NI firms making a difference

Barry Walsh casts his eye to Northern Ireland where a number of organisations are transforming workplaces for the better.

Diversity Mark NI

Diversity Mark logo.

Diversity Mark’s mission is to “help businesses across the UK and Ireland build more diverse and inclusive workplaces, through accreditation, insights, best practice and peer support.”

The non-profit is a part of the WIB group and was set up in 2017. Diversity Mark supports businesses throughout the UK and Ireland on their diversity and inclusion journey. Through a robust framework, the Diversity Mark Accreditation or ‘the mark of progress’ demonstrates the sustainable impact of embedding EDI into your organisation.

“Whether you are new to workplace diversity or already seeing the array of benefits it brings, we will be with you at each and every step, committed to helping your organisation make a positive impact on people’s lives by transforming culture and attitudes for the better.”

The organisation works to ensure that businesses are taking aspirational steps that make lasting change. With their resources, guidance and support, stakeholders can begin to improve their people and culture while also impacting their bottom line through the independently assessed accreditation.

Within five years, more than 175 progressive companies from all business sectors had signed the Charter and are committed to transforming workplace culture and attitudes for good. To know more about the accreditation contact Orla McKeating, Business Executive at

Employers for Childcare

Employers for Childcare logo.

Employers For Childcare is a social enterprise and a charity, based in Lisburn. As a Social Enterprise, 100% of profits from the organisation’s social enterprise businesses, which include the administration of Childcare Vouchers, childcare recruitment and running the High Rise family adventure centre in Lisburn, are invested in the work of the charity.

The charity works to support parents with dependent children to get into and stay in work. It also works with employers, encouraging them to implement family friendly policies in the workplace, and to provide support to their parent employees, to help them access and afford the childcare they need. Services to childcare providers including a recruitment and AccessNI checking service.

Employers For Childcare:

  • Provides the Family Benefits Advice Service which operates a freephone helpline providing free advice and guidance on childcare and work-related issues to parents and employers;
  • Delivers information and outreach sessions to a wide range of organisations including employers, community groups, parents’ support groups, elected representatives, childcare providers;
  • Carries out childcare-related research including the Northern Ireland Childcare Survey which is the most comprehensive research into childcare in Northern Ireland;
  • Lobbies government at all levels – local councils, Northern Ireland Assembly and Westminster, for better support with childcare;
  • Supports childcare providers with recruitment advertising and AccessNI checking.
  • Runs High Rise, an inclusive and accessible family adventure centre in Lisburn which includes Clip ‘n Climb, soft play and two interactive sensory rooms.

To find out more about Employers For Childcare go to or email

Include Youth

Include Youth logo.

Include Youth is a rights-based charity for children and young people in or leaving care, from disadvantaged communities or whose rights are not being met. With 40+ years’ experience, we work to improve employability, personal and social development, enhancing inclusion, integration and good relations, influencing public policy led by the voice of children and young people, evidence-based practice and international children’s rights standards.

Our work is underpinned by 4 core values: Equality, Inclusion, Opportunity and Integrity.

 “We are passionate about working with young people and believe providing wraparound support can create opportunities for young people to grow and develop. We work with young people aged 14-24 across Northern Ireland, and are currently working in partnership with Tusla, developing this work in border counties.

Many young people we work with have left school with little or no qualifications, are care-experienced and may be at risk of child sexual exploitation. We provide a safe space for young people, rebuilding their confidence, developing life-skills, enhancing employability skills and providing life changing opportunities.


“We influence public policy that has an impact on young people’s lives.  All our work is underpinned by the voice of children and young people and evidence-based practice which enables us to produce well-informed and researched publications, including briefing papers, submissions to public consultations, young people’s submissions and manifestos. Our work is founded on the voice of young people, listening and actively campaigning in their best interests.


“We believe in continuous professional development and have created a suite of accredited and awareness sessions that we can offer. Topics include ‘Awareness raising workshop on Child Sexual Exploitation’, ‘OCN NI Level 2 in Understanding Child Sexual Exploitation’, ‘Awareness raising workshop on supporting Care Experienced Children and Young people’, ‘OCN NI Level 4 in Supporting Care Experienced Children and Young People’ & ‘OCN NI Level 2 in Mentoring Practice.’

For more information, please visit or follow on Twitter @includeyouth

Made in Mourne

Having moved from Belfast to Mourne, founder Jenna Stevenson quickly realised that she needed a network of local business to come together and share their resources rather than relying on their own acumen. Having begun meeting on a monthly basis in the town centre the network they soon saw the gap in the market for to develop a creative working space in Kilkeel which would support and facilitate local businesses.

According to their website: “The aim was to provide a fresh and stimulating environment to support and celebrate talented creatives whilst enabling local entrepreneurs to carry out and showcase their work without barriers.”

The social enterprise now has three floors; where they have a bricks and clicks shop where local independent makers of all different types of products can sell their products. “The Made In Mourne Business Hub is a modern connected workspace providing the facilities for local entrepreneurs to launch and grow their businesses.” They also have events, talks, coffee catch-ups and other networking events that allows entrepreneurs in the area feel less isolated and more supported as they build their business.

NOW Group

NOW Group is an award-winning social enterprise supporting people with intellectual disabilities and Autism into jobs with a future. Operating across Ireland they deliver a range of innovative programmes to enable participants to gain the skills and the confidence they need to play an active part in their local communities. Services include:

Skills Academies – Focusing on supporting people into employment, training and volunteering, the provide a wide range of OCN NI accredited and non-accredited training courses, in a range of sectors

JAM Card – The ‘Just A Minute’ (JAM) Card is used by people with intellectual disabilities and autism across Ireland, and allows others to know in a discreet, non-verbal way that they need a minute of patience. It is also available as an app for smartphones.

Kidnap Group – The Kidnap group provides an opportunity for adults to make new friends and engage in the community by taking part in events and volunteering.

Fandom – Fandom is a social forum for young adults who are socially isolated and have a high functioning form of autism or ASD. Meeting weekly to socialise and carry out activities based around their interests.

Family Service – Supporting families where a parent has an intellectual disability or an Autistic Spectrum Condition.  The team work with expectant and new parents with children under five in the Belfast area.

LOAF: Loaf Catering  – Loaf Catering provides award winning local food for parties, functions and events –

Loaf PotteryPottery with a Purpose: Loaf Pottery is an Irish pottery brand based in Crawfordsburn, Co. Down, with a social purpose at heart. The profits from the beautiful, handcrafted artisan pottery are reinvested to support NOW Group services –

For businesses: If you are interested in using Now Groups services in your business please find more information here

The Rainbow Project

Rainbow Project logo.

Established in 1994, the Rainbow project was originally created to stop the spread of HIV in men in Northern Ireland.

“Today, The Rainbow Project is still committed to the prevention of HIV and STI transmission among men who have sex with men, however, we are also committed to addressing the physical, mental & emotional health needs of LGBTQIA+ people in Northern Ireland. We do this by providing a number of services, facilitated by 15 full-time members of staff, under the direction of a volunteer-led Board of Trustees. We continue to have a strong volunteering ethos and seek to create opportunities for people to contribute to our overall organisational aims and objectives.”

Their values include; being LGBTQIA+ Affirmative, Sex Positive, Gender Aware, Evidence Based, Rights based, Holistic, Innovative, Expert, Volunteer led and needs led. They are a registered charity who regularly take part in LGBTQIA+ events such as Pride, networking events and providing a supportive environment for everyone to be their true selves.

Refuge Chocolate

Refuge Chocolate logo.

Created in 2017 by Tara Mullan and located in Belfast, Northern Ireland, Refuge Chocolate specialises in creating freedom fighting chocolate that is in the business of ending slavery. Every purchase supports survivors of modern slavery and uses the most ethically-sourced ingredients. Because doing the right things tastes even better!

That’s the mission of Refuge Chocolate. With more than 20 products in stock (with 10 of those being vegan friendly), they are now in more than 50 stores throughout the island of Ireland and the UK, and there are also wholesale and corporate gifting options available.

Some of the awards that they have won along the way are; 2022 FSB N.I Community award winner, 2021 Holly&co Independent Business awards runner up – Business for Good category, winner of 4 awards at the Irish Food awards 2018; including Best New Product in Ireland and Best Artisan Product in Ireland.

SENsations NI

Sensations logo.

SENsations NI provides educational psychology assessments for pupils in order to help identify or eliminate any kind of learning difficulty. Specialising in neurodiverse conditions such as autism, dyslexia, dyspraxia and ADHD they state that “Part of the core purpose of a psychological assessment is to provide practical advice and strategies which help the pupil use their strengths and target areas for improvement in their learning.”

As part of this, their ongoing support of their “parent training sessions provides hands-on practical advice to support families of individuals with learning difficulties. Sessions can provide information following a diagnosis such as Autism, Down’s Syndrome, Dyslexia or ADHD, in order that parents gain a better understanding of their child’s learning profile. In addition, training can assist with the “nuts and bolts” of daily life with such conditions, and the challenges this can present.”

Individual support is also available in addition to this they “offer a range of leisure activities which are designed specifically with your child in mind: summer schemes, school holiday clubs, specialist group weekends (for example, tween girls activity weekend).

Women In Business NI

Women in Business logo.

Women In Business NI is an organisation made up of female members who’s common goal is to attract, network and advance the number of women in business in Northern Ireland. The membership led organisation has a number of benefits for women who are in business that want to join such as Networking Events, Personal Development Webinars, Profiling Opportunities, Professional Development Programmes, Exclusive Members Directory and Annual Conferences & Awards

Their tiered membership models fall into four areas:

  • Individual Membership – which is open to everyone
  • Young Women’s Network – which is open to those aged below 28 years of age
  • Corporate – which is open to those in corporate positions in NI
  • Ambassadors – which is for women who want to support the next generation of women who want to get into the workplace

The company has a vast amount of networking events in different parts of the country, at a range of prices, depending on the event. In addition, they also have a range of courses available in their centre of excellence including resilience workshops, presentation skills and programmes designed to empower women to create their own business or advance their careers to name a few


Texthelp logo.

I interviewed the CEO of Texthelp for He said: “Today, Texthelp is a world leading inclusive technology company that helps all people to understand and be understood. While many of our product users have dyslexia, our tools are designed with Universal Design in mind – making learning and working more engaging, and offering more choice to everyone in the way that they learn and work.

We’re big advocates for inclusion – in both education and the workplace. Our products support learners of all abilities to improve their reading, writing and maths skills, in schools, colleges and universities.

“Our tools help people at work achieve more by making it easier to understand and communicate in a digital environment. Our software helps organisations to embrace inclusive communication both inside and outside the office.

“Our product portfolio has grown substantially in recent years, after acquiring Sweden-based assistive tech group Oribi in October last year; the ed-tech division of Don Johnston, a US-based assistive technology company, in January 2022; and Danish firm Wizkids in July 2021. All of this has been made possible by our investors, most recently from Five Arrows Capital, the private equity arm of Rothschild & Co.”

The Turn Around Project

Turnaround project logo.

Working with current or former prisoners is often a taboo subject within the Diversity and Inclusion community. However, The Turnaround Project aims “To help people who are serving sentences, in prison or in the community, to turn around their futures” and “To turn around the wider community, encouraging others to support people on that journey”

For individuals, they provide transitional employment opportunities in two social enterprises:

– Outwork is their award-winning property maintenance enterprise, delivering financial – and social – value for money services to commercial and domestic clients.

– Big Loop Bikes provides bikes servicing and repair, sale of professionally refurbished bikes, bike leasing schemes for employers and ‘Dr Bike’ sessions in the community.

For the wider community, their acclaimed “lived experience podcast” series provides a platform for telling stories that challenge assumptions and celebrate how people have overcome the barriers they faced as they left the justice system.

Barry Walsh
Barry Walsh is a journalist specialising in business, diversity and inclusion and is also a content marketing specialist.