Case study

Skills for Life Learning Centre

A CIC that has pioneered an educational health programme around yoga in Northern Ireland.

What is more important than your health? This is the question that the first Community Interest Company established in Northern Ireland wants everyone to consider seriously. And this is why the Skills for Life Learning Centre in Belfast has created the first yoga-based skills development programme accredited within an educational and clinical framework for everyone over the age of 12. To help avoid confusion with the popular conception of yoga and to give the programme a unique identity it has been branded as “Skilltrition”. It is delivered in a range of community settings including places of work, secondary schools and the Belfast Health and Social Care Trust. It has proved most effective at addressing mental conditions induced by a skills deficiency. This success can be attributed to “Skilltrition” being designed to treat the cause not the symptoms.

Director Geoff Wright says that in this way Skilltrition is both proactive and reactive, helping people emerge from mental conditions through “skills not pills” and equipping them with the tools needed to avoid ill health in the first place.

And it is in the groundbreaking proactive realm that Wright has particularly big plans. However, getting investment in “Mental Hygiene” is proving difficult, he says. “Right now people see the essential skills as maths, English and IT, but those skills are worthless unless you’ve got good health, so the fourth essential skill should be health.”

To show why this proactive element is so important, Wright uses the analogy of a drowning man. It is very difficult to teach a drowning man to swim, he explains, whereas it’s easy to teach swimming to someone who isn’t drowning.

Wrights says he chose the CIC structure because it completed the jigsaw, “To become fully functional we needed three things,” he says, “We required academic standards that were nationally recognised, we needed standards of clinical excellence and we needed the correct ethical framework – and the CIC structure provided this.”

Since its conception the CIC has delivered over 20,000 learning units to 3,000 people, many of them disadvantaged. The programmes are fully paid for by the participants, with the money reinvested in the programme and the intellectual property retained by the company. Wright believes that no skill is learnt fully or sustainable unless it can be passed on. So Skills for Life also encourages participants to leave with the skills to become facilitators themselves and set up their own franchises.

Not all participants will go on to be facilitators, just like not all young people taught maths will go on to become maths teachers, but in both cases the skills acquired will be with them for life.

Name Skills for Life Learning Centre
Location Belfast, Northern Ireland
Company structure CIC limited by guarantee
Founded October 2007
Community interest statement Educational provider of health programmes within a nationally recognised academic and clinical framework.
Published 12 November 2013