Community Learning Exchange Visit: Northern Ireland

Jul 14, 2017

Moray Reach Out’s Business and Development Manager, Shona Radojkovic, went on a community learning exchange and here are her thoughts on the experience!

I recently took part in a community learning exchange visit to Northern Ireland with the Moray Social Enterprise Network (via tsiMORAY). At Moray Reach Out and Reboot’s request there was a real focus on enterprises involved with recycling and we were not left disappointed. The scale of some of the social enterprises was immense, some involved with international markets so it was very inspiring. It was also interesting to see that dirty nappies was an issue turning up in their recycling plants too!

Our hosts very kindly factored in time for some sightseeing, so I’ve shared photos of the Giant’s Causeway which was fascinating and any Game of Thrones fans might recognise the entrance to the King’s road film location.
Here is a short description of some of the enterprises we visited.

AEL Ltd – Acceptable Enterprises, Larne, BT40 3AW

A social enterprise which is about employment. They received funding to expand their business by taking up residence in a building previously used by the Northern College. They sublet part of the building to government agencies and the College still uses one floor (training rooms). This covers the rent of the building. They have several enterprises – services and manufacturing – these are simple ideas but on a very large scale, with some international via online sales. Their workforce is mixed abilities with able-bodied working alongside adults with learning disabilities or other health-related issues. With no overheads, their focus is on employment so all their trainees receive the minimum wage.

One part of the business sells envelopes and party bags online to the public and to organisations, purchasing these items themselves in bulk directly from China. The bags are weighed, packed and prepped for postage by AEL Ltd.

AEL Ltd has a small café, at which we had our lunch. Very reasonable prices, but the kitchen operates a Lunchbox service. Business people go online and order what they would like in their lunchbox. The staff at the kitchen receive the orders online, prepare and deliver the lunchboxes or they can be collected by the person.

Another operation fills up sample folders on behalf of a construction company. They make the samples at AEL Ltd to the company’s specifications – colours and size of sample and fill the folders which are supplied by the customer.

Large greenhouses are looked after as part of another project and supply fresh herbs, strawberries and other goodies to the café. This is an outdoor venture, on waste land recuperated from the council at the rear of their building. They are developing a men’s sheds here too.

Bryson Recycling, Mallusk

The recycling plant at Bryson is enormous! I took lots of photographs. Bryson operates a Materials Recovery Facility for 7 Council areas and also do kerbside recycling themselves for 170,000 homes. Their kerbside recycling is what impressed me most! They collect weekly and their staff check each bin prior to putting it in the designated area for that type of waste in their lorry.

Their 4 waste bins sit on a trolley, to make it easier for the elderly to wheel them about and all 4 make up the size of just 1 of our wheelie bins! Their own kerbside waste is so low in contamination that they are able to sell on in Northern Ireland. The MRF collection from the council areas is co-mingled and although they do a great job with some very expensive and clever machinery, this is still too highly contaminated to sell within the UK and is sent abroad for recycling once sorted and baled.

There are 7 arms to this organisation, these include Home Care, Energy Advice, Early Years, Recycling, Employability Training, Sports-led personal development and Intercultural projects. They are one of the largest social enterprises in Northern Ireland and started with the cash for cans in 1993 – read more about them on

USEL, Belfast

Another large social enterprise doing great things. They are actually a public body so also benefit from no overheads and other crown to crown privileges. They are the only organisation in the UK to recycle mattresses and carpets. Reboot staff and myself were very interested in this and are to meet up to discuss opportunities for something similar within Moray. There are possibilities of a follow-up visit from one of USEL’s staff to come to Moray. The Moray Council have been in touch with them in the past.

Amongst other things, they make and sell handbags, upcycle old furniture and sell on and they supply beds to the Northern Health organisation so work in wholesale too.

Before Upcycling

After Upcycling

Their amazing shredder that can shred metal in 45 seconds!

Compass Can Can, Ballymoney

This organisation is more the size of our Waste Watchers Buckie and they collect and sort textiles, clothing, bric-a-brac, old furniture which they upcycle. They also create some beautiful items from old crates. They have a baler and do some can crushing and baling too but on a small scale. The difference is they focus on the textiles collections and also have a charity shop in the High Street of Ballymoney where they sell on many of their items, as well as selling on bulk. They rent out shelves/areas in their shop to crafters as well as selling second hand items.

They use the same baler we do!

Other visits were to Credit Unions and a Traveller Support Organisation (Munia Tober). Overall the Community Learning Exchange was a great experience!