Representing a capital investment of circa £3million, the facility will support the learning and skills pipeline in Northern Ireland, creating and nurturing future talent for STEM and technology sectors. Working in partnership with industry partners including Microsoft, Almac and Belfast Harbour, the Odyssey Trust anticipates the centre will offer skills-based learning and training programmes and outreach to over 160,000 people over the next five years.
The impressive 20,000sq. foot space occupies the former Bambu Beach Club and is part of the overall reimagining of the Odyssey complex. LIFE at W5 will offer on-site and digital outreach programmes to foster and facilitate opportunities for young people in industries with real and tangible career opportunities.
Particular effort will be made to identify and engage with hard-to-reach schools, young people and adult learners in underrepresented communities, through strategic linkages and direct community engagement work.
Commenting at the opening, Robert Fitzpatrick, CEO, The Odyssey Trust said: “Building on over 20 years of STEM based learning in W5, this dedicated hub will provide a new home for learning, that is welcoming and accessible to all. We wanted to create a space, outside of the realms of formal education, where people from across Northern Ireland could come to learn more about themselves, and perhaps the opportunities they have missed, or may not have considered previously.
“We believe this space has the potential to be a catalyst to properly engage and deliver the new 10x Skills Agenda, that will increase understanding and awareness of technologies and associated careers pathways. Ultimately, we hope to help nurture, develop, and retain talent that will be crucial to our future economic and societal wellbeing. This vision aligns with the charitable objectives of The Odyssey Trust to improve the life chances for people in Northern Ireland.”
Collaborative partnerships with industry will be core to the success of the programmes offered by the new centre, which it is hoped will reach in excess of 40,000 participants each year.
Judith Harvey, Group Head of Education and Public Engagement, Odyssey Trust said: “As a charitable Trust, we want to make a difference. Our programming will focus on accessible and inclusive approaches to gaining employability and life skills, not just for young people, but across all life stages, promoting true lifelong learning.
“Working collaboratively with our founding partners Microsoft, Almac and Belfast Harbour, we are developing programmes that will have a positive impact on people’s lives, whilst addressing the skills gaps needed to grow the NI economy and create jobs. Programmes will have inbuilt progression and industry accreditation opportunities, linked to employability pathways.”
Within LIFE at W5, Microsoft has invested in the creation of a dedicated Microsoft Dream Space experience for the students and teachers of Northern Ireland to access. The fully immersive STEM experience has been developed by Microsoft in partnership with educators to inspire, encourage and challenge students to think creatively in areas such as computer science, AI, Mixed Reality, and robotics.
Speaking about the investment Anne Sheehan, General Manager, Microsoft Ireland said: “At Microsoft, we’re passionate about helping young people to engage in STEM learning and shift their perceptions about the role technology can play in their future career choices. With digital technology reshaping how we live, work, and learn, it is important that young people develop digital skills at the earliest opportunity. That’s why, four years ago we invested in the Microsoft Dream Space experience and just recently announced our commitment to its continued growth and expansion over the next four years.
“We’ve had many students from Northern Ireland based schools both participate in our virtual Dream Space offering and attend our hub at our campus in Dublin, however, it was always an ambition of ours to have a physical Dream Space experience here in Northern Ireland. It’s great to have reached this milestone and to be here today celebrating the official opening. We look forward to our continued partnership with the team at Odyssey Trust and the impact we can have together.”
Almac will build on its work in MED-Lab, W5’s interactive medical themed exhibition area, to develop STEM programmes and career-based learning, exploring potential opportunities in medical and life sciences.
Dr Stephen Barr, Managing Director and President of Almac Sciences and Almac Discovery said: “We are delighted to be a partner with the Odyssey Trust on LIFE at W5. As a business that employs over 6,500 individuals globally, our success depends on the talent and skills of our most important asset, our people. At Almac we know that career pathway decisions can start as early as 10 years of age and so investing in the potential of Northern Ireland’s young people is crucial to developing the next generation of talent.”
As an extension of its community outreach partnerships with the Belfast Giants and W5, Belfast Harbour will support the development of programmes that will serve underrepresented communities.
Joe O’Neill, Chief Executive of Belfast Harbour, said: “As a socially responsible port that is committed to inclusivity, equality and providing a gateway to opportunity for all, Belfast Harbour is excited to support the opening of the new LIFE at W5 centre. The centre’s core objective to create tangible new career opportunities for young people aligns with Belfast Harbour’s own commitment to encourage and support the development of skills and to improve access to employment in our local communities.”
For further information, visit www.w5life.co.uk