The Prince’s Trust and Marks & Spencer (M&S) celebrated a five-year partnership in Northern Ireland with a special reception in Belfast City Hall hosted by the Lord Mayor of Belfast, Councillor Deirdre Hargey.

Launched in July 2013, the ‘Make Your Mark’ programme is a training and mentoring scheme that gives disadvantaged young people the skills, experience and confidence they need to find a job.  To date, over 1,000 young people from across the province have gone through the scheme, with over 80% going into jobs within M&S stores here.

One of the young people who was offered a role following completion of the Make Your Mark programme is Zara Nickell (17) from Bangor.

Before starting Make Your Mark, Zara felt like she was at home doing nothing for the majority of her time. Issues around her mental health meant that stepping out of this safe space was hard for Zara: “I would always hate talking to new people and being out of my comfort zone and it would be really hard for me to be productive without reason.

“My mum gently suggested that The Prince’s Trust might be able to help, and I saw the Make Your Mark programme on Facebook so decided to take the plunge. Although I had to push myself to go, the Taster Day helped me to realise that completing the programme would be a massive personal achievement for me and I could really benefit from the experience.

“My mental health has meant that completing the programme has been a huge challenge that I had to put all my energy and effort into and that hasn’t always been easy. The personal satisfaction that I have gained from knowing that I have accomplished something that was so testing for me has made it 100% worth it and the staff and customers in the M&S store have been so welcoming. I am still on a journey, but I feel much more confident now and I am so thankful to The Prince’s Trust and M&S for giving me the opportunity to take part, helping me to learn new skills and grow as a person.”

Zara was part of the latest Make Your Mark programme who graduate from the programme this week, one of 32 young people to take part in the training and work placement programme at M&S stores throughout Northern Ireland.

Make Your Mark is inspired by Marks & Start, M&S’ successful employability scheme for people who face barriers into employment. Since 2004 it has enabled over 13,000 people to complete placements in stores and offices across the UK, with 50% gaining employment with M&S or another employer within three months.

Mark Dougan, The Prince’s Trust’s Director in Northern Ireland said, “Over the past five years we’ve seen over a thousand young people take part in the Make Your Mark programme here in Northern Ireland. Many of these young men and women have never been given the opportunity to show how they can learn, grow and develop and to see such a high success rate demonstrates our belief that with the right support, young people can achieve anything.

“We are looking forward to continuing our work with M&S to support young people to turn their lives around.”

Simon Layton, Head of Region for M&S in Northern Ireland said: “When we launched Make Your Mark in 2013, youth unemployment in Northern Ireland had hit record levels with one in five young people out of work.

“Make Your Mark was introduced to offer a training and job placement programme designed to address the skills and experience gap that prevents young people from finding work.  Our aim was to make a real and lasting impact on the lives of young people by creating 1,400 work experience placements for 16-25-year olds within M&S stores.  We’re delighted to be marking this milestone of 1,000 young people completing the Make Your Mark scheme in Northern Ireland to date.”

Councillor Deirdre Hargey, Lord Mayor of Belfast said, “I’m delighted to welcome the young people to Belfast City Hall to celebrate their achievements. Job creation is at the heart of a thriving, vibrant Belfast and we welcome initiatives like the partnership between The Prince’s Trust and M&S, showing that there are innovative ways to support employment across the council area.”