organisations

Verve (Antrim) - Verve, NOW Group’s flagship employment and training programme, helps people with learning difficulties or disabilities to access sustainable paid employment opportunities or sustained voluntary opportunities. Funded by the European Social Fund and now in its fourth year, Verve is a 12-week training programme consists of both theory and practical learning. It means that learners are well-trained, qualified, and ready to explore employment opportunities. Training offered includes CV building, job search techniques, customer services skills, effective communication skills, and health and wellbeing. NOW Group has a range of strategic partners who offer ring-fenced paid job vacancies and work placement opportunities, including Lidl, Deloitte, and Boojum. Having a diverse workforce promotes growth and inclusion, and enables people with learning disabilities to feel empowered to achieve their potential. Through Project Verve employers can build on their reputation by creating an inclusive work force. Across Northern Ireland, the NOW Group supports over 1,300 adults through a wide range of training and employability initiatives. From the Verve programme, participants collectively completed over 2,000 training accreditations and 307 participants progressed into sustainable employment.

Development Perspectives (Louth) - Development Perspectives’ Amplifying Voices project in 2021 supported migrant communities to engage with cultural and educational activities for social integration. The goal was for a long-term positive impact on migrants’ wellbeing. It offered a podcasting and storytelling course, and eight migrants featured in a different podcast episode, sharing their stories of moving to Ireland. The podcasts are not only an educational resource but also a platform for migrants to enhance their confidence, develop relationships with their new communities, share information on issues related to migration, and challenge common myths, biases, fears around migration integration in new communities. The podcasts also raised awareness in Irish communities on information about the benefits of diversity and inclusion. Between SoundCloud, YouTube and Spotify, there were approximately 200 listeners per podcast episode, and 25,000 people were reached on social media. This initiative was made in partnership with the International Law Firm Fieldfischer Social Responsibility department, and various community groups and local organisations such as the Irish Arab intercultural centre and the Irish Refugee Council.

Sporting Chance Programme (Kerry) - Sporting Chance Kerry in a ground-breaking training programme for people with disabilities in the field of sport and recreation. The first of its kind in Europe and running since 2007, the programme seeks to ensure that people from all backgrounds and abilities have equal opportunities for career advancement. Students have furthered their education, opened their own businesses and gained meaningful employment. Learners on this programme work towards achieving a Quality and Qualifications Ireland (QQI) Level 4/5 Major Award in Sport, Recreation & Exercise and professional industry qualifications (as, for example, a gym instruction or pool lifeguard). Individual Action Plans are developed with each learner to achieve their training goals in an open and supportive environment. The Sporting Chance programme has worked with community groups, sports clubs, governing bodies and disability organisations such as Kerry Intervention and Disability Services, the National Accessible Special School Sports Hall programme, and I.T. Tralee. In 2021, Sporting Chance Programme students completed 17 QQI level 5 Major Awards in Sport, Recreation and Exercise and 105 minor awards. Five students also completed their RLSS National Pool Lifeguard Qualification, ten completed ITEC Gym Instructor Diploma and four ITEC Personal Training Diploma. Ten students progressed to employment in the leisure industry, hospitality, healthcare, childcare and retail, and three students progressed to further education and training.

Sustainable Development through Education - Small/Medium Organisations

Cloontuskert Development and Tidy Towns Association CLG - Transformation through Sustainable Gardening (Roscommon) - Since 2019, with the wonderful support of Galway and Roscommon Education and Training Board, the Transformation through Sustainable Gardening project has been actively reimagining unused spaces for the creation of sustainable gardening in Cloontuskert, Co Roscommon. This supplies community amenities and also furthers United Nations Sustainable Development Goals. It provides 'hands on' educational opportunities for the Cloontuskert community and environmental groups, developing initiatives like the Green Flag-winning Community Orchard, a Community Composter and a Community Nuttery. This project has provided a lifeline to community members affected by job losses in Bord na Móna and the ESB. They have worked with Earthcare Permaculture Design, Ballyleague Men's Shed, and An Taisce Environmental Education Unit. Through GRETB Community Education, the programme has enabled over 25 learners to see first-hand the impact and difference that sustainable practice and design can make in the completion of development projects. Many learners did not complete their secondary education, and some had additional educational needs All involved in the programme were united by a common bond to learn and a strong sense of community spirit and pride of place. The real-world benefits to learners on an individual level is demonstrated through the unique, sustainable community spaces and amenities now in existence in Cloontuskert.

