The Big Lottery Fund has opened a major new funding programme to benefit people across Northern Ireland, including in the Ballycastle area.
The People and Communities programme will invest £60 million over the next five years to support voluntary, community and social enterprise groups to work with local people to make the changes they want in their communities.
The programme is about more than just an application form and groups are being asked to talk to the Big Lottery Fund team about their project idea before they apply.
Grants of between £30,000 and £500,000 will be available for two to five year projects that work with local people, build on a community’s strengths, and are well connected to other services and activities in the community. The programme will remain open for applications for five years.
Rathlin Development and Community Association is one of the groups already putting people in the lead. The group, which was formed by a group of residents in 1978, have used previous funding from the Big Lottery Fund to build on their strengths to improve infrastructure and build connections. They received a grant of £373,928 from the Big Lottery Fund’s Reaching Communities programme in 2008. They used this to improve services for residents through volunteering and building partnerships with public and voluntary agencies on the mainland.
Michael Cecil, Chairperson of Rathlin Development and Community Association, said, “We began to look at how to connect with other community groups, and to support new groups like the senior citizens group on Rathlin. This gave people a focus on the social side of things and brought the community closer together and made it stronger.
“People started to be more positive about Rathlin, and residents and officials wanted to work with us to make changes. All that work has brought a huge improvement in services on the island. Population has increased, tourism has increased.”
David Quinney Mee, the Association’s development worker, said that these projects have worked well because they built on strengths and were shaped by the community.
“For our latest strategic planning we invited individual residents to talk about what gives them pride in their island home,” said David. “We asked people to imagine themselves in the year 2020 with everything working well and to describe what that looked like. Then we worked backwards to figure out how we get there. We hoped for 110 interviews and achieved 96 – a fantastic response. We then held a residents’ meeting with graphic artists creating visual minutes to clarify the ideas so that everyone was on the same page. Refurbishment of the Manor House became a key part of that vision.”Thanks to the hard work of the community, the Manor House has now been leased to the community and is being refurbished as a 3 star hotel and restaurant.
“It will bring people here,” said David. “We will have a facility, a destination. It will provide employment and an opportunity to build other small enterprises around it.”
The newly upgraded seabird centre is also opening on the island this year, as well as a new ferry service. Michael said all the work has changed attitudes.
“I have three young children and I have seen huge changes in the opportunities for them compared to when I was growing up,” he said. “You can see the difference in people here now. Everything is looking up.”
The Big Lottery Fund’s NI Chair, Frank Hewitt, said: “We are delighted to launch the People and Communities funding programme, which will support communities to build on their strengths to make the changes local people want.
“We know that people living in communities are the ones who know what needs to change and how best to do this. That’s why we asking all the projects we fund to get people involved and put them in the lead in changing their lives and communities.
“We want to talk to people about their project ideas, and our dedicated People and Communities phone line is now open. You can find all the details about the programme on the Big Lottery Fund website. We are really excited to hear groups’ ideas and see the difference these ideas will make to people and communities across Northern Ireland.”
More information about the People and Communities programme, including details of a dedicated phone line for groups to discuss their project idea, can be found on our website, www.biglotteryfund.org.uk/northernireland.