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July 23, 2018

Many of the groups we fund are run in part or entirely by volunteers. Their dedication means that groups are able to put more of their funding towards the incredible work they’re doing for their communities. But as well as being a great way of supporting a cause you care about, volunteering can also have a profound, positive impact on the volunteers themselves.

When Toomebridge mum Geraldine McCoy was diagnosed with a severe mental illness at the age of 32, she had to give up her career and struggled to control her condition while balancing family life. Now 49, Geraldine finally feels like she has control of her disorder. What’s more, she has worked hard to have a positive role in the community again – thanks to volunteering with local development group TIDAL.

Geraldine, who used to work as a teacher, is part of the one percent of the population who will experience bipolar disorder at some point in their lives. People with bipolar disorder experience a rollercoaster of emotions which has a huge impact on their lives and their family and friends. There is still a lot of misunderstanding and stigma surrounding bipolar and Geraldine is very enthusiastic about the difference talking about mental health can have.

As is often the case, Geraldine’s illness went un-diagnosed for many years. 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, it became clear that something was wrong in her early thirties.

Geraldine said: “I couldn’t see it at the time, but in hindsight it all started after my fourth child was born. I had four children under the age of five and I was very happy, I loved being a mother, but I started to get very energized, almost hyper and I felt like I could succeed at anything which meant my ideas became too big, too quick.”

When Geraldine eventually received the devastating news that she had bipolar disorder, she fell into deeper depression and had to give up work. Her illness also meant she had to give up playing and coaching Camogie – one of her other great passions.

“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. I had highs and suffered long periods of depression, I felt unmotivated, and I couldn’t do things as well as I used to – even making simple decisions like what to buy in the supermarket for dinner became a huge task.

“I think the children were very resilient, they knew I loved them but there were times when I wasn’t able to communicate that to them. Now my children would ask me how I’m getting on, give me a hug and tell me I was doing a great job because they know I’m not feeling great all the time.

“My husband Kevin has been a great support, I couldn’t have gotten through it without him and he provided stability for me and the kids. They are all doing very well in their lives, I’m extremely proud of them and they are proud of me.”

But despite strong relationships with her family and friends, Geraldine had been used to being busy working, and felt something was missing. So, two years ago she got involved with TIDAL, which stands for Toomebridge Industrial Development Amenities and Leisure. She started helping 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 bi-polar has been easing. My mood will still go up and down and my bad days can last for months but I don’t go as deeply into my depression as I used to. 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.”

Thanks to the generosity of National Lottery players, TIDAL are able to continue their fantastic work improving and supporting their local community – including their volunteers.

Head Injury Support

July 23, 2018

When Moya Murphy from Rostrevor suffered a brain haemorrhage, her life fell to pieces. Eleven years later, she’s defied the odds and is determined to recover and to take on new challenges – an attitude that she credits to the support she’s received from Head Injury Support.

Head Injury Support, based in Newry, formed in 2008 to act as a hub of support and information for survivors of brain injury and their carers in the area. In 2016 they received £179,234 of money raised by National Lottery players to run a social enterprise to help survivors of brain injury, like Moya, with their recovery, and to help them become part of the community again.

Moya was at the first meeting when the centre opened and still attends classes. However, when she initially suffered her injury, there was no such support available. Her haemorrhage came when she was 32 years old, working as a sales rep and sole parent of her son Michael – just five years old at the time. It left her dependent on her parents, unable to walk or swallow.

Immediately after the haemorrhage, Moya had brain surgery three times. She was in an induced coma, put on life support and developed pneumonia, septicaemia and MRSA.

Moya says, “When I first woke up from the coma I didn’t know the extent of my brain damage, the doctors said not to tell me as the shock would kill me. It was a while before they deemed I was well enough to hear everything. The brain damage was so bad that 25 per cent of my brain is now dead. I didn’t comprehend it all and what knock on effect it would have on every little thing I would need to re-learn.

