Larne market garden to help tackle unemployment

David Hunter, chief executive of AEL pictured at the Centre Point allotments.  INLT 49-667-SG
David Hunter, chief executive of AEL pictured at the Centre Point allotments. INLT 49-667-SG

A Larne-based social enterprise company is preparing to embark on a new project designed to support disadvantaged local people.

Acceptable Enterprises Larne (AEL), which makes parts, accessories and components for a wide range of industries, has transformed a patch of derelict land into raised allotments for use by individuals and community groups.

And the firm is set to embark on the second phase of the project; a market garden facility which aims to tackle local unemployment and help disadvantaged people, such as those with mental health issues and learning disabilities.

David Hunter, CEO of AEL told the Times: “The market garden will involve the erection of two large poly tunnels, measuring 30ft by 60ft.

“The project will provide our clients with the opportunity to engage in regular, structured forms of outdoor, hands-on activity.

“This in many ways resembles employment; working as a team, task setting, turning up on time receiving and giving instruction.”

As well as learning vital skills needed for employment, participants will also be provided with training opportunities, in the form of an OCN NI Level 1 qualification in horticulture.

The project also aims to help people who suffer from poor mental or physical health and find themselves “on the fringes of society”.

He added: “There is an abundance of evidence to show that allotment-based activity provides physical and psychological benefits from those that become involved.”

Work on the market garden is expected to get underway in January.

The commencement of the project comes in the wake of AEL securing a 10-year lease on the Centre Point premises.

The building, owned by Northern Regional College, is a shared facility between the college, AEL and the Northern Health Trust. The partnership allows AEL and the Trust to rent the premises from NRC, who continue to provide further education courses on-site.

AEL’s move to the spacious Pound Street premises in 201 allowed the firm to expand and double its direct employment from 15 to 30, and treble the number of training placements from 26 to 80.

Last year, the firm created NI’s first social enterprise water-bottling facility at Magheramorne.

AEL is also hoping to resurrect its plan to build log cabins at Carnfunnock, after the original proposal was rejected buy Larne Borough Council.

Mr Hunter added: “Our move to the Centre Point facility has allowed us to grow the organisation in terms of economic and community-based activities.”