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Lighting up the Shankill Road for Christmas

December 7, 2016

By Rachel Skinner, Big Lottery Fund, communications officer

No one in the huge crowd looking down the Shankill Road last Friday night could miss the incredible sight approaching from the lower end of the road: a ‘Shankill Shooting Star’, the new Lantern Parade’s artistic float (a huge, spinning, shining star with glowing tails) was leading a galaxy of 500 paraders carrying their personally-made star lanterns.

My eyes were drawn to the children and adults in celebratory procession, lanterns joined with dancers – and accompanied by festive music from trumpets, samba drums and flute band. The route from Lower Shankill onwards was lined with families from the neighbourhood, waving at everyone taking part including Santa and Mrs Claus, elves and reindeer-costumed performers. When the lantern procession arrived at Mid Shankill Community Garden, groups then performed on stage and Christmas Tree Lights were switched on.

This was the first Shankill Lantern Parade, organised by Beat Carnival and part funded by Big Lottery Fund through our Celebrate programme. A range of funders contributed towards this event that brought people together from different areas in Greater Shankill for a community-focused Christmas celebration.

To create the event, 700 people of all ages from community, youth, school, cultural and arts groups plus individuals and families in Greater Shankill and across the interface took part in workshops and rehearsals, most making their lanterns, some learning dance and music. We provided a grant of £5,000 that supported the community workshops programme and construction of the shooting star float.



David Boyd, director of Beat Carnival said:

“There is now no doubt about the importance of this event as a new and significant celebration on the Shankill Road. The groundwork that Beat did in encouraging the community, in creating partnerships to plan and preparing together, has all paid off – as everyone can see. The buzz on the road is remarkable and already people are asking how do we all make this celebration bigger and better next year.

“We started with an idea and no funds, so we initially set a ‘reasonable’ expectation of having 250 people making lanterns in 25 workshops led by Beat Carnival artists over November. By the end of the short project those numbers had more than doubled. It’s the same with audience: at first we imagined 2,000 to 2,500. Then we thought there could be up to 5,000. The official number at the event is actually 7,000. We are all bowled over.

“We were able to achieve such high levels of engagement thanks to Big Lottery Fund’s support. The very special nature of this celebration, and people’s eagerness to be part of it, was summed up for me by a community leader from Twaddell Avenue. At the event with families and their lanterns, he told me: ‘this is so important:  our children haven’t had an opportunity like this – for three years they have been stuck behind the protest that was on-going right at our doorstep. This is the first time we have been out celebrating and doing something creative together and it’s fantastic.’

“At Beat Carnival we are now thinking about the developments that will spring from this. After Christmas we will be generating discussion and ideas – and increasing community representation along with current key partners such as Greater Shankill Partnership; Greater Shankill ACT & WBACS who have been organising the Christmas Tree and lights; the Shankill Arts Forum; and the many groups around the neighbourhood. In 2017 we will definitely be painting more into this bright picture.”



Grant boost to TIDAL to revitalise Toomebridge community

November 15, 2016

Today we’re announcing grants to TIDAL in Toomebridge, Co Antrim and Enagh Youth Forum in Derry/Londonderry through our People and Communities programme.

Mum of five Geraldine McCoy from Toomebridge tells us how is being part of TIDAL has changed her life.

Roughly one in every hundred people will experience bipolar disorder at one point in their lives – and Geraldine is one of them. She was 32 and working as a primary school teacher when she started experiencing mood swings, going from feeling highly energized to lows of depression where she couldn’t get out of bed. She was diagnosed with bipolar disorder and had to give up her teaching career, and struggled to control her condition while dealing with family life.

It’s only in recent years that Geraldine, now 49, feels she has control of her condition and has a positive role in the community again, thanks to volunteering with TIDAL. They’ve just received £177,950 from Big Lottery Fund to develop a community enterprise. Local people including Geraldine will be involved in running the enterprise which will improve health and well-being, bring people together, and revitalise the community in Toomebridge.


As a younger woman Geraldine had been a confident person, with a talent for sports. But as she juggled her busy work and family life in her early thirties, it became clear that something was wrong.

Geraldine, said: “I couldn’t see it at the time, but in hindsight it all started after my fourth child was born. I started to get highly energized, almost hyper and I felt like I could succeed at anything which meant my ideas became too big, too quick.

“I would get frustrated with people who weren’t as productive as me, say things out of character and have intense mood swings. But at this stage I didn’t know anything was wrong, I felt normal. Without medication, support or any understanding it just got worse. There were days when I’d be in bed with the curtains closed and I wouldn’t answer the door.

“The highs and lows went on for a couple of years before I was diagnosed.

