The Big Lottery Fund is out and about in Ballymoney and across Northern Ireland today to reveal major changes in how it will fund as it announces a new multi-million pound programme.
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. To start some of those conversations, the team are out today visiting around 20 projects across Northern Ireland, including Compass Advocacy Network which is based in Ballymoney, to see the work they’re already doing with local people.
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 is open for applications for five years.
Compass Advocacy Network is one of the projects already putting people at the centre. It is led by the people with learning disabilities that it supports.
The group has received grants from Big Lottery Fund for various projects including Best Buddies, The Making of Me, Women Wise, and for their Shadow Council. It is based in Ballymoney and runs Base Projects for people in the Ballymena, Ballymoney and Coleraine areas.
Jackie Hogg (52) was a late-comer to Compass Advocacy Network, having only joined the organisation five years ago in her late 40s. But since then, she’s been making up for lost time. She has moved from a life very much contained within her immediate family to a world of opportunity with the group.
Jackie first came into contact with the group in 2011. She had a learning disability but only received a diagnosis after her parents passed away and she moved in with her sister Ann Sheilds.
Jackie had always lived at her parents’ home and had spent most of her time in the Ballymena Bowling Club. That was the extent of her social life, because it was just five minutes away and her parents knew she was safe there.
When she moved in with her sister Ann in Ahoghill, Jackie had no access to the bowling club so she became isolated. Ann sought help to find resources and services for Jackie. She was assessed and diagnosed with a learning disability and put in touch with CAN’s Base in Ballymena.
Jackie said “I didn’t really do much before I came to the Base. It was quite boring and I didn’t see that many people. Now, I have a great time and look forward to going and seeing my friends. We do a lot of different things and I have learned a lot. I go to forum meetings where we help other organisations that help people with learning disabilities. I really enjoy being part of this and having my voice heard.”
Jackie is now a member of CAN’s Shadow Council, representing herself and her peers on several strategic panels including the Bamford Sub Group at HSCNI and the Disability Forum with NHSCT.
Director of CAN, Janet Schofield said the shadow council has had a huge impact. “When you involve people with a learning disability it’s got to be real, not tokenistic,” said Janet. “The Shadow Council project was about connecting with other organisations, making sure people like Jackie have a voice in decisions made about them.”
Jackie’s sister Ann said the difference the Compass projects have made to Jackie has been profound.
“Joining Compass has been the best thing to ever happen to Jackie in her life,” said Ann. “Since she joined CAN she has done more courses than you could think of, met more people and she even went on a trip to Poland with a group from all over Northern Ireland. CAN has helped her become more independent and she is a much happier, more content person now.”
The Big Lottery Fund’s NI Chair, Frank Hewitt, said: “It is fantastic to be out across Northern Ireland today talking to people about the great work they are already doing in communities, and hearing their ideas of how they could build on that with support from the new People and Communities programme.
“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 will be opening on Monday 1 February. In the meantime, 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.