“The biggest things were learning how to swallow again because I was tube fed for three months and learning how to walk again because I had left-sided paralysis. I was in a wheelchair for eight months but I use a walking stick now and drive an adapted automatic car.”

Moya was in hospital for six months and really missed being at home with her son Michael. When she returned home to her parents’ house she found there were no local support organisations to go to – until Head Injury Support formed in 2008. Moya was at the first meeting when the centre opened and still attends classes.

“At the time my parents were told that if I survived I would be in a nursing home for the rest of my life, I would need 24 hour care — but in the last year I’ve been able to move out into my own house with my son so I’ve made a massive recovery.”

Moya said that Head Injury Support gave her a whole new outlook on life. Thanks to National Lottery players, the organisation is able to support people like Moya through the aftermath of their injuries. The activities they run have a big impact on people’s mental health, and provides an important support network for people affected by brain injury.

“I went through periods of depression but Head Injury Support helped me be more positive and focus on the things I wanted to do rather than focusing on what I couldn’t do,” says Moya. “They taught me how to cook and gave me the confidence to eat in front of people again.

“All the members encourage and support each other. It’s really important to socialise with other people who have been through the same experiences. The centre is like a family and the families or carers of the members are very involved as well. Because it’s not only the person with the head injury who is traumatised, it’s the whole extended family. They lose a part of the person and very often that person doesn’t come back — I’d say it’s taken me 10 years to start feeling like myself again.

“Before the brain haemorrhage I was an adventurous person — I had trekked in the Amazon Rainforest — and I never thought I’d have the ability to be that person again. But Head Injury Support organised for me to go gliding, horse riding and do a zip line which I would never have attempted to do on my own.

“I can’t thank the doctors and Head Injury Support enough for my recovery and I wouldn’t be here now if it wasn’t for the support of my family and the faith they have had in me.”

With the help of National Lottery funding, are able to continue their fantastic work and effect real and lasting change to the lives of those affected by head injuries.

Good Morning Ballycastle!

July 16, 2018

Not many people have the opportunity to live out their childhood dreams. But, thanks to the support of her community, Belfast grandmother Lillian Whelan was able to do just that.

Through a difficult and turbulent time in her life, Lillian was supported by Good Morning Ballycastle, a project run by COAST (Causeway Older Active Strategic Team) which uses money raised by National Lottery players to combat isolation in vulnerable people on the north coast.

Lillian first visited Ballycastle as part of a cross-community peace event, and fell in love with the town.

“I decided that I wanted to live there,” she recalls. “It just felt so good to get away from the city. We used to cram as many of the local kids as we could into our Volvo to bring them here for the weekend.

One time the soldiers stopped us in west Belfast and asked us all to get out. They were scratching their heads because kids just kept coming – I think 19 was the most we ever carried but there was no law against it then!”

In 1986 she and her husband bought a house in Ballycastle but couldn’t convince their teenage children to move. Instead they decided that the couple would move there when they retired. For years Lillian lived on that dream. But, just before she could realise her childhood dream, Lillian’s life took a turn which tested her mettle to its core.

“One day just three months before we were set to retire my husband decided he didn’t want to move,” says Lillian, whose life changed forever with that decision. She was not going to give up on her dream so easily though.

“Even though I was about to hit my 70th birthday I said I’d go anyway. No-one believed me but I stuck to my word and moved to Ballycastle for a new life.”

The move was a big adjustment – especially because of Lillian’s poor health. But with good neighbours and supportive family, she was able to make the most of it.

Then, another devastating blow. Just when Lillian was settling into her new life, her son suddenly died.

“I got very down but I still went to my mass every day, though if there was a funeral on I’d have to leave and go outside for a cry,” says Lillian, whose health quickly deteriorated under this stress.

“That’s when they organised for the wee community bus to lift me each morning for mass and as I got to know the other people on the bus they became like an extended family to me.”

Lillian’s next door neighbour, Brenda Boyle, was involved with Good Morning Ballycastle. The programme is managed by Ballycastle Church Action and, thanks to funding raised by National Lottery players, they’re able to support vulnerable people like Lillian every single day.

