Leading social justice charity Extern is celebrating its 40th anniversary this year. agendaNi caught up with its CEO, Charlie Mack, who has just been named as a finalist in the upcoming Inspiring Leader of the Year Award, organised by CO3.
Extern is celebrating its 40th anniversary. What has enabled the organisation to stand the test of time?
There’s a simple answer to that. It comes down to the professionalism of our staff, the leadership shown by our board members and our culture of innovation and enterprise. We are the charity that never walks away. As such, we are tremendously fortunate to have staff and board members who are not afraid to meet challenges head on. They are dedicated, ambitious for our service users, and solution-focused.
Today, criminal justice is just one aspect of Extern’s work. How has the organisation changed over the years?
Extern started out as a social care charity in 1978, opening one of Belfast’s first hostels and helping ex-offenders to move on. Today we are the leading social justice charity, delivering integrated services and support to 18,000 people annually – people who are homeless, refugees, people living with mental ill health and addictions, young people and families at risk of breakdown. Extern is also the lead co-ordinator of social work placements in the voluntary sector in Northern Ireland. We now have 520 staff working across 40 locations.
In my time, we have deliberately moved our model upstream to address the causes of criminal behaviour. This has taken us into providing trusted, quality professional services, in the fields of drug and alcohol addictions, homelessness, mental health, suicide prevention, troubled young people, and families. We meet people at the point of their need, as we are committed to changing lives, as well as making communities safer. Changing behaviour is about first understanding the root cause, as we believe passionately that everyone, given the right support, can make a positive contribution to society.
How is the lack of an Executive impacting on the Third Sector?
Within Extern, our response is to show leadership by inspiring others by the way we behave. We look forward, not back. Our wide range of expertise, combined with a culture of innovation, has enabled us to create new joined-up business models. Vulnerable people have complex needs. Extern’s contribution is to provide holistic, intensive social care programmes. We are ready for outcomes-based accountability and seek much more joined-up government commissioning. We seek out world-wide best practice and bring it back here, and we contribute our expertise on a world-wide stage. One of the advantages of working across the island of Ireland is our ability to flex service models and apply our learning.
Can you tell us more?
In the last year Extern has launched several new projects. We are delivering the first Bail Supervision Scheme in Dublin. It offers an alternative to detention for young people, and supports them to be at home, in education, training or employment and to remain out of trouble with the law. Our partners in justice and education are witnessing engagement levels of 91 per cent from families and young people who have traditionally been regarded as being hard to reach.
We’ve also started a project in Limerick called ‘Jumping Hurdles’, for which we received a National Coca-Cola Award. We take young people’s love of horses in the inner city and use it to divert them from following a path of criminality. We’ve also launched a further three Garda Youth Diversion Projects to add to our existing project in Limerick, and our new Driver Intervention Services.
Our newest project is cross-border and the first of its kind in the North West region. Called ‘Positive Learning’, we were awarded €1.88 million of EU funding under the PEACE IV Programme, managed by the Special EU programmes Body (SEUPB).
Extern is engaging with people who often find themselves on the margins of society and aims to improve good relations and enable participants to reintegrate into society. It is being delivered within the two counties of Donegal and Derry.
Our partners in delivering the new service are the Probation Service NI, NI Prison Service, TIDES Training and Consultancy, the Probation Service Ireland, and the Irish Prison Service. It’s based on our ‘Extern Works’ model, which we have delivered successfully for 30 years, and we see the very real difference that makes.
“Changing behaviour is about first understanding the root cause, as we believe passionately that everyone, given the right support, can make a positive contribution to society.”
What is Extern Works?
Extern Works enables people to gain access to our supported skills training programme. We work alongside people who are rehabilitating in the community after a custodial sentence or are nearing the end of a sentence. We also support people who are homeless, or have a learning disability, or who are long-term unemployed. Every week we see people begin to believe in their futures again.
We’ve opened three new training departments within Maghaberry Prison, and we offer the only skills-based educational programme within the Shannon Clinic at Knockbracken Health Care Park for patients who have both a forensic history and a serious mental illness.
Our recent expansion has also led to more service users on work placements or gaining employment. It also offers increased opportunities for our Social Work students to understand why a person can find themselves on the margins of society, and interventions and services that positively change people’s lives.
Do social work students engage with clients who have a criminal justice background?
Yes. In fact, it’s one of the reasons placements with us are so highly sought after, not only by Queen’s University Belfast and Ulster University students, but also internationally. With regards to criminal justice, they can spend time in our two probation approved hostels, and work with people regarded as having a medium to high risk of reoffending by our public protection agencies. Along with our Community Hub and Floating Support services we aim to provide stability for clients through pro-social modelling, combined with a social work ethos, in order to reduce the risk of reoffending. Our Floating Support model is a crucial piece of societal infrastructure towards building safer communities, and we would advocate strongly for its rollout across Northern Ireland.
Extern’s Governance has been in the headlines lately…for good reasons! Why?
Correct! We received the CO3 NI Good Governance and Leadership Award at Stormont, and our Chair, Derek McCabe, was named Trustee of the Year Award at the Wheel’s inaugural Charity Impact Awards, Dublin. We are incredibly fortunate to have a Board who are invested in the success of the organisation and fully committed to strong governance.
As we celebrate our 40th anniversary of changing lives every day, I am also incredibly excited for the future. Extern has a progressive culture and we never stand still.
We continue to seek out and bring solutions to enable people to make a positive contribution to society, and in doing so create safer communities for us all.
Extern Group / Northern Ireland
Hydepark House, 3 McKinney Road
Newtownabbey, BT36 4PE
T: +44 (0)28 9084 0555
F: +44 (0)28 9084 7333
If you would like to find out more about Extern’s work or to support it, please contact Belinda.Kearns@extern.org, Fundraising Manager, or Tel: 028 9084 0555.