“It was 17 years ago and I still get emotional thinking about leaving my teaching career. I loved my job. But I have five beautiful children and when I left teaching I dedicated the next few years of my life to my kids, who were all under 11 years old.

“At the time it was very difficult. I didn’t really understand what was happening to me and I didn’t have very good coping mechanisms. Even making simple decisions like what to buy in the supermarket for dinner became a huge task.”

Geraldine’s husband Kevin and children Anne (16), Paul, (22), Caoimhe (24), Ciaran (26) and MaryKate (27) are all great supporters of her. But despite this, Geraldine had been used to working, and felt something was missing. She taught herself to craft wood and started gardening.


Two years ago she got involved with TIDAL where she helped out in the office and now volunteers in the garden and crafting area. The experience is helping to improve her mental health and allowing her to use her teaching skills again.

“I’m 49 now and this is the first time my bipolar has been easing. Being committed to TIDAL has stopped me from going into my usual pattern of isolating myself. Now when I’m depressed I will push myself to get out of the house and I come to the TIDAL garden – I can still have my own space and not talk to anyone if I don’t feel like it – but the important thing is that I’m out of the house and I’ve got people around me if I need them, and I’m doing something productive. If other people can experience this at TIDAL too then we are changing lives.”

The grant from Big Lottery Fund is being used to develop the group’s community enterprise. Waterways Ireland and Lough Neagh Partnership, supported by Heritage Lottery Fund have also provided funding to renovate the disused Lockkeepers cottage and Quay area which will be used for the community enterprise facility.

Geraldine said: “When you change one person’s life there is an enormous ripple effect. With this new project we are going to be able to improve the health and wellbeing of the whole community. A safe community space will be created where people can come and get involved and talk to other people. I’ll be able to spend more time with people in the garden and help them talk about their mental health.”

To find out more about our People and Communities programme visit:

New projects funded under People and Communities

November 15, 2016

Two groups have received grants under our People and Communities programme today for projects that are bringing local people together to make changes in their communities.

(From left, Geraldine McCoy (TIDAL volunteer) and Una Johnstone from the group)

Enagh Youth Forum in Strathfoyle, just outside Derry/Londonderry, have been awarded a £82,850 grant for their two year Strathfoyle Community Empowerment Project – Unlocking Potential.

The group is working with Strathfoyle Women’s Activity Group, Strathfoyle Community Association, Tiny Tots Community Playgroup, Strathfoyle Library and Strathfoyle Youth Centre. Led by local people who will have their say on local issues, the groups are bringing people together to improve community safety, health and well-being, and quality of life and opportunities for residents.

A community empowerment project co-ordinator is running workshops on community safety, campaigning and lobbying, to build on residents’ skills and improve confidence. The project is also organising ‘Have Your Say’ days with local elected representatives, council officers and statutory bodies to help people to express their views and contribute to the regeneration of their community.

TIDAL in Toomebridge, Co Antrim, also received a £177,950 grant for their two year Connect 4 Health project. They are developing a community-run enterprise that will bring people together, improve health and well-being, and revitalise the community.

It will be located in existing TIDAL facilities and in a disused Lock Keepers Cottage and Quay area which is being renovated with funding from Waterways Ireland and Lough Neagh Partnership, supported by Heritage Lottery Fund.

The Big Lottery Fund grant will be used to run activities including cooking classes in a community kitchen/café, which will also provide lunches and meals on wheels for older people; gardening training so local people can maintain the garden allotments; and craft classes so they can produce items to sell in the retail area at the cottage. The new facilities will also showcase local history and bring local people together as well as attracting tourists.

Una Johnston, company secretary for TIDAL, said: “I believe this project will be life changing for the people in the area. One of the things I’m excited about is local people being able to grow their own food, make it into a meal in our new kitchens, and sell it in our café – and they will be learning every step of the way and making new friends.

“We have a big catchment area here so we have a lot of people who can benefit and be educated and improve their health and well-being. We have a number of people who have already benefited from our facilities and have improved their health and social issues, but we’ve only started and the money will help us change more lives.”

For more information on our People and Communities programme see

Only a few days left to apply to the Acorn Fund

November 9, 2016

The Acorn Fund’s Legacy Grants will be closing soon on 15th November. Grants of up to £3,000 available for community and voluntary groups in the County Derry/Londonderry area for innovative arts and culture projects.

Supported by the Big Lottery Fund, the grants are part of the Acorn Fund’s City of Culture Legacy programme and are available to projects that use arts and culture within their communities to create social networks, encourage talent, develop skills and bring people together.

One group which has benefitted from the funding is Glasgowbury, which received two community grants totalling £4,000 from the Acorn fund in 2015 and 2016. They used the grants for the Rural Key Programme which helps young people from rural mid Ulster get experience in the music and creative industries. Glasgowbury has also provided mentoring to young people like Conor Donnelly who also received a £2,949 grant from the Acorn Fund in 2015 through the Inspire Bursaries.

