We were established in June 1990 to provide accommodation for young people leaving care. At that time, we were known as Friends of Willowfield.
In the 1990s, there was a lack of alternatives for young people leaving care. So, a group of like-minded professionals, ranging from social work practitioners and senior managers working in the Belfast Trust, nurse managers working in young people’s therapeutic centres, and academics from Queens University, came together to form Friends of Willowfield charity. This was based around the Willowfield Children’s Home in East Belfast and was pioneered especially by Phil Mulholland, a worker in the children’s home who worked relentlessly to develop better move on opportunities for young people leaving care.
A young person who had been in care was on our very first Board – this was the blueprint for MACS continuing relationship with user involvement. Our new charity was able to source funds from Making Belfast Work and secured a 5 bedroom house in the university area of Belfast. This was to act as the stepping stone for young people leaving care.
The first worker Mary Ryan, now our CEO, was employed in 1990 to coordinate this exciting new accommodation project. Mary and her first group of young people laid down the foundations for what is still to this day the central ethos and value base for the organisation.
Right at the very beginning, the Board, in collaboration with Mary and the young people, set down its vision for how they wanted to work with each other as professionals but also vitally how we would work with young people and at what level of involvement would be expected from them.
This central ethos of interdependence, valuing young people as experts in their own lives, appreciating the value of risk taking and making mistakes is still core today, over 25 years later.
In 1996, we decided to change our name to Mulholland Aftercare Services. The name Friends of Willowfield was very attached to one side of the community and we wanted to broaden our remit to provide more than accommodation to care leavers.
By 2000, Mulholland Aftercare Services provided 3 key services to young people –
- Aftercare accommodation both to care leavers and young homeless,
- Mentoring – linking young people to volunteer mentors, and
- Floating Support – supporting young people in their own homes.
In 2010, we became MACS Supporting Young People. We were concerned that the name Mulholland Aftercare Services would pigeon hole us as only working with care leavers which was not the case. With the name change came a complete overhaul of our mission, vision and values and we are really proud to say that the value base remained the same but just more user-friendly to young people who played a key role in overhauling our image.
In April 2015, we changed our name to MACS Supporting Children & Young People to reflect the important preventative work that our Wellbeing Team are doing in schools.
The strapline ‘working with young people who have not had a fair deal‘ was vocalised forcefully by our young people. Our young people clearly articulated that they didn’t want to be described as vulnerable or at risk. They came up with the more poignant term ‘not having a fair deal‘.
Throughout all the changes and challenges, young people have always been at the heart of everything we do – from a small charity working with 5 young people to today where we work with over 450 a year. We actively listen to what young people have to say and insist that they be our guide and main advisor.