Shirt factory hub doubles as de facto soup kitchen

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A director of the former EOS NI off-the-dole operation in the old City shirt factory says a kitchen in the premises not only provides training opportunities for potential entrants to Londonderry’s hospitality industry but also doubles up as a de facto soup kitchen providing the only hot meal of the day for some jobseekers.

Former NI21 European election candidate Tina McKenzie also acknowledged that there’s been “huge growth” in jobs in hotels, pubs and restaurants in Londonderry but that there’s been little growth elsewhere in terms of major private sector job opportunities in the city.

Ms McKenzie made the comments during a briefing of the Stormont Employment Committee at which MLAs were told about the problem of chronic and intergenerational unemployment in Londonderry.

Ms McKenzie is the director of People Plus NI, which runs the Department of Employment and Learning’s (DEL) Employment Training Centre in Queen Street.

The firm recently rebranded from EOS NI, having acquired several welfare-to-work and recruitment agencies including Avanta, A4E and Diamond.

Ms McKenzie told MLAs how growth in private sector employment in Londonderry has been principally confined to one area.

“In Derry you see a huge growth in the hospitality sector but not much thereafter in major private-sector employment,” she said.

PeoplePlus NI has been approached by the soon-to-open boutique, Bishop’s Gate Hotel, and is currently helping recruit 70 members of staff.

The old shirt factory has a fully functional kitchen, which is being used to feed this demand. But Ms McKenzie has revealed it’s also been operating as a de facto soup kitchen and helping to feed the jobseekers themselves.

“The reason we set up the kitchen in Derry was not just about creating catering placements but to give people their only hot, nutritious meal of the day,” she said.

The kitchen provides a platform for “customers who wish to go into the hospitality industry to gain real qualifications, skills and real-life practical experience,” MLAs were told.

Ms McKenzie’s colleague Isobel McWilliams said a local Christian charity is also working with them.

“The Churches Trust is working with us on a project looking at unemployment across the generations. In Derry, and across Northern Ireland, there are families suffering from generational unemployment, where the grandfather, the father and then the son or daughter have not been in employment. We are trying to tackle the barriers,” she said.