Conor Donnelly with his mentor Dermot McBride

Conor Donnelly with his mentor Dermot McBride

Conor, 21, from Draperstown has a learning disability and struggled academically but always had an artistic talent and an interest in graphic design and digital animation. Living in such a rural area there weren’t many opportunities in arts projects so the Acorn Fund’s Inspire Bursaries offered a unique opportunity for him to develop his skills.

Conor applied for a bursary to allow him to buy a Laptop, Adobe software and a subscription to Digital Tutors which is an online learning platform. He also received one-to-one mentoring from Dermot McBride from Glasgowbury to learn how to use the software and build his skills in digital art and animation.

Conor said:

“My mentor Dermot was excellent, he helped me buy the equipment I needed and choose the right software. He helped me set up and install everything and we worked out a schedule together that suited my needs. I found the programs difficult at first but Dermot broke each one down each step by step, and now I’m going through it smoothly with no problems.”

Conor’s mentoring took place at the Cornstore Creative Hub, which is run by Glasgowbury. He attended Monday to Thursday with one hour of mentoring provided each day. Conor developed his digital art and animation skills by learning to use Photoshop and After Effects software. He used Digital Tutors for training as well as receiving mentoring and guidance during this time.

“It was a great experience to come into the Cornstore everyday and have access to a table in a creative hub. I’ve had an opportunity to talk to and learn from people who also have an interest in animation, poster designing and film making.”

Once Conor’s skills were developed and he gained more confidence being in a work environment he felt able to get a job volunteering in a charity shop. Conor also joined a Samba Band at Glasgowbury and joined their creative pathways project.

“I got a volunteer job a couple of days a week in a charity shop in Cookstown. I started off as an office volunteer for the charity, but once they heard that I knew how to design posters from the learning I had received at Glasgowbury, they asked me to design their poster. I now volunteer for them as a designer as well.”

Dermot McBride, Conor’s mentor at Glasgowbury said:

“It was great to see Conor’s confidence in himself and his artistic ideas grow as he developed his digital skills. When he first began, Conor seemed a little reluctant to show off his artwork and didn’t seem too confident about its merit, but as we went along he opened up more and his confidence in his own abilities seemed to strengthen and grow.”

Paddy Glasgow, who founded Glasgowbury and spent time with Conor during his mentorship said:

“I have seen a great change in Conor since he first started the program with Glasgowbury. He has learned many new skills and is able to communicate in a new more positive way.

“Conor’s mother Mary has also said to me that it has been good for her son’s focus and it was fantastic to get the grant support from Acorn and to have such a resource in the Glasgowbury Cornstore Creative hub in a Rural area.

“Thanks very much to Shauna and the Acorn Fund for supporting Conor at this time. I would recommend to anyone out there who could benefit from funding to contact the Acorn Fund team and explore opportunities.”

For more information on the Acorn Fund please visit

66 groups are celebrating their local community

November 2, 2016

Groups across Northern Ireland today are sharing in £256,645 from our Celebrate programme. A total of 66 groups are using grants of £500 to £5,000 to run their own events or activities that allow people to celebrate what makes their local community special.

(Click here to download a full list of awards)


Here are some examples of what has been funded:

North West Migrants Forum supports minority ethnic communities and refugees living in the North West. They have been awarded £5,000 for a series of events to bring people from different cultures together. Up to 600 people from ethnic minority and migrant communities, including families of Syrian refugees, will be invited.

Millisle Health and Wellbeing Group also received £5,000. The group improves the health and wellbeing of residents and holiday makers in Millisle and are using the grant to recreate the bygone era of seaside entertainment, in Millisle, in the 50’s, 60’s, 70’s and 80’s by holding a community fun day offering a range of activities.

PIPS (Newry & Mourne) Limited provides a range of professional counselling, mentoring and befriending support across the Southern Trust area. They are using a £4,500 grant for a Christmas Remembrance, Hope and Healing event for people who have been bereaved through suicide, which is open to everyone in the community.

Also receiving funding is Creggan Education & Research Services (CERS), based near Omagh, which provides resources and facilities for people in An Creagan and the surrounding areas. They are using their £3,250 grant to host a Big Family Picnic at An Creagan.

Joanne McDowell, Big Lottery Fund NI Director, said: “Today’s Big Lottery Fund grants celebrate what’s special about individual communities across Northern Ireland. From Christmas celebrations to cultural activities and fun days, these events will bring people together to volunteer, have fun and meet more people in their area.”

The Celebrate funding programme is now closed to applications.