Biodiversity Garden and Tree Nursery Project (Sligo) - The Biodiversity Garden and Tree Nursery Project in Sligo encourages the local community to get involved with environmental and biodiversity awareness and climate action. Beginning in summer 2021 and funded through MSLETB Community Education and the Mitigating Against Educational Disadvantage (MAED) funding from MSLETB and SOLAS, the Biodiversity Garden Workshops gives participants the opportunity to save local wildflower seeds, observe bees, and learn about the importance of wildlife in the food chain. As part of the Tree Nursery, participants learn about tree planting and foraging. Participants collaborate with local architects and landscapers, and learn about environmental issues, climate action, and food security for humans. All are welcome to the different components of building the tree nursery. Partnerships have been established with nearby organisations such as CE scheme workers, day service users of Rehab Care, the Community Training Centre, and Youthreach. Other participants are also members of the local Men's Shed and Cranmore Women's Group. Participants learn about sustainable development and gain lived experiences of gardening and growing.

A Giant Leap (Galway) - A Giant Leap is an initiative run by the Amicitia Social Enterprise in Athenry and commissioned by Science Gallery Dublin to create an exhibition on future worlds through the material of plastic. Exhibition pieces are designed in collaboration with participants, which involves community members in the creative process, raises questions about sustainability, encourages participants to think about a long-term future that is sustainable. Through workshops and experiential learning, participants can develop new and boundary-pushing ideas about the future and the climate crisis. Projects offered under this initiative include the social hub, which is a centre of learning and education, and a community kitchen and café, as well as a Sustainable Energy Community project, funded by the Sustainable Energy Authority of Ireland (SEAI) and the Galway County Council. The first co-creation phase involved 15 participants, with workshops in Drogheda and Dublin. These workshops informed the creation of the first exhibition piece which was delivered by 8 artists, makers and actors. The next iteration of this project takes place in Limerick, and an exhibition will be delivered in February 2022. The project also involves a schools outreach programme, with eight schools signed up so far in 2022, and 250 anticipated students.

Sustainable Development through Education - Large Organisations

Sustainable Climate Action and Local Advocacy Youth Village (Cork) - The Sustainable Climate Action and Local Advocacy Youth Village project, sometimes referred to as the 'Global Goals Trail' began in January 2021 and was carried out by a group of volunteers (aged 20-26) and includes important information about the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and what can be done to achieve them. This group of volunteers have all spent time volunteering overseas with development organisation SERVE. Funded by the European Solidarity Corps, and supported by Léargas, SERVE and Scala Youth Ministry, a group of young people from the Cork Life Centre worked on this trail in Cork, making birdhouses from repurposed materials and gathering information for seventeen SDG stations on the trail. Workshops will be held in collaboration with Cork Education and Training Board’s Youthreach, with the goal of sharing knowledge about simple things that can be done by individuals every day with these goals in mind. A toolkit will include interactive educational videos to increase participants’ awareness of the SDGs and actions they can take. Social media promoting this initiative has reached almost 12,000 people. The main goal is that people will visit the trail and learn about SDGs and how they can be achieved.

EIL Explore Global Awareness Programme (GAP) Award (Cork) - The Explore Global Awareness Programme (GAP) is an initiative offering four part-funded 2-month volunteering scholarships abroad, which are linked with the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). The award fosters lifelong learning, diversity and nonformal educational opportunities, and is dedicated to adults who are passionate about sustainable development and are active volunteers in their communities. The project facilitates participants' active engagement with development education through non formal lifelong educational opportunities that are skills and competency based. Participants also continue their learning on their return to Ireland to raise awareness of the UNSDGs and global justice issues. Learners have volunteered in Ecuador, Vietnam, Mexico, Guatemala, and Thailand. The award has supported adult learners each year (with the exception of 2020 due to COVID-19) for the past 14 years. It currently supports 4 places per year, and has supported 39 participants in total. It facilitates vibrant and creative learners to explore their world and their capacity to tackle an SDG, and also provides the financial means and supportive structure to immerse themselves in another culture, language and way of life. It gives them ongoing support to find their voice and become a more active global citizen.

