Sandy Row Homework Club
Sandy Row is a street in South Belfast which lends its name to the surrounding residential area which is home to a predominately Protestant working class community.
Once a thriving shopping district, the area has faced a downturn in fortunes over the years especially during the Troubles. While it is still a proud and tight knit community it suffers high rates of unemployment, poverty, and deprivation.
The Sandy Row Homework club was established in 1993 to assist children specifically from Blythe Street Primary School and had the capacity for approximately 30 children. It now accepts children from all schools in the local area.
When the homework club first opened it became apparent to the small team of workers and volunteers that there was a real gap in the children’s learning in terms of both literacy and numeracy. So a tailored project to tackle these gaps was established in 1995. The project has grown from strength to strength and continues to offer support to children living in the Sandy Row area. But the club is currently existing on short-term funding streams. It requires core funding in order to be able to keep offering its service to the young people who really need the educational support service that it offers.
Over the last six years it has assisted 36 children from local primary seven classes to sit their transfer tests. The homework club is extremely proud of the fact that in 2016 one of their children received 125 marks in his transfer test – that was one of the highest scores in Northern Ireland.
Billy Ennis, Homework Club Co-ordinator said: “We are delighted with his success, he worked hard for it and I’m glad we were in a position to offer help and support through the homework club – it is an excellent result and just one of many that we are very proud of.
“The young guy has gone to the Royal Belfast Academical Institution (INST) – a fantastic school – and, thankfully, he was awarded a scholarship which would have been a huge relief to his parents who were potentially facing steep school fees every year. Not many of the families who we support could afford to send their children to some of the grammar schools in Belfast.”
There are usually around twenty young people on the numeracy and literacy project. Approximately 14 of these children sit the transfer tests with around 50% achieving the required pass rate to attend a grammar school. The others will normally enter the top stream at their high school. Most of the children who have been through the homework club leave school with formal qualifications e.g. GSCE’s and some go on to do A Levels.
“This is a great outcome, as the essence of the Sandy Row Homework club is to help young ones ensure they leave school with qualifications which can help them get a job”, Billy said. “We are trying, through education, to break the cycle of deprivation that has plagued the Sandy Row area for too long. We need to rid the area of the scourge of unemployment. Many of the jobs and trades which used to be available to them are gone and now qualifications are needed to get employment.”
“We offer an important service, and we know it is valued, but it is becoming increasingly difficult to find the funding to keep the doors open”, concluded Billy.