By Rachel Skinner
2015 is shaping up to be an exciting year and we’re looking forward to sharing lots of great news with you in the coming months. It seems like a good time to have a quick look back on some of the highlights on 2014. And what a year it was – we announced over £8.5 million in funding to nearly 600 projects across Northern Ireland, supporting them to change people’s lives and improve their communities.
We started the year by announcing a £400,000 grant to the Community Foundation for Northern Ireland’s Acorn Fund to build on the legacy of the first UK City of Culture. The grant is being used for a three-year programme to support young people with learning disabilities who want to pursue a career in the arts. We also celebrated the impact of the Culture for All programme with a short film.
One of our most popular blogs was an extract from our Big Magazine about Ardoyne youth club, which has a Reaching Out Empowering young people grant. The centre is a success story in an area that often makes the headlines for the wrong reasons.
One of our dog-loving staff members had a great day out in March at the Assistance Dogs NI passing out ceremony. The fab five – Honey, Holly, Tilly, Bailey and Jack – were the first to graduate in Northern Ireland as Assistance Dogs and are already helping their owners face challenges including spinal injuries, degenerative conditions and autism.
In May, we heard from one of our Awards for All projects that won an all-Ireland award for mental health campaigns. Then University of Ulster Student’s Union received a £6,940 grant to run suicide awareness and prevention workshops for staff and students.
We announced a £500,000 grant in June to Start360. They are working in partnership with Cool FM on an exciting project that is boosting the employment skills and confidence of some of Northern Ireland’s most isolated young people.
Also in June, as hundreds of veterans marked the 70th anniversary of the D-Day landings in Normandy, Major Sean Murphy, the Chairman of the Royal British Legion in Dublin, reflected on what the Heroes Return programme means to Ireland’s war veterans.
In August we announced the first grants from our Reaching Out Supporting Families programme. Cruse Bereavement Care was one of three groups that received a grant, and dad-of-two Gareth Murphy shared his powerful story about how they helped him cope when his wife died suddenly. The second round of grants will be announced soon.
In October Belfast City Hall was transformed for an all-day music and careers event as The Big Music Project Live rolled into town. Hundreds of young people packed in to listen to advice from industry insiders, including Plan B and Northern Ireland born Radio 1 DJ Phil Taggart.
The People’s Millions competition ran in late November. After a nail biting week, four local groups celebrated a shared total of £166,032 thanks to winning over the public with their inspirational ideas.
2014 was a particularly special year as we were celebrating our 10th year of funding. Over the summer we ran a competition to give away £100,000 in Lottery funding to groups that have changed people’s lives or transformed communities. We announced the 10 lucky winners of £10,000 in October and we were delighted to be able to announce an extra nine winners of £2,000 in December.