Careers In Mind (Dublin) - Careers In Mind is an Education and Employability program run by Northside Partnership that supports women who have been excluded from the labour market to return to education and work. Established in January 2020, the program gives choices to women and facilitates access to sustainable long-term employment. It provides advice and guidance, action planning, confidence building and employability training, employer engagement, and a Quality and Qualifications Ireland (QQI) Level 3 Accreditation in Personal Effectiveness. Participants are primarily from North East Dublin and are returning to work after a long period of absence due to child or family care responsibilities. They may be early school leavers who have not experienced the labour market or education, and also asylum seekers currently living in Direct Provision. The programme partners with various groups and organisations, including Work Equal, NALA (the National Adult Literary Agency) and Aster Family Support, with a goal of building participants’ capacity and skills and strengthening community links. The programme has supported 75 women back into education. 27 women have achieved a QQI Level 3 and 95% of women who took part report higher levels of confidence and self-esteem, as well as improved communication skills. 26 participants progresses to employment and 36 to further education and training.

Start360 Switch onto Employment (Antrim) - Since 2011, the Start360 Switch onto Employment (SOE) Programme has offered education, training and employment opportunities to the hardest-to-reach young people across the wider Belfast area. The programme delivers training in literacy and numeracy, IT, employability and youth work. 60 young people from the ages of 16 to 24 participate annually. Each person is assigned a keyworker, who offers personal support and encourage the participant to grow and flourish within their chosen tailored 1-1 programme of classes. SOE also offer classes in art, trips to a local gym, acupuncture, and an annual trip to the Arvon Writing Foundation. The goal of the programme is to support young people to be more resilient so as they can achieve their goals in life. SOE has strong links throughout the Trusts in Northern Ireland, and work with the Open College Network NI to maintain a high standard for the programme. SOE has supported over 800 participants to date. The COVID-19 pandemic seen a large spike in newcomer learners, which make up 44% of SOE enrolments. Upon finishing the course, 92% reported their confidence had improved, and 92% felt more employable as a result of their engagement with SOE. 38% of learners progressed into education and training and 15% into employment.

Learner Voice

The Ability Board-Your Voice (Cork) - The Ability Board is an advocacy group from Ability@Work by Cope Foundation, which is a service that brings young people with intellectual disabilities and/or autism closer to the labour market. The Ability Board collaborated with Inclusion Ireland, and with HSE. They are working to establish the new ‘Decision Support Service’, which will promote the rights and interests of people who may need support with decision-making. They also reviewed the website for the Decision Support Service to ensure it is accessible to people with intellectual disabilities. The Ability Board co-designed a national Learners as Leaders campaign with AONTAS, highlighting the rights of people with intellectual disabilities in employment and education. They are the voices for their peers in Ability@Work, advocating for almost 90 people on the programme, 68 of whom are now in employment.

Digi-ID (Dublin) - Digi-ID (2021), is a European project that addresses the challenge of digital inclusion and digital literacy amongst people with intellectual disabilities (ID) including those with autism. This EIT Health-funded project allows for a co-creation process with approximately 250 adults with ID, supporters, professionals and families or carers to develop an innovative digital skills education programme delivered via an accessible app. Particularly during the COVID-19 pandemic, people with ID have much poorer education, health and wellbeing experiences, something which is exacerbated through their digital exclusion. The goal of this project is to empower people with ID with the knowledge, skills and confidence to manage their health and social inclusion needs digitally to ensure they are not left behind in our digital age. Partners range across ID service providers, academic institutions and technology partners across Ireland, the Netherlands, France and Sweden. In Ireland collaborators include the National Learning Network/RehabCare, Daughters of Charity, Brothers of Charity, and Stewarts Care Services. The project’s technology partner WayToB ensures the programme is accessibly delivered. The voices of our learners are the heart of the work. To date, approximately 300 learners with ID in Ireland, Netherlands, France and Sweden were included, and with additional partners engaged from 2022, the overall reach will include over 500 service providers in Europe and 680,000 individuals with ID.

DCU Ability Project (Dublin) - DCU Ability supports adults with intellectual disabilities, particularly those with limited work experience, and support them towards employment. Since 2018, the project has been offering courses to support learners in a way that is right for them. DCU Ability has worked with 117 participants from 13 different counties across Ireland, as well as 15 different employers, 19 disability support services and 31 families to support their family member towards work and education opportunities. They have run nine different courses and worked with several different organisations who have supported the project, including St Michael’s House, Inspired Tralee, Gheel Autism Services and the Daughters of Charity. 

