TechFoundHer Brings AI Roadshow To Belfast

A women in tech organisation set up by Northern Ireland entrepreneur Mairin Murray is set to bring their hugely popular AI Roadshow to Belfast.

The roadshow follows on from the success of the recent TechFoundHer Bootcamp in Dublin, a one day innovation summit for female founders.

The AI Roadshow taking place at The MAC, Belfast on Wednesday May 22 will include the premiere screening of the Los Angeles produced award winning movie Show Her The Money, a powerful and uplifting film dedicated to shedding light on the challenges and triumphs of women entrepreneurs in their quest for funding.

The film, produced by Catherine Gray and directed by Ky Dickens, takes audiences on an emotional journey through the lives of resilient and visionary women who have defied societal norms, shattered glass ceilings, and overcome obstacles to build their businesses. Cathering Gray and investor Wendy Ryan, featured in the movie, will be attending the roadshow from the US to do an after screening panel plus Q&A. 

The TechFoundHer AI Roadshow has an inspirational lineup of speakers who will lead a series of motivational talks with practical takeaways about the power of tech and the AI revolution that’s underway

TechFoundHer founder Murray said she is delighted to be bringing a prestigious lineup of speakers to Belfast and added that it’s been a goal to run Northern Ireland based events for a number of years.

She added: “TechFoundHer is on a mission to ensure women have the opportunity to fully contribute as tech entrepreneurs and innovators.

“Women are currently massively under-represented as the founders of tech companies. This has to change. Tech has no gender, and it’s time we come up with bold solutions to address the underinvestment in women’s startups.

“AI is happening now and women founders need to be embracing all the opportunities it presents as quickly as possible.”

TechFoundHer was set up by Mairin Murray earlier this year with the mission to “unlock the potential of women to start and lead tech companies for the benefit of our economy, society and world” she explained, adding: “We build tech competence. We advocate for entrepreneur equality and system change. We are data driven and ask questions and look for answers. We connect impact focused women tech founders in our network with peers, champions, supporters and allies.”

Speakers include producer, advocate and She Angels Founder Catherine Gray, diversity champion and CEO Kadabra, Wendy Ryan, innovator and entrepreneur, Dr Lollie Mancey, Belfast based media and marketing expert Tina Calder of Excalibur Press and Mairin herself with more to be announced over the coming weeks.

TechFoundHer AI Roadshow is supported and sponsored by Belfast City Council, Ormeau Baths, DogPatch Labs, PorterShed, Republic of Work, RDI Hub and Excalibur Press.

For information and to book tickets go to

Hundreds Of NI Companies & Experts Set To Attend National Construction Summit In Dublin

Hundreds of construction companies and experts are set to travel to Dublin next week for the annual National Construction Summit at the Sport Ireland Campus, Blanchardstown.

Taking place on Thursday April 18, the event incorporates a comprehensive programme including a wide array of seminars and free workshops, the National Construction Summit, organised by Premier Publishing & Events, will also feature an extensive exhibition area, showcasing the latest products, services and technology for the construction, engineering, sustainable building, maintenance and architectural sectors.

Key Conference themes at the 2024 National Construction Summit include: Jobs, Skills, Training and Education; Infrastructural Investment; Public & Private Housing; Finance; Building Materials & Services Innovation; Foreign Direct Investment (FDI); Project Ireland 2040, the Housing For All Plan; Smart Design for Off-site Construction; Construction 4.0; Green Technology; and Sustainability.

Speakers at the conference will touch on a variety of subjects including discussing the fact that construction output in Ireland is forecast to grow by 3.2% in 2023 and 4.4% in 2024, according to Euroconstruct, an independent construction market forecasting network active in 19 European countries. Which is in contrast to output declines in construction across Europe.

Attendees will also hear about the Government’s housing policy for housing for all all to 2030. A multi-annual, multi-billion euro plan, it is designed to improve Ireland’s housing system and deliver more homes of all types for people with different housing needs. It has a built-in annual review mechanism to respond to progress made in implementing the plan, to challenges in implementation, and to changes in the external environment.

The conference will discuss the fact that housing supply has been increasing, and the continuing increase in house prices and rents indicate that demand for housing is still growing at a faster pace than supply.

The conference will also touch on the challenges being faced by the sector discussing how the construction sector is a vital component of the Irish economy providing the necessary infrastructure required to sustain Ireland’s economic growth and competitiveness and to attract foreign direct investment (FDI). According to a recent EY Economic Advisory report, the value of Irish construction output is projected to reach €35.2 billion in 2024.

Although the Irish construction industry is undergoing a steady recovery following subdued activity in 2020 and 2021 due to the COVID-19 pandemic, it faces significant challenges, such as rising materials costs, skills shortages and difficulties in planning and public sector procurement.

Innovation will also play a central role in the event with many speakers discussing the fact that in order to design and construct the sustainable buildings and infrastructure required by a growing population and to help businesses adapt to the challenges of the unfolding fourth industrial revolution (Industry 4.0), the construction industry throughout Ireland needs to rapidly adopt innovative technologies and techniques. However, there is concern that the industry is not evolving fast enough to meet these changing needs.

