SET up in September 1984, the Belfast Unemployed Resource Centre (BURC) is a charitable organisation whose aims and objectives are to provide support, education, training and facilities to the unemployed and other groups suffering from social and economic disadvantage.
The organisation was formed in a period remembered largely for an economic recession coupled with the election of a Tory government led by Margaret Thatcher.
In 1984 the Northern Ireland Committee of the Irish Congress of Trade Unions examined a range of initiatives which might be taken to highlight the plight of the unemployed and to provide them with community support.
The Belfast Unemployed Resource Centre was formally opened by John Hewitt, the famous poet, after whom the John Hewitt bar is named.
Today, the Belfast Unemployed Resource Centre, situated in Donegall Street Place, is home to a range of key programmes to support the local community and beyond.
The most popular of these is free English classes aimed at improving equality of opportunity for migrants to access the labour market and break down barriers to employment for people for whom English is a second or other language (ESOL).
The programme is intended to unlock migrants’ capabilities and enable them to contribute more to the local community where they live as they develop their language and communication skills.
The classes range from absolute beginners to progressors to the job club and are run entirely by a dedicated team of volunteers who provide support and a welcome environment for programme participants.
English classes take place from Monday to Thursday, with 10am-12pm (progressors) and 12pm-4pm (beginners).
Aisling Cartmill is the Programmes Manager at Belfast Unemployed Resource Centre (BURC) and she explained more about some of the centre’s main programmes.
“The free English classes are really popular,” she explained.
“Participants are encouraged to engage in meet-ups which help groups of people with shared interests to improve their English skills in a collaborative and supportive environment.
“Participants can make use of a good quality language teaching material and this project allows those who need to develop their English an opportunity to be made aware of good and best practice of ESOL provision.
“We also run an orientation programme which is aimed at people who first arrive in Belfast. They know they are in the UK but don’t realise they are on a different land mass to England. We provide basic information on housing, hospitals, police service and run walkabouts and talk-abouts to bring people around and show them basic things like buying a bus ticket or using an ATM. These are things that you and I take for granted.
“Our other main thing is the reach to resilience programme. We deliver family support across Belfast. This can be everything from learning to say no, IT skills, safety on the internet and workshops.
“The European employment service programme also provides information on free movement on labour across Europe, something which is attracting huge interest given the threats of Brexit.”
It is perhaps the John Hewitt Bar, located just around the corner from the Belfast Unemployed Resource Centre, which is the hidden gem of the organisation.
Not many people know that the BURC own the bar as a social enterprise, meaning all profits go back into funding their key projects outlined here.
The bar was the first social enterprise bar set up in the north and continues to run as a competitive business in the Cathedral Quarter, serving food and it is very popular for its range of beers.
Aisling says the location of the BURC is beneficial for service users and hopes their programmes will continue to benefit those who need them.
“These programmes are hugely important. The centre is located on the outskirts of the city centre, people can come all over. We can reach a wider network of people and bring the programmes to them.
“We are also keen to deliver programmes in their own areas before they feel safe to come to the city centre office.
“Our overall aim is to try and bring people back into the local community.
“One such challenge today is some people coming to us to report incidents of racism because they don’t feel comfortable going to police. We can help support them and give them advice on how to deal with such an issue and not just accept it as an everyday occurrence.
“Overall, the general feedback from people has been very positive. For mothers, learning how to say no is an important issue. We want to give people the confidence, skills and knowledge to try things a bit differently and explore the way they react to things.
“Many of our programmes have come out of other ones – all our work is led by the individual and other service users.
“We want to give people skills of a community leader to empower themselves and help them in every way possible.”

Belfast Unemployed Resource Centre,
4-6 Donegall Street Place,
Tel: 028 9096 1111
Email: or (English classes)

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