Cultural and Heritage Studies LTI, National Print Museum (Dublin) - This is a Local Training Initiative in Cultural and Heritage Studies, which provides students with the opportunity to study subjects like archaeology, history, heritage, folklore, Irish culture, customer service and communications, while also training as a tour guide in the National Print Museum for the duration of their course. Running since 1996, the programme is aimed at long-term unemployed individuals for whom traditional education pathways have previously not worked, those looking to upskill or change career, and those who have an interest in heritage. The initiative partners with City of Dublin Education and Training Board (CDETB), who provides the programme funding. The programme values the voice of the learner, who has guided the structure of the course, especially during the COVID-19 pandemic. In 2021 the programme was successful in an application to the Mitigating Against Educational Disadvantage Fund and have received additional funds to purchase new laptops, Wi-Fi Dongles, and Headsets to further support learners. Over 90% of the learners involved progress into Third Level Education or the workforce after leaving the programme, including working with 14 Henrietta Street, National Museum of Ireland Collins Barracks and Turlough Park, Farmleigh, Kilmainham Gaol, Teelings Whiskey, Irish Whiskey Museum, EPIC Museum and St Patrick’s Cathedral.

European Social Fund Special Recognition Award

Foundation 4 Life - Foundation 4 Life is a transformative, education, life skills, and job activation program for disengaged young people aged 18 - 25 who are not currently employed, in education, or training in Co Mayo. Foundation 4 Life was developed by South West Mayo Development Company in partnership with the Western Region Drug and Alcohol Task Force under the Social Inclusion and Community Activation Programme which is co-funded by the Department of Rural and Community Development and the European Social Fund.

Learners' Voice Initiative - The Learner's Voice Initiative which is delivered by South Dublin County Partnership is part of the Social Inclusion and Community Activation Programme. It aims to increase the participation of learners in the process and development of their programs. The flagship project of this initiative is the 'Uncovered Voices' Podcast. The podcast gives the learner a platform to tell their stories, in their words and using their voices. The Social Inclusion and Community Activation Programme is co-funded by the Department of Rural and Community Development and the European Social Fund.

Pathways & Headstart Programmes - Both the Pathways & Headstart Programmes are a collaboration between Dundalk Institute of Technology and Louth Leader Partnership through the Social Inclusion and Community Activation Programme which is co-funded by the Department of Rural and Community Development and the European Social Fund.  The programmes aim to provide access routes into Third Level Education for target groups that have traditionally not accessed Higher Education. It consists of two participant-led programmes which support learners from imagining life at college through to applying for and starting college and way beyond.

Women @Work - The Women@Work programme promotes social inclusion for disadvantaged women to support them to access long-term, high-quality employment which is sustainable in their lives. This is achieved through a structured programme of 1:1 coaching, group training and ‘in-work’ supports when the woman moves into employment. Women@Work is supported by the Department of Children, Equality, Disability, Integration and Youth and the European Social Fund.

Working Together, Although we are Apart - Kilkenny and Carlow Education and Training Board’s Adult Learning Service created a COVID-19 memories booklet with their learners. The project was the result of tutors and staff working together to come up with an innovative and creative way to keep learners engaged and supported during lockdown in March 2020. Close to fifty learners were involved and a number of tutors also submitted pieces for the booklet. Stories were shared, experiences were teased out, and it was a process and a journey, not just a final piece of work, a very positive journey for all involved. Kilkenny and Carlow Education and Training Board’s Adult Learning Service is co-funded by the Department of Further and Higher Education, Research, Innovation and Science and the European Social Fund.

More Information

In addition to the above, a Special Award will be given for Mitigating Educational Disadvantage through Innovation (during COVID-19).

The STAR Awards is proudly sponsored by the Open University in Ireland and the Open College Network Northern Ireland (OCNNI), the Teachers’ Union of Ireland (TUI), Concern Worldwide, Quality and Qualifications Ireland (QQI), the European Social Fund (ESF) and Mental Health Ireland. Sponsors will be offering special prizes to all 2022 STAR Award winners.

Take a look back at the STAR Awards 2021 to see last year’s winners.

For more information about the STAR Awards, please contact Barry Dolan, AONTAS Communications and Membership Officer at: