Sólás is an educational charity which provides support and resources to children and young people with additional needs including autism and ASD.  Although based in South Belfast, the charity’s work extends across Northern Ireland and it strives to ensure that “every child is a happy child” by offering children and young people unique learning opportunities tailored to their needs to attain their full potential in learning and life.

Following a successful pilot project in 2016, The Patch Project aimed to offer 20 young vulnerable teens aged 14+, diagnosed with Autism and learning difficulties, a unique training in gardening and food production through the use of aquaponics.  Aquaponics is a sustainable method of producing plants including chillies and tomatoes, which grow twice as fast as using traditional methods.  It is a user and eco-friendly food cultivation system, recycling water from fish tanks to feed the plants, encouraging respect for the environment and an improved sense of citizenship. The chillies and tomatoes will be turned in to sauces and relishes and sold to local cafes/restaurants, giving the students an opportunity to participate in the production of food and, within time, its sale.  The long term goal is to improve employability among these young people by providing them with skills they can use in home and work environments.  Young people with special needs lose all statutory support at age 19. Sólás aims to start up-skilling them now so they do not spend life after school confined to day-care centres which are not always appropriate for the needs and abilities of these individuals.

The £4,000 grant provided by IYF was used towards project overheads including rental of a room solely for this project’s use, heating, lighting and insurance. 20 regular participants attended – a mixed group of girls and boys ages ranging from 14-18. For more information on the work of Sólás and the Patch Project visit their website.