£3.5 Million Lottery boost for families across Northern Ireland

A project working with families with children with autism and physical disabilities across Northern Ireland is sharing in funding worth almost £3.5 million from the Big Lottery Fund’s Supporting Families programme.

ADNI supporting children supporting families 1
Rebecca Barker and Honey are known as the Barker girls around their home town of  Cullybackey in Co. Antrim.

Assistance Dogs Northern Ireland received £697,825 for the five-year Supporting Children, Supporting Families project. It is training, placing and supporting 75 assistance dogs with families who have a child aged 11 and under with autism or physical disabilities. It is one of five projects awarded funding totaling £3,468,110 million today.

The group is working with Disability Action, Autism NI and Autism Advisory and Intervention Service to support families across Northern Ireland.

The dogs encourage independence, confidence and well being by carrying out everyday tasks including picking up items and opening and closing doors, and guide and anchor children with autism who may be at risk of ‘bolting’ on busy streets.

The Barker family from Cullybackey, Co Antrim have had their lives transformed by a dog from Assistance Dogs NI. When Rebecca (8) was diagnosed with Asperger’s – a form of autism – in 2011 her parents didn’t know where to turn.

Rebecca’s condition means that she has a number of sensory issues and can find many everyday situations overwhelming.

“Rebecca is constantly trying to make sense of a world where nothing seems to make sense and so she becomes extremely anxious,” said mum Michelle.

But after Michelle and husband Adam got in touch with Assistance Dogs NI, things began to change for the family. Eighteen months ago the group placed trained golden retriever Honey with them. Now Rebecca and Honey are so close that they’re known as the ‘Barker Girls’ in their local area.

Michelle said: “Rebecca calls Honey her fluffy sister. There is an incredible bond between them. Everywhere Rebecca goes, Honey goes. She is just part of the family. I couldn’t begin to tell you how she has changed our lives.”


Four other groups also received funding under the Supporting Families funding programme.


Royal National Institute of Blind People (NI) or RNIB NI is using the £694,659 grant for their five-year Family Insight project which is supporting 280 families across Northern Ireland with children aged under 12 with sight loss so they can better understand their children’s condition and build a strong support network. RNIB NI will work with parents’ support organisation Angel Eyes NI to offer services and activities including educational support and advocacy, confidence building activities, summer schemes, information and training for parents, family fun days and access to other services. The project will work in the Western, Belfast and South Eastern Health and Social Care Trusts areas, expanding RNIB NI’s existing service in the Northern and Southern Trusts to families across Northern Ireland.

NOW Group’s  project, Here & NOW, is using the £679,926 grant to support families in which parents have mild to moderate learning difficulties or are on the autistic spectrum. The five-year project is working with expectant and new parents with children under five in the Belfast area to build confidence, develop skills and make them more connected to their communities. The project is supported by the Family Planning Association to deliver bespoke training around relationships and sexual health. It is offering opportunities for parents to move on to NOW Group’s other training, volunteering and employment services.

Men’s Action Network is working with Fermanagh Women’s Aid on the five-year Fathering Families project. They are using the grant of £698,767 for supporting families who may have experienced issues including poverty, separation, divorce, addiction and domestic violence in the Derry/Londonderry, Enniskillen, Dungiven, Magherafelt and Omagh areas to be healthier, happier and stronger. The project is working with a range of other agencies and activities include parenting and communication skills, peer support, play and art therapy and signposting to other services.

Forthspring Intercommunity Group has received a grant of £696,933 for their five-year Moving Up Moving On project. The project is working with two local primary schools to improve the life opportunities of young children and their families in the Clonard, Springfield, Woodvale and Shankill areas of west Belfast. Partner schools include St Clare’s Primary School and Springfield Primary School. The project involves the whole family in their child’s education, focusing on those who need support around school transition periods. This includes family events, homework clubs and language clubs. It is enabling families to access counselling support through Relate NI, and training through the Bytes Project.

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