The original idea for Bytes was based on an American initiative ‘Bytes for Bullets’ which focused on ‘at risk’ young people in Costa Rica, providing them with opportunities for personal and economic development through access to information technology. The Belfast project came about following visits by representatives of DENI to open-access computer projects in the United States. This was stimulated by a concept jointly initiated by the President of Costa Rica, and the former Mayor of San Jose (California). The latter played an influential role in developing the Bytes for Belfast Project, and in the establishment of links with the Apple Corporation which donated Apple Mac PCs, printers and scanners for use within the Project’s Drop-in Centres.
An independent Steering Group was established to implement this concept, with representatives from various statutory agencies including DENI, Training and Employment Agency, Queens University Belfast, University of Ulster, Belfast Institute of Further and Higher Education, Northern Ireland Centre for Learning Resources and one private training agency Springvale Training. A group of six Trustees for the project was also established chaired by Sir George Quigley, Chairman of Ulster Bank plc.
The project received a large start-up donation of equipment from Apple Macintosh computers and was initially funded by Making Belfast Work, with additional government finance for innovative regeneration work in disadvantaged areas of Belfast, through the conduit of the Department for Education Northern Ireland.
Set up in June 1993, the Bytes project is a unique initiative that offers free, unlimited access to information technology in a non-pressurised environment, to young people aged from 16 – 25 who have left full time education and are not participating in further education, training or employment and are felt to be at risk in the community. Initially, there were four centres in Belfast - The Ashton Centre in the New Lodge, Worknet on the Falls Road, The Glen Parent and Youth Group in Lenadoon and Rathcoole Youth Club. The name of the project was changed to The Bytes Project in 1996 in recognition of expansion outside of Belfast; the Derry Bytes centre opened in 1997. The project now attracts funding from a variety of sources, including DE and DEL, and exists as an independent company limited by guarantee, with charitable status.