Every morning, Good Morning Ballycastle volunteers phone a list of vulnerable people just to ensure they’re well. If they don’t get an answer they call at the house to make sure there’s no emergency.

Last year, COAST, who fund this service, have recently received £445,000 of National Lottery players’ money. Their new four year project supports Good Morning Services and helps older people connect with other activities to get them out and about again.

For Lillian those morning calls have made all the difference.

“I just love that wee call in the morning because it reminds me people care. It’s been a lifeline.”

Through Good Morning Ballycastle Lillian also got involved in the Over-55s and a lunch club too.

“Getting out and about again has given me back my confidence. Good Morning Ballycastle has helped me get back in the rhythm of life. It took me four years to come out of that deep depression then one day I thought, I’m sure my son’s happier where he is than I am here, even though I loved Ballycastle.

“Then and there I decided life was for living. Now I try to make other people feel like they’re worthy of being happy again.

“Before I got involved with Good Morning Ballycastle my life was very dismal. I loved Ballycastle but within myself I was very sad. I just can’t explain the richness the project has brought to my life.

“The fact that people are just so good makes me want to carry on. I loved my life in Belfast but this is the way everyone should be able to live in retirement.”

To find out more about Good Morning Ballycastle, have a look at their Facebook page:

For more information about COAST and their other projects for older people, find them on Facebook:

The life-changing work of Cruse Bereavement Care

July 16, 2018

When Enya Nicholl’s father Gerry died of pneumonia in March 2015, she was left bewildered, confused, anxious and grieving. Losing a loved one is exceptionally hard for anyone, but little Enya was just 12 years old. Her young age meant she could barely comprehend the deluge of emotions triggered by her father’s death. She bottled those feelings up because she didn’t know how to express them.

In Northern Ireland, four children a day lose a parent and, just like Enya, they struggle to deal with their grief. Thankfully, help is at hand. Cruse Bereavement Care are the UK’s largest bereavement charity. They offer free care and counselling for people who have lost a loved one.

Enya, mum Andrea, and Enya’s two sisters Nadia and Kerry-Lee joined Cruse’s Get Together – Bereaved Families Discovering programme. Get Together is a partnership project between Cruse and the Corrymeela Community, and back in 2014 it received £676,384 of money raised by National Lottery players to continue its fantastic work.

As part of the programme the family attended a residential weekend at Corrymeela in Ballycastle.  For Andrea, who had been dealing with her three children’s grief as well as her own, this proved to be a tremendous relief.

“It was a weekend where the children remembered their Daddy, but had fun while still remembering,” says Andrea. “They were able to think of him in a happy way and it was the first time my children and I had really laughed in a long time.

Andrea Nicholl from Derry with her children, Kerry-Lee (10), Enya (14) and Nadia (12). Picture Martin McKeown.

“Being there also gave me time to sit back because since my husband passed away I hadn’t had time to sit back and take time for me.”

The programme gave Enya and her sisters time to express their emotions and realise they weren’t alone.

“At Corrymeela there were other children who had lost a Mummy or Daddy,” explained Enya.

“It was really, really good and it helped me a lot because it made me feel a wee bit better knowing that you’re not alone and it gave me time to think.

“It was good because you could talk to and listen to other children who had lost their Mummy or Daddy and it had taught me a lot because I learned how they coped. We also did things like art work and on Father’s Day we set off balloons to help us remember.”

Andrea Nicholl from Derry with her daughter Enya (14). Picture Martin McKeown.

Enya is now the youngest volunteer at Cruse Bereavement Care, where she helps other young people who are going through the same thing as she experienced with the message ‘you are not alone.’  Enya is part of the Hope Again youth team, helping develop Cruse’s youth website (

“I thought it was hard for me so I thought if I talked and did the video for Cruse that it would be good for me and other people because I was letting other people know how I felt and so I was helping myself by doing that and it also made me feel really happy that I did it.

