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MOVEMENT l The Ice Academy

Earlier this year we had the chance to partner with the Odyssey Trust and Include Youth, two incredible organisations working with care experienced young people. We caught up with Wendy Langham, head of Social Affairs at the Odyssey Trust, to hear about their Ice Academy and how its supported these young people.

Q. Tell us a bit about yourself.

A. I’m Wendy, Head of Social Affairs at The Odyssey Trust. My role is to create social impact through the Odyssey Trust and our related businesses including the Belfast Giants Ice Hockey team and W5 Interactive Discovery Centre. Our goal is to create better life chances and support well-being for the people of Northern Ireland.

Q. Tell us about the Ice Academy.

A. The inaugural Ice Academy finished at the end of March 2018. In 2017 we ran our first skills academy, focused on supporting young people into employment. At the end of the initiative, ten young people were employed in jobs across our site. This year we decided to focus on building confidence through sport, working with care experienced young people. The Belfast Giants partnered with Include Youth and received funding from the Department for Communities’ ‘Together Building United Communities’ programme to establish Belfast’s first ever Ice Academy. We started in January 2018 and ran a twelve week programme through to the end of March. At the end of the project, thirteen young people graduated to become 2018 Community Giants.

Q. Why focus on children in care?

A. Knowing many of these young people face greater challenges than others in terms of confidence, self-worth and opportunities, we felt that we could support them and make a difference. The incredible thing was as much as we helped the young people, we were blown away by how much we learnt from them and the incredibly positive impact they had on us!

Q. What was your highlight of the Ice Academy.

A. It’s hard to pinpoint just one. We all bonded in our fear of learning how to ice skate and in the excitement of getting the chance to play ice hockey with the Belfast Giants! It was a real leveller for everyone but, together as a team, we managed to achieve our personal and collective goals. It was a such unique programme and a great opportunity for everyone to learn from each other. There were plenty of long hours but it was amazing to see confidence grow in the young people as they learned new skills and bonded as a team. At the end of the Academy, friends, families and supporters came to watch us play a game with the Belfast Giants which was just the best experience! Unfortunately, my team lost 6-7 but getting the chance to play with a professional ice hockey team is something I’ll never forget!

Q. How did Madlug come into this journey?

A. As part of the Ice Academy, the young people were kitted out with the right gear to take part including a Belfast Giants jersey and protective padding. In addition, they needed something to put all this gear into. Whenever we looked around for bags we came across Madlug and it was the perfect fit! It was a really easy product choice to make. The young people loved the design and were proud to be wearing the bags and supporting the movement.

Q. What was your experience of working with Madlug?

A. Great! As a first time buyer, I was really impressed with the service. The bags arrived on time and the quality was exceptional. The young people were so excited to receive their new bags and the smiles on their faces spoke volumes. Like their hockey jerseys, they wore the bags with pride and they became part of their Ice Academy uniform.

Q. What’s next for the Ice Academy?

A. Planning is underway for the next Odyssey Academy. We are constantly trying to improve what we do and learn lessons along the way. The most encouraging thing is that we know the impact of the Academy was greater than we could have imagined at the outset. We’re really excited to see how we can continue to support better life chances.

Q. What are you hopeful for in Northern Ireland?

A. We all want to make sure that everybody meets their potential - whatever that may be. Personally, if I could make everyone happy and healthy that would be great. Whilst we know we can’t change the world, we are passionate about working with others to improve the quality of life for the people of NI.

Q. What’s your favourite thing about summer in Northern Ireland?

A. The longer days! We all know everyone is that bit happier when the sun is out and you have a few more hours of daylight each day.

Q. Would you recommend working with Madlug?

A. Definitely!

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