The National Construction Summit will host over 100 speakers across seven stages. Included in the day will be a series of panels on topics ranging from “Building a Resilient Workforce: Attracting and Retaining Skilled Construction Talent”, “Voices of the Irelands MMC Sector: Priorities and Perspectives for a Sustainable Future”, “How PPPs can help meet Ireland’s infrastructure challenges”, and “Is Ireland Destined to Become a Secondary Data Hosting Location?” 

Agendas for the event are now live at and details on all speakers are available at 

The National Construction Summit also includes a number of co-located events which include:

  • Project Controls Event
  • The Architecture, Design and Planning Expo
  • BIM & Digital Construction Show
  • The Data Centre and Critical Infrastructure Expo
  • Fit-out & Interior Live
  • Health & Safety
  • Lean Construction Show
  • Modern Methods of Construction
  • Modular & Offsite Construction Show
  • The Engineering Summit
  • The National Facility Management and Maintenance Show
  • Passive Construction & NZEB
  • Smart & Green Building Expo


Registration is free at

Banbridge Woman Melissa Irvine Transforms Personal Care Experience into Social Work Passion

“I think small things can have the biggest impact on people”

For Melissa Irvine, social work has always been a goal. Even when she temporarily took a different path, she knew she wasn’t where she wanted to be.

The 30-year-old from Banbridge knew social work was something she admired following her personal experiences. It was from these that she decided that she wanted to be the person to help people too.

Speaking about where her passion for social work came from, Melissa said: “I had been looking after my grandparents, and I had my granny living at home with me receiving palliative care. I just remember the social worker being there and the difference that she made to those final days for my grandma and for our family.

“I know what that meant to me and so if I could get the chance to reciprocate that for someone else, it would be lovely.”

Melissa knew she wanted to help people, however, when applying for university courses through UCAS, she was put off applying for social work courses as her by teachers who advised her that it was difficult to get a place on the social work degree at the time.

Going down a different path, Melissa began studying psychology at Queen’s University Belfast, but within four months she knew that wasn’t what she wanted. She then went on to do a foundation degree in Early Childhood Studies. After taking a year out to have her son, she completed the course in 2016, but still felt like she wasn’t where she was supposed to be.

“Once I had the degree, I felt unfulfilled. I didn’t know what I was supposed to do, there were no jobs for that foundation level” she explained.

After getting married, buying a house and having her second child, Melissa decided it was time to get back to her original plan.

“I applied for social work at Queen’s and started in September 2020.”

Melissa’s experience with her grandparents sparked her interest in social work and she hoped to work with older people when she qualified.

She explained: “It was an area of my personal life that I had experience in, but not professionally. I wanted to challenge myself. That’s the beauty of social work, the training is generic so you can work in any field when you qualify to find your perfect fit.

“I just thought about older people’s services and how I enjoy that work. Older people have a wealth of knowledge but they can also be vulnerable. My experience and compassion are based around that.”

After taking part in one of the few face-to-face interviews in 2020 due to the Covid-19 pandemic, Melissa began her course in September at a time when the education system had to make changes to the way students were taught.

“My experience at Queen’s was not how I imagined it at all. But I embraced it, just like everyone else. We had to get on with it and figure it out. I had a baby and a child in P1 at home so I was trying to home school them while also getting my degree. It’s not what I would have wanted” said Melissa.

The main thing that Covid altered for Melissa was her first placement. After being assigned to the South Eastern Trust on the Permanent Placement team, there were a lot of infection control measures that had to be taken in order to get into the care home.

Speaking about her experience, she said: “the first placement was where I learned core skills like the social work process and reflection.

“My second was in my final year. I had to apply for special circumstances because my granny at that point was receiving palliative care. I asked to be placed within half an hour’s travel from home should I need to get to her.”

“Granny fell and broke her hip and although when she came out of hospital we arranged for her to go to a care home, she just wanted to go home. She was deteriorating so much.

I wanted to bring her home to live with me, so I phoned her social worker, Lisa.

“I knew it was a big ask, but I wanted her home for me for Christmas. It meant organising equipment and moving Granny from her house to mine, and all of that on the 23rd of December.

“Lisa got her home to me and two weeks after Christmas, she passed away. She was where she needed to be to let go.

“If it hadn’t been for Lisa and what she did for me, I wouldn’t have had that final time with her. She died surrounding people she loved and where she wanted to be,

“I now work with Lisa every day, and I want to do for other people what she what she did for me. She made me realise how valuable social work is.”

Reflecting on public awareness of social work with older people Melissa thought that more people knew about the role in children’s services. She said: “Older people services are actually carrying some of the highest levels of caseloads in the social work profession. We have an ageing population and there are more and more people needing our services.

“A lot of families don’t know about these services until they have a loved one needing to access support. We’re trying to respond and support people and families who have ever changing needs. There are a lot of demands on services and sometimes people have unrealistic expectations of what we can actually do”.

In terms of advice for others who hope to pursue a career in social work, Melissa said: “The degree gives you training but it felt like a big step up to become a qualified social worker. I think as a social worker there are things that you need to be able to bring to the table that you cannot learn, for example, your values, your empathy.

“Every area of social work is different. You need to believe in yourself. If you don’t have confidence in yourself, in what you’re doing and what you’re saying, then how can you expect other people to have confidence in you?

“The more you put into it, the more you’re going to get out of it. And the more you invest yourself in what you’re doing, the better outcomes you’re going to achieve.”

And when it comes to how difficult the profession is, Melissa explained: “The social work degree is demanding. I think it is that way for a reason.

“You’re being assessed and tested at every juncture to ensure you are going to be able to cope with the pressures, the workload and the pace and the difficulties that you’re going to face in day-to-day practice.

It’s the little unexpected things that make it worth it: “Just seeing people happy, and being able to be that person who can sometimes help them  fulfil their wishes.

“I think sometimes small things can have really big impacts on people.”

For more information on how you can train to be a social worker in Northern Ireland go to

From Retail to Social Work: Tandragee Mum Embarks on Journey to Change Lives

“I just want to make a difference to anyone who is struggling”

From a young age Cathy Blevins knew she wanted to become a social worker. In her teenage years she wanted to give back to the community.

However, life got in the way, and Cathy missed out on her opportunity to pursue the career she dreamed of as an 18-year-old.

Now 34, the support worker who currently works for disability charity IncredABLE, she’s finally pursuing her dream.

The Tandragee mother of one 13-year-old is currently studying Social Work at Belfast Metropolitan College*. Although in her younger years she had encountered people who felt they had a negative experience with social workers she is excited about helping to dispel some of the myths around the work carried out by social workers in Northern Ireland.

Cathy, who currently helps families affected by disability, says having the ability to help people is one of the “best feelings” and something she is looking forward to bringing into her career as a social worker.

She said: “The reason I always had an interest in it was because I loved the thought of helping people and making changes for the better.

“When I told people I was applying for social work, they expressed their concerns because of what they thought the profession was about, but I want to prove to them that they’re wrong, I want to show them that social workers are there to help people.”

Despite wanting to enrol in social care when she was 18, Cathy’s life took a different path. She explained that school didn’t work out the way she wanted, she began working in retail and eventually became a mum to her son at 21.

Cathy then chose to put her career ambitions on hold as she wanted to watch her son grow up and be a stay at home mum.

But as her son started to get older Cathy realised it was time to do something for her. The feeling she should be helping people never left her, and three years ago she made the decision to return to her calling.

She explained: “I spent two years doing an access course and then I applied for university. I genuinely didn’t know if I would get in, but then I got the email to say I had been offered a place.

“I was initially in two minds about it because I’m getting married next year and knew this would mean I would have to come out of full-time employment and so I started worrying about how I could afford everything, but I knew I hadn’t just worked the last two years for nothing.”

Despite not having studied for many years, Cathy was able to return to education with few struggles.

“Everyone has been really supportive,” she said, adding: “The biggest challenge is that I live in Tandragee, so to avoid traffic I’m leaving the house before seven in the morning.

“I’ve had a lot of mum guilt that’s led me to question myself. But I know that it’s something that I really want to do and I know it will be worth it.”

While she completes her course, Cathy is also working as a Support Worker and Project Worker for people with learning disabilities and autism. Through this she participates in a number of different programmes.

She said: “We support and empower people by taking them out, we want to give them support while having their own freedom.”

The hands-on experience from her job has helped her in many different elements of the course, Cathy explained: “I have a better insight. In my job, we have reports to write and there’s been people on the course who have no idea how to do all of that yet.”

Describing the course itself, Cathy said it’s important for people to understand what they’re getting into: “There is a huge workload. I completely understand why we have so much to do. You can’t leave things to the last minute.

“The lecturers and tutors have been so brilliant across all my modules and really do make it easier for you.”

In hindsight, by deciding not to continue on her journey into social work when she was 18, it gave Cathy time to grow up and find herself.

She said: “If I had gotten onto the course when I was 18 I definitely would not have dealt the same with it. I wouldn’t have the same maturity. At 18 my heart wouldn’t have been in it the way it is now.

“I had my son when I was 21 and that made me grow up and I’m 34 now and I’ve been in situations where it’s given me a better understanding.”

For Cathy the journey may have taken a while but the satisfaction that she feels when she helps people is the reason that she keeps on going. Although her preference would be mental health, she knows that wherever she ends up, it’ll be for the right reasons.

“I knew whenever I was going into social work that I wanted to be involved with the healthcare side of things. It’s not just the supporting individuals, but we’re also supporting their families,” she said.

“That’s when I started to fall in love with it. When I saw that I was making a difference to not only one person’s life, but to their entire families. It’s just the most rewarding thing.”

Working in social work also comes with a lot of tough moments, something which Cathy is aware of and is ready to tackle.

She said: “There’s obviously some emotionally draining times where you feel that you’re not making progress with someone. A lot of people just tell you to not get attached, but we’re human beings. It does break my heart sometimes.”

Looking at her own life in comparison to some of the things that she experiences in her job makes Cathy feel a huge sense of gratitude and helps get her through rough times.

She added: “I have a 13-year old son and he is completely healthy, so you definitely do realise that people take life for granted sometimes. But, when you’re able to help somebody, or you see progression that someone is making, it just makes you feel so good for them and for yourself.”

Cathy not only is now on her way to becoming fully qualified, but she also already knows what area of social work she would love to work on.

She said, “At the moment, my passion is working with people with mental health issues, probably due to personal reasons. I know that that field is going to be challenging but I just really want to make a difference.

“People don’t understand mental health and there’s a real misunderstanding, so I just want to make a difference to anybody who is struggling.”

When looking to the future Cathy tries to just make it through each stage instead of looking to the end, but one thing she knows for sure is that it will be worth it in the end.

“I know it was the right decision to apply for this course, and I know it will be absolutely worth it”.

For more information on how you can train to be a social worker in Northern Ireland go to  

Corrymeela and Starling Collective Leads the Way in Trauma Informed Support

In a landmark initiative set to redefine the landscape of trauma in Northern Ireland, peace and reconciliation charity Corrymeela, in partnership with the Starling Collective, asylum seeking and refugee led Belfast based charity, has announced a transformative three-day series of events.

Starting on April 10, the series of collective transforming trauma events are being run in partnership with psychiatrist Dr James S. Gordon and the Center for Mind Body Medicine.

Transforming trauma: A Community Approach to Healing will see three free events taking place at Stormont Parliament Buildings (April 10), The MAC (April 11) and Queen’s University (April 12). 

Corrymeela in partnership with Starling Collective have been leading on a ground-breaking collective trauma support project, supported by Community Foundation NI through the Department of Health Mental Health Fund to deliver trauma informed approaches to practice training to over 160 professionals, practitioners and volunteers. Together with a consortium of partners, ANAKA Collective, Belfast Massage Project, Counselling All Nations, L.O.R.A.G, Place to Wonder, and The Hummingbird Project, we have actively supported the health and wellbeing of over 2000 people within asylum and refugee communities in the midst of trauma, and adversity.

Denise Bradley, Manager Marginalisation Corrymeela said: “Northern Ireland is a society emerging from over thirty years of conflict and continues to struggle with a high levels of trauma.

“And, as we welcome people seeking asylum and refuge from conflict zones around the world, NI remains the only part of the United Kingdom and Ireland not to have an inclusive refugee strategy: the strategy still remains unpublished. This is having a deep impact on people having any meaningful purpose and participation within NI society. Intertwined with an arduous and often hostile immigration system, we are bearing witness to the compounding of existing traumatic experiences. Research highlights that post arrival is when people’s psychological wellbeing is at most risk of decline. The workforce supporting the community are also exhausted, experiencing chronic stress and burnout, trying to manage their own history and personal experiences of trauma.’’

The Trauma project has been evaluated to be educational impactful and healing for people within the asylum and refugee community and for the workforce delivering services, evidencing the continued need for transforming trauma models that heal population wide. 

During this period Corrymeela developed key trauma informed cross border partnerships, including advance training and peer support for Corrymeela and key partners through Center for Mind Body Medicine (CMBM). The accessible education, and cross-cultural resources and practices have been invaluable. There is no pill or medication that can replace human connection.

“As the funded project comes to its conclusion, the vision for a sustained effort to heal collective wounds across divided communities gains momentum.”

The three events, which will feature Harvard-educated psychiatrist, and a pioneer of mind-body medicine and integrative medicine Clinical Professor, Dr James S. Gordon who is also the founder and CEO of The Center for Mind-Body Medicine (CMBM). 

On April 11 there will be comprehensive workshops at The MAC Theatre, Belfast focusing on practical mind body skills to reduce chronic and traumatic stress. This event will provide attendees with an education and practical skills model designed to co-create long term wellbeing at various levels.

The series then concludes with an event on April 12 at Queen’s University Belfast, aimed at an afternoon of exploration and discussion to disseminate the project findings and how an international model is applying scientific and evidence-based trauma informed model of healing throughout different conflict zones worldwide.

Clinical Professor, Dr James S. Gordon said he and the team are looking forward to he has wanted to come to Northern Ireland for a long time and is incredibly excited to meet everyone.

The Center for Mind-Body Medicine (CMBM) has, for over 30 years, developed and implemented what may be one of the world’s largest and most effective programs for healing from psychological trauma. 

Working in the Balkans, the Middle East, and Africa, with groups in armed conflict with each other, CMBM has helped both parties to deal with the trauma they have experienced as well as to enhance their understanding of each other. 

For more information on the Transforming trauma: A Community Approach to Healing events from April 10-12 go to 

Belfast City Council Celebrates Success Of First Inclusive Entrepreneurship Focused Programme

A fully-funded programme designed to support pre and early stage entrepreneurs experiencing additional barriers to enterprise, concluded with a celebratory event at Belfast City Hall recently.

15 Belfast residents benefited from the enhanced mentoring programme, designed and delivered by The Mind Tribe UK on behalf of Belfast City Council. 87% of the programme participants have a disability or a long-term health condition, 53% of participants identify as neurodivergent, and 93% of participants identify as women or non-binary.  

Speaking about the programme’s success, Belfast Lord Mayor Councillor Ryan Murphy said: “The Inclusive Enterprise Pathway programme gets results because it’s tailored to focus on encouraging people from historically under-represented, under-supported and under-funded groups into entrepreneurship. 

“They’ve learned vital skills in cash flow forecasting, networking, identifying their business vision, mission, and values – they’ve built confidence, resilience, and developed a growth mindset. They’ve also each received £500 to help them set up their business, as one of the main barriers to enterprise is start-up capital and access to finance.

“All the guest speakers they’ve learned from have lived enterprise experience, and share commonalities with the programme participants. That makes them relatable, influential, and important role models. I wish everyone who’s completed our Inclusive Enterprise Pathway programme the very best of luck on their enterprise journey – because as part of our Belfast Agenda, we want all our residents to have access to the tools and support they need to fulfil their potential.”

Katie Matthews-Furphy, multi-award-winning disabled entrepreneur and founder of Mind Tribe UK, said the programme had been specifically designed for those needing extra support for their businesses. 

“All mentees experience additional barriers to enterprise,” she explained. 

“This programme has supported them in raising their entrepreneurial aspirations, developing their business idea and most mentees have now started operating their businesses.

“The aim was to raise entrepreneurial aspirations for people who may not have previously considered enterprise as a viable career pathway, people who would like to, or are considering working for themselves, or people who may have a very early-stage business idea and don’t know where to go for support. 

“We wanted to make sure we created a highly visible and easily accessible pathway to enterprise, for people who have been under-represented, under-supported and under-funded in entrepreneurship.”

Jacqueline Winstanley, co-founder of The Disabled Entrepreneurs Network, founder of Universal Inclusion and Secretariat of the All-Party Parliamentary Group for Inclusive Entrepreneurship was also delighted to join the celebration event and said: “I am delighted to be part of this initiative which celebrates the untapped potential of individuals who face barriers to creating enterprise.”

The Inclusive Enterprise Pathway programme comprised 10 hours of group activity workshops, 10 hours of one-to-one mentoring, and a series of inspiration sessions with guest speakers Azhar Murtuza, founder of Born Maverick, Gemma McAllister, founder of WearMatter, James Ayo, founder of HotBox Entertainment and YUC CIC, and Tina Calder, chief vision officer of Excalibur Press, sharing their own entrepreneurship experiences as relatable role models.

A range of in-house workshops was also delivered with organisations such as Newington Day Centre, Ulster University, Queen’s University Belfast, Raise Ventures, Workforce Training Services, The Parent Rooms, and Women in Business NI. 

Jennifer Cairns, founder of Lady Rebel Club and Rebel World Ltd delivered the keynote speech entitled #NoMoreHiding. A neurodivergent entrepreneur who experiences disability, Jennifer is passionate about inclusion and diverse representation in enterprise and entrepreneurship. 

Dr Nisha Tandon OBE, founder of ArtsEkta, spoke of her experience of piloting an inclusive enterprise programme specifically targeting women from ethnic minority and/or global majority backgrounds; and disabled entrepreneur Michael Holden MBE, shared how he has used his lived experience to provide an innovative solution to accessible toilets and facilities for disabled individuals through his hire business Accessoloo. 

Since September 2023, Inclusive Enterprise Pathway has delivered workshops to 150 Belfast residents, with over 900 Digital Badges awarded. 

Further virtual workshops are available for Belfast residents aged 18+ to book at: and for more information on Belfast City Council’s support for businesses, go to 

Lucie Snowden’s Journey to Making a Difference as a Young Social Worker in Portadown

“Being able to positively affect someone’s life is the most important part. If you want to help people, then go for it”

Lucie Snowden may just be 22-years old, but she’s already making a difference to so many lives in her dream career as a social worker. Qualifying as a social worker seven months ago, Lucie currently works in Portadown Health Centre. She is completing her Assessed Year in Employment – mandatory for all practising social workers once they graduate.

Being a social worker wasn’t always what Lucie thought about. She knew she had a passion for helping people, but never really thought about what that could entail for a career.

It wasn’t until she experienced social workers in her personal life she began thinking it could be an option for her.

The Banbridge woman explained: “When I was growing up, I was very close to my granny. She was diagnosed with COPD and as she declined, she moved into a supporting housing fold. I would go and stay with her, I loved the atmosphere and I would take part in all sorts of events with her.

“She eventually moved into a hospice and I still made sure to visit her. I would sleep with her in a cot and we would watch DVDs together. When she passed away, I was a teenager. Having seen the work social workers did at the hospice, I was immediately tempted by social work, but my teachers said I wouldn’t be successful. They told me I was too young and wouldn’t pass the interview.”

Lucie took what her teachers told her and used it to make her even more determined to get onto the course. She did pass her interview and gained a place to study social work at Queen’s University.

During her degree course she completed placements that gave her experience with both older people’s and children’s services.

Speaking about what field of social work she wanted to pursue, Lucie explained she always had a focus on working with older people.

She said: “I had seen first-hand how vulnerable elderly people can be and how they need support for their needs and someone to advocate for them. I always wanted to work with elderly people more than anything.

“While it was always set in stone where I wanted to end up, I did want a career where I could help people.

“I wanted to enjoy my job and to feel a sense of reward and personal gratification.”

Even though Lucie got on to the degree course on her first try, she believes her true eye-opener was after university, as she wasn’t fully prepared for what to expect.

She explained: “I don’t think I realised what was actually going on in health and social care. Even through university, you don’t get to see the whole picture of the struggles for social workers such as the lack of resources. There’s so much more to it.

“It’s definitely been hard but my journey has made me much more resilient. I’ve changed a lot since applying. I find myself much more empathetic to people on a daily basis now. My eyes are now open to the struggles people could be living with.

Speaking about the course itself, Lucie said: “University was tough. I think because it’s not like some other courses where you can skip classes, your attendance is monitored so you have to be there. If you missed a class, you genuinely would be behind.”

The realities of the job will always hit, and for Lucie, she remembers the exact case that made her realise the skill required for her job.

While she was working with a service user who was struggling with addictions, she became frustrated that the person didn’t seem to want the help she was offering.

She said: “I had no experience with that. I wanted them to know I was trying to help. We have to go way deeper than just throwing things at people to try to help. We have to try to understand why they are doing what they are doing first, what has happened in their lives, then we can try to help them properly.

“It took something bad to happen for us to support this particular service user to make changes and be in a good place. That’s what is tough, sometimes people will hit rock bottom before they are in a place to accept the help on offer.”

Lucie explained experiencing cases which are difficult, especially early on in your career can then stick with social workers and she believes it’s important to find a way to cope with what you’re dealing with daily.

She said: “At that time, I never actually stepped back and processed what I had experienced, and it did catch up with me. I now know it’s really important to sit and think about the journey as a whole, from where you started to where you are now and to use the professional supports available like your team and manager. That will bring you such a sense of achievement.”

The main piece of advice Lucie would give future social workers is to be prepared that anything can come your way.

“Anything can happen and anything can change, but don’t lose your purpose. Don’t lose the passion you have for it” she said.

“If you have a genuine passion for wanting to help and make a difference, then go for it. When you have those cases where you can see you have evidently made a positive impact, it makes it all worth it.”

The struggles Lucie faces at her work are mainly due to the lack of resources available along with respite care.

She said: “It can be hard because there is such a lack of beds. Sometimes you can’t get a bed for someone and you have to explain to their families they need to have a plan B. It’s not always guaranteed.

“I never expected there to be such a huge lack of resources. I always assumed once we made our assessments, the services would be implemented straightaway, but that’s not always the case.

“It does sometimes make you feel helpless. If you have identified a way to help someone, but then hear it’s going to take a few months before they can get the service they need, it does take a toll, because they really need the help.”

Lucie believes one of the most important things to do for your mental wellbeing is to relax whenever you can.

From watching TV with her dogs, working out in the gym and having those moments with friends away from the work, Lucie said keeping your work in your car is the best way to emotionally separate yourself from everything you experience.

She also stressed having confidence in asking questions is an extremely important part of the job, especially when you’re in the early stages of your career, like she is.

She explained: “I definitely still have those moments where I get anxious about things, but I have such a good team around me and everyone is so understanding. I would rather ask the question, than not ask and get it completely wrong.

For anyone who is still wary and unsure if social work is the career for them, Lucie said if you like to make a difference, then you should definitely consider it.

“Being able to positively affect someone’s life is the most important part. If you want to help people, you really should consider it” she said.

“If you have a passion for something, you can do anything.”

For more information on how you can train to be a social worker in Northern Ireland go to  

Brook Hall Estate & Gardens To Open In Support Of National Garden Scheme and Foyle Hospice

The private Brook Hall Estate & Gardens, which sits on the banks of the River Foyle is to open to the public in support of the National Garden Scheme and Foyle Hospice. 

Now in its third year, the National Garden Scheme raises vital funds for nursing and healthcare charities such as Macmillan Cancer Support and Marie Curie by giving visitors unique access to 3,500 exceptional private gardens in the UK. 

The Brook Hall Estate is home to one of the most unique arboretums in the north west, with plants and trees from all over the world. 

Recognised as a “woodland garden”, Brook Hall differs from traditional gardens with its focus on a diverse range of specimen tree and plant life. 

Usually only accessible by private booking, this unique opportunity allows visitors to wander through the private arboretum and gardens and enjoy stunning views across the river.

The arboretum contains a wide collection of rhododendrons, magnolias and camellias in a range of colours beneath the broad boughs of the 18th century parkland oaks. The arboretum is also home to a rare collection of conifers of some of the oldest and largest of their kind on the island of Ireland.

David Gilliland, managing partner of Brook Hall Estate & Gardens said of the event: “We are delighted to be opening for our first event of the year, and to provide the community with the opportunity to explore the private gardens of Brook Hall in support of the good work of the National Garden Scheme and the Foyle Hospice.”

The estate and gardens will open to the public between 2pm to 5pm Saturday 13 and Sunday 14 April at £5 per adult, with kids going free. With the help of the Foyle Hospice, proceeds from the refreshments served over the weekend will help to support their nursing charity on a local level.

For more information, and to book tickets (tickets can be purchased on the day) go to 

A Decade of Dedication: Niamh Quinn’s Unwavering Journey to Become a Social Worker

“The thought of helping someone everyday, there’s no better feeling than that”

Working as a social worker is something Niamh Quinn always wanted to do. Now, just over a decade later, she is finally on the road to reaching her goals.

The 32-year-old from Clonoe, County Tyrone, always had a deep interest in social work. Growing up as the youngest of her siblings, Niamh always felt drawn to playing with her young neighbours or babysitting her sister’s children.

Through doing this she often heard people tell her how she was a natural with children, so it was an easy choice when she had to pick courses for her UCAS application.

The first-year social work student said: “I always knew I wanted to work with children. I don’t know why but everybody always said to me that I was really good with them. So, when I was doing my UCAS I applied for primary school teaching, I also applied for Social Work at that time. I got as far as the interview stage for social work, but I didn’t get in.”

After receiving a rejection from the social work course, Niamh went on to do a primary school teaching course, but dropped out after a year and a half as it wasn’t what she wanted to do.

“It was a conscious decision to apply for teaching too” she explained, adding: “Working with children was the only avenue I really wanted to go down, I didn’t really want to teach, but I like working with children. So, I went down that path.

“I only completed a year and a half, I just knew it wasn’t for me.”

Niamh didn’t stop here, she continued on her path to working with children, knowing it was something she was meant to do.

“After I left teaching I went to tech and got my level three childcare, then I went straight into a job in a creche and stayed there for six years” she said.

However, still not where she wanted to be and looking to the future, Niamh decided it was time to try something completely different.

She said: “I decided I needed a bit of office background so I went into a solicitors. I’m still working there two days a week, on the side of my social work studies, as a secretary.

“The solicitor’s two main things that they deal with are family and criminal so they deal with social workers all of the time. It’s interesting because I’m seeing it from the other side now too.”

Working closely with social workers, families and solicitors made Niamh realise it was time to finally get back on her original path and complete her social work studies.

Speaking about why she is so passionate about social care work, she said: “Just the thought of helping people. It would be such a great feeling to just come home every day and think you’ve helped somebody. I’m quite a positive person so to bring that to somebody else’s family, there is no better feeling.”

With her experience working in the solicitor’s, Niamh knows she could go down many different routes of social work, something that she feels isn’t widely known.

“I actually didn’t even realise the breadth of opportunities within social work. There’s so many avenues that someone could go down. Obviously, there are so many children that need help, so that’s a big one, but there really are so many choices.

“There’s definitely a big misunderstanding when it comes to the role of the job.  A lot of people just hear the job title and assume you’re there to take their children and that’s just not the way it is at all. The social worker is there to help you, they are not against you.”

Now she’s finally pursuing her dream, Niamh said understanding exactly what the social work course entailed is important for anyone thinking about applying.

She explained: “I was prepared for the work, but I wasn’t as prepared as I thought I would be. The written side of things is quite intense, but I just love the learning.

“The classes are brilliant. In South West College, all of the tutors are social workers so we’re being taught by people with first-hand experience.”

Although the coursework can be full on, Niamh is confident it will all be worth it when she reaches her end goal. Looking back, Niamh is thankful that she didn’t get on the course the first time around.

“I think at that stage, I probably wasn’t actually ready for it. I feel like I was too immature and young at that time. I’m kind of glad now that I didn’t get in at that point of my life. Of course, I was really disappointed, but I’m glad that I went and got some experience behind me” she said.

One warning Niamh has for anyone who is applying for the course, is to be prepared for the emotional side of things.

“You have to be prepared to take time out for yourself” she said.

“Don’t be afraid to take 20 minutes, if you need to. There’s been a few times on the course where I have had to step out of the room, but that is okay.”

Speaking about the application process, Niamh advises: “Take your time. Don’t rush filling it out. For my personal statement, I also spoke to a mum of one of the children I worked with to get her thoughts. So, if you can, also get perspectives from other people. Make sure you also include examples of how you have helped someone. Just make it as personal as possible.”

The main message that Niamh wants to get across, is that it is never too late to go for it. Having taken just over a decade to get to where she is now, Niamh knows that every choice she made work wise were all conscious decisions, connected to where she wanted to be.

“I just want everyone to know that it is never too late” she said.

Feeling inspired? For more information on how you can train to be a social worker in Northern Ireland check out our Interested in becoming a social worker? page.


Expert Reveals How Women Can Achieve Hormone Harmony & Unleash Your Full Potential

Nutrition expert Sandra Miskimmin has revealed women should be treating their hormones as a superpower rather than as a taboo subject.

For many discussions about hormones become hushed conversations with lots of embarrassing whispers and confusion.

But Sandra, owner of SMASH Worldwide, a health and nutrition company which supports women through hormonal changes, believes by opening up the conversation about all hormones, it can open up a new way of life for women of any age.

Sandra is one of the speakers lined up to appear at the Mums At Work Elevate Your Business conference on Monday March 25.

Her talk, titled ‘Hormone Harmony to Maximise your Personal and Professional Goals’ will empower women to embrace their hormones rather than fear them. 

She explained: “It will help women to understand how each of the hormones respond in their body and more importantly, how to use their hormones to their advantage. 

“When women work with their hormones, rather than against them, it opens up a whole new world of opportunity. When this happens, women will become more successful in their personal, physical, and professional life.”

Speaking up and speaking out about hormone health is something Sandra is very passionate about.

“Women go through three major “Ps” when it comes to hormones. Puberty, pregnancy and perimenopause” said Sandra, adding: “Quite often we go through each phase confused and afraid to ask questions. 

“Teenagers, and even women, don’t seem to be able to talk about something that is so natural in our lives. We talk about the curse of having a monthly cycle and just get on with life as though it is something that we have to endure.

“Many women suffer through each of these phases and accept it as normal, but if you are experiencing uncomfortable symptoms in your body, it is a sign that you are not working in conjunction with your hormones, and your body is trying to signal this to you. 

“We should be able to breeze through each day, week, month and year, but nowadays, that tends not to happen.”

Sandra believes that by encouraging women to change their view as a society about their monthly cycles and the other hormones in their bodies they can start to live a lifestyle that supports their hormones and help them put the pieces of their health jigsaw together.

She said: “Not only will you feel amazing, but you will also become more productive, suffer less, know what foods to eat at what time of the month, know what kind of exercise to do each week and work towards your strengths.”

If you’re suffering from hormone imbalances here are Sandra’s top tips for helping to bring them back into balance:

  1. Food

“One of the most important pieces of your health jigsaw is the food that you eat,” said Sandra.

“Aim to eat a minimally processed diet, full of lots of variety. Focus on healthy sources of protein – either animal or plant based, healthy fats and nature’s carbs.  

“The closer you can get to the creation of your meals the better. By cooking for yourself you will be aware of the quality of the ingredients that you are eating and be able to control them better. 

“This will ensure that your leptin (feel full) hormone and ghrelin (hunger hormone) are kept under control.”

  1. Sugar

Sandra said it’s important to keep your blood sugars as balanced as possible. No one wants to be on a blood sugar rollercoaster. 

She added: “When on the blood sugar rollercoaster, not only can it lead to weight gain but it can also lead to inflammation in the body, cravings and energy fluctuations. 

“By keeping your blood sugars balanced, you will be keeping your insulin levels under control.”

  1. Stress

“As busy women in today’s society, it can be hard to control stress levels” explained Sandra, adding: “However, by taking 10 minutes to yourself each day you can have a major positive impact on your cortisol levels. 

“When cortisol is raised in the body, sleep is disrupted, belly fat is stored and we are continually in fight or flight mode. 

“10 minutes of self care each day will help to lower your cortisol levels and bring your body back to calm again.”

  1. Sleep

According to Sandra, having a good sleep hygiene routine is key to keeping your hormones balanced.  

She said: “By switching off from screens at least one hour before bed, not eating three hours before bed and sleeping in a cool room, you will have a much better night’s sleep. 

“This will enable your body to get into the rest and repair phase as you sleep and this will help to keep your ghrelin hormone under control. 

“If you’re not sleeping properly you are more likely to eat an extra 300 calories of food the day after – these foods tend to be high carb foods, which then can trigger more cravings.”

  1. Gut Health

“By eating a wide variety of plant based foods each week – aim for 30 – you will be providing the perfect microbiome for great gut health” said Sandra. 

“90-95% of your serotonin (feel good hormone) is made in the gut. If the gut is not healthy, this can then have an impact on your mental health.”

  1. Hydration

Keep it simple says Sandra: “Drink more water to help with your hormones and brain health. A two per cent reduction in hydration has been shown to have an impact on cognitive function.”

  1. Toxins

“Reduce your toxin exposure to help balance your hormones. Become aware of the potential endocrine disruptors that are in products that you are using” said Sandra.

“Change from using plastic water bottles and containers to using metal or glass containers. Use the Think Dirty App to check the toxicity of the beauty products that you are using and then swap for cleaner versions.”

  1. Exercise

Sandra says it’s time to tune in to where you are in your monthly cycle so ensure that you are working out in conjunction with your cycle rather than against it.  

She explained: “There are times of the month that you can ramp up your training and go for personal bests and there are times of the month when you need to take things easier.  

“By over exercising and not working with your cycle you risk increasing your cortisol levels and injury.”

Sandra will be revealing more tips for hormone help during her talk at the Mums At Work Elevate Your Business conference on Monday March 25.

For more information, to book a ticket or a stand go to >> or search for the event on Eventbrite.

Find out more about SMASH Worldwide at