“I would still like the chance to help others because I know what they are going through and how important it is to talk to people who understand.”

For more information about the work Cruse Bereavement Care are doing in Northern Ireland and beyond, check out their website:


Twitter: @CruseNI

Shining a spotlight on Bounce Culture

July 9, 2018

At the Big Lottery Fund, we love to fund projects which draw their strength and inspiration from the people they help. Shelter, which received £10,000 of National Lottery money last year, is just such a project.

Run by Bounce Culture in Derry/Londonderry, Shelter supports women who have overcome domestic and sexual abuse to take part in a series of workshops to build self-esteem and confidence, and teach skills around personal motivation and stress management.

Mirenda Rosenberg is one of the project’s facilitators – as well as being a freelance radio presenter, a performance coach, and a powerhouse soul singer! Originally from Washington DC, this talented woman moved to Ireland in 2005 and wowed audiences from one end of the island to the other.

Mirenda’s work with Shelter is informed by her own deeply personal experiences of domestic violence. Having first-hand experience of life in an abusive relationship, Mirenda has understands what life has been like for the women she works with.

“I think the fact that I have survived an abusive relationship allows the women at the group to relate to me more. It wasn’t as if I was a person coming to the group with no knowledge and trying to tell them how to sort out their lives,” she explained.

“I suffered abuse in a former long term relationship. It was comprised of control as well as psychological and emotional abuse.

“I was quite isolated and literally not able to leave the house unless it was to go and do some shopping and things like that.”

As a tutor with Shelter, Mirenda has listened to the stories of participants who have suffered physical, mental and emotional abuse at the hands of husbands, partners or family members. Because of her own experience, Mirenda can speak from a position of strength and joy after leaving her abuser. Her life is a testament to the women at Shelter that you can escape the pain and be joyful as you become yourself again.

“Sometimes I forget myself how far I’ve come and what it has taken to get here until I hear someone speaking and telling their story. So I think the ladies I work with appreciate where I am now and there is a future,” Mirenda explained.

“I firmly believe I am in a place of healing and a place of hope because I am over everything and I no longer have emotional ties to my abuse any more. I remember what it feels like but it no longer steers the course of my life.

“When you are in the midst of abuse you can’t see that there is light at the end of the tunnel, you feel that you are going to be in that pain forever and healing from abuse is a very long road.”

Leaving an abusive relationship is never easy. Some women struggle with emotional difficulties as a result of their abuse which can make life hard even after leaving their abuser.

“The work that Bounce Culture‘s Shelter project does is vital. Some of the things we teach these women are critical. When you think about someone who has been abused you forget that when they are healing that it’s not just not a matter of convincing them that they aren’t in the situation any more and they are safe.

“There are fundamental emotional and interpersonal skills and emotional needs that they don’t have and we need to help them fill them.  At the Shelter project we teach them how to establish boundaries and teach them how to manage things like stress. We have to help them learn to build up these skills and to relate to themselves and how to relate to other people.

“Hopefully we can help them learn to develop communication, foster solidarity and help combat feelings of isolation and ultimately being part of the project will have a positive impact on their lives and they will see that there is a way forward.”

Mirenda’s experience gives her a unique insight into the lives of the women she works with at Shelter. Thanks to the generosity of National Lottery players, Shelter is able to support women through their own personal journeys of growth and healing.

If you have been affected by Mirenda’s story or are suffering in any way from abuse there are a number of resources available to help you such as Women’s Aid –

The 24/7 Domestic Violence Helpline is open to anyone who is affected by domestic abuse regardless of gender. Calls are free from all phones including mobiles. Tel: 0808 802 1414
or text “Support” to 07797 805 839 Email

There is also a National LGBT+ Domestic Abuse Helpline. Tel: 0800 999 5428 Email: Support through an online chat is also available. See the Galop website for more details:

For more information on Bounce Culture you can visit: and for information on Mirenda Rosenberg go to: