Rural playgroup thriving after People’s Millions lifeline

Written by Lucy Gollogly

The People’s Millions is launching again soon, and one tiny rural group is proof that it is community spirit – and not size – that matters.

Cara Margey, Grace McLaughlin  and Eabha McGuckin
Cara Margey, Grace McLaughlin and Eabha McGuckin

Gran Tots Playgroup in Swatragh, Co Derry/Londonderry, was threatened with closure five years ago but is now thriving in a new building, thanks to a lifeline from the People’s Millions.

Before the group wowed UTV viewers and scooped the £50,000 grant in November 2008, it was housed in a dilapidated mobile building, with little outside space for the children to play in.

But after an all-out campaign, they polled a record-breaking 61,800 telephone votes from supporters.

The money allowed them to provide a new playgroup and nursery building and an outdoor play area. Local mum and playgroup volunteer Fiona Tohill has seen at first-hand what a difference the new facilities make to the children.

Gran Tots Playgroup
Gran Tots Playgroup

“It means they can actually go out and play and run around and we don’t have to cordon bits off – it was getting unsafe and the ground wasn’t level,” she said.

“We’ve had a big sand pit made and there is a soft play area, which we just couldn’t have had in the other place.”

In fact, the new building has been such a hit that the group is now oversubscribed. “It’s great and the numbers are going up. It’s been a real success,” Fiona added.

Anne O'Kane and Davin Hasson
Anne O’Kane and Davin Hasson

It is a result that is richly deserved. As well as knocking on doors and giving out countless flyers, Fiona and her team organised a bill board in the town centre. They even used a loud speaker to remind people to support the group on the day of the vote.

“We didn’t realise how successful the campaign was going to be. We were overwhelmed,” she said. “Everybody rallied together. Whatever people could do, they did it.”

If you are interested in applying to this year’s People’s Millions programme then come along to our event on the 11th March in Belfast. Visit our website to find out more.

Children from Gran Tots Playgroup
Children from Gran Tots Playgroup

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