As Japan Tobacco International (JTI), formerly Gallaher Limited, closed its doors in Ballymena for the last time in 2017 after a 75-year presence in the town, MP for the area, Ian Paisley, made it his personal mission to ensure that a positive legacy was left.
Ian reflects… There’s an old adage that says, ‘Even in a bad situation, there’s always a positive side,’ and I think that’s one of the most important lessons I have learnt over the past five years as Chairman of The Gallaher Trust.
After the devastating news of JTI’s closure, I knew that something had to be done to help those who had lost their jobs and to also secure a future for our young people. That’s why the establishment of The Gallaher Trust is very personal to me. As the MP for the area, I felt I had to help produce something positive from the ashes of JTI, so to speak, and fast forward half a decade, my fellow Trustees and I haven’t looked back since!
We’re often asked if we thought the Trust would have such a positive impact on the Ballymena community when it first started out, and the truth is, we did. Ballymena and its people are synonymous for their innovation and determination, and we knew that it would just be a matter of capturing peoples’ imagination and the attention of local business talent.
It’s safe to say that over the past few years, that and so much more has been achieved. In excess of £1.6 million has been committed to the community via our delivery partners to support their various projects, alongside over 1,200 adults who be able to expand their skills or gain assistance from charitable organisations like Women’s Aid or the Samaritans.
A personal highlight was the establishment of the Northern Ireland Hospitality School of Excellence and the Manufacturing Excellence Academy. The completion of the unique entities allow young people to expand their skills and improve their employability. Manufacturing, in particular, has always been at the heart of Ballymena and along with the hospitality sector we wanted to ensure that they continue to evolve by providing a pool of well qualified young people. We hope that initiatives such as these will go a long way to preventing any further ‘brain drain’ to other areas.
Currently, we support a total of 17 delivery partner projects, and this is set to increase as the next round of applications is due to open this month. In the future, we hope to see The Gallaher Trust grow to become Northern Ireland’s touchstone business charity and this is well within our grasp judging by our success over the last five years.
As most of our current delivery partners know, getting a project off the ground can require a lot of hard work. However, aside from providing funding for projects that fit with the Trust’s ethos of creating jobs, developing skills or assisting disadvantaged adults, we help our delivery partners to hone their ideas and support them so they can achieve results. Our delivery partners are never alone in their journey. We care passionately about our work and we will do everything in our power to ensure their project succeeds.
To sum up The Gallaher Trust’s journey over the last five years, I would say that it has been tough at times but so worthwhile and rewarding to see the results of our delivery partners’ projects and seeing the smiles on many peoples’ faces.
The Trust is making a difference to the lives of those in our community and that’s all we ever hoped to achieve. We are immensely proud of Ballymena and that with the assistance of JTI, The Gallaher Trust will be able to leave a legacy for the people of the town and surrounding areas. That truly is our silver lining!
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