Life at Loughry College

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RECORD numbers of young people across the Province are emigrating to find jobs, income and long-term security.

But can one of Northern Ireland’s smaller known, yet booming industries, stem the flow of our ‘Lost Generation’?

In the latest ‘Life in Loughry’ series Mid-Ulster Mail reporter Patricia Devlin speaks to two of the CAFRE college’s students who have the world at their feet, right here, on home soil.

NOT many companies are prepared to put their faith and money into a first year student just months into their degree.

But Dungannon based meat company Dunbia has done just that.

Food Management and Marketing student Amy Black, was told late last year she had been chosen as the recipient of the Mid-Ulster company’s 2011-2012 bursary.

As well as £1000, Amy, who is a former Cookstown High School student, will also spend her summer, and placement year, working in the company’s headquarters.

No mean feat for any student of today, particularly in the current economic climate.

But luckily for Amy, she has taken a career path into an industry that has surged through the downturn.

Agri-food is being backed by the Department for Agriculture and Rural Development (DARD) as the industry to take the country out of the Recession. And the sector’s latest figures do little to say other wise.

The impact has meant that more and more school leavers are realising the potential of a career in the food industry, and the importance of colleges such as Loughry.

“I never really knew what I wanted to do when I was in Upper Sixth,” explained Amy.

“I had applied to go to the University of Ulster, Queens as well, and I had also applied to go to Loughry as my cousin had studied on the same degree that I am doing now.

“I’d always been interested in Home Economics, so I thought more and more about doing a Food Technology degree here. After coming to the open night and looking at the range of courses available I thought I’d maybe try the business side of it, so I am doing a Food Management and Marketing degree.”

Amy’s course is one of the leading Honours degrees at Loughry. Designed to equip graduates with the key skills required to apply management practices within the global food marketplace.

It was through this that she was awarded the bursary with market leader Dunbia.

“You get £1000, a paid placement year and the opportunity of a summer placement this year,” adds Amy.

“I applied for it when I started Loughry and there are quite a lot of bursaries available to apply for ranging from £1,000 to £4,500 including placement years, so I applied for them all just in case,

“It really has helped me become more organised and now I have one less thing to worry about in my first year.

“I am also certain it will become more clear what sort of career I want in the food industry when I go into my placement year. I haven’t really worked in the industry before, so I can’t wait to get out and do a bit of everything.”

STUDENTS FLOCK TO LOUGHRY

Colleges such as Loughry have been overlooked by school leavers and students in the past in favour of some of the area’s bigger Universities.

But that is starting to change as high fees and little-to-zero job prospects are becoming the norm for today’s young people.

Last year, Loughry enjoyed it’s highest intake of students to date, and a sharp increase in interest in it’s range of part-time, short and full-time courses.

One student who has noticed the change the most is final year student David Hughes, who is also President of the college’s Student Representative Council (SRC).

“When I came back from my placement year I couldn’t believe the amount of new faces about.

“There are bigger classes, when I started there were only 30 students in a class, now there are about 80 and classes may be run twice a week.

“It’s good because there is more buzz about the place, more people are involved. We were packed out in our Halloween disco, we estimated the figures to be around 50, but it was actually double.”

David, like Amy, was unsure about what career path he wanted to take after leaving school and where to continue his education.

But it seems Loughry was the right choice for him.

“A lot of my friends said to me in first year, ‘you are mad going to Loughry, why don’t you come to Queens’.

“But now when I finish this year I have job security, and a placement, but a lot of my friends are looking for jobs.”

David added: “Through my course I was able to spend my placement year at Ballyrashane Creamery in Coleraine. I wanted to get experience in the food industry because I had never worked in that side of things before, only in retail for other products.”

“At Ballyrashane I received training and went up to Belfast on a couple of visits and I got shifted round.

“One week I was working in the manufacturing end, the next week I was in the transport end, costs, chemical side and even got involved in the company’s energy project.

“I’m now doing my final year project alongside Ballyrashane, and on top of that I still work there at the weekend. So I am very lucky, and it was all through Loughry.”

And the SRC President admits it’s not just the job prospects and excellent courses that are turning student attention towards the Cookstown based campus.

“The social experiences have been unforgettable” says David, “I’ve actually had people who have friends who don’t go to Loughry asking if they can get tickets to go to some of the social events here.

“We also have a lot of charity events throughout the year. In November and October time we had ‘Children in Need’, where we raised £1000 in the street. It was a bed-bath-bean push, we thought we did well because of the recession - people were still very generous with their money.”

“We raised another £1000 for the Chest, Heart and Stroke Foundation as well as another £900 for the lifeboat, so we haven’t done too bad this year at all.

“The next big event this year is the formal, which is in the Glenavon hotel on March 14th. It will be a great night.”

David adds: “Not just socially, Loughry seems to be the magic word when you are out meeting people in the industry.

“For instance I was up at Ardboe Coldstores recently and I was introduced as a Loughry student and the next thing I was upstairs having tea and biscuits.”

“It really is ‘open sesame’ for a host of different careers”