The Big Lottery Fund is out and about across Northern Ireland today to reveal major changes in how it will fund as it announces a new multi-million pound programme.
The People and Communities programme will invest £60 million over the next five years to support voluntary, community and social enterprise groups to work with local people to make the changes they want in their communities.
The programme is about more than just an application form and groups are being asked to talk to the Big Lottery Fund team about their project idea before they apply. To start some of those conversations, the team are out today visiting around 20 projects in every area of Northern Ireland to see the work they’re already doing with local people.
Grants of between £30,000 and £500,000 will be available for two to five year projects that work with local people, build on a community’s strengths, and are well connected to other services and activities in the community. The programme will remain open for applications for five years.
The Big Lottery Fund’s NI Chair, Frank Hewitt, said: “It is fantastic to be out across Northern Ireland today talking to people about the great work they are already doing in communities, and hearing their ideas of how they could build on that with support from the new People and Communities programme.
“We know that people living in communities are the ones who know what needs to change and how best to do this. That’s why we asking all the projects we fund to get people involved and put them in the lead in changing their lives and communities.
“We want to talk to people about their project ideas, and our dedicated People and Communities phone line will be opening on Monday 1 February. In the meantime, you can find all the details about the programme on the Big Lottery Fund website. We are really excited to hear groups’ ideas and see the difference these ideas will make to people and communities across Northern Ireland.”
One of the projects building on strengths is Docksiders Senior Men’s Group. They are using their best strengths – storytelling and a wealth of vivid memories – to create books about Sailortown that keep the fractured community connected.
Docksiders Senior Men’s group is made up of men who once lived in the docks area of the city, also known as Sailortown. They are now dispersed across Belfast, but for decades they have been returning to meet in the Dockers Club in sailortown every week because that is their true community.
“Sailortown is a broken, dispersed community but it has a very vibrant past,” said Brian Quinn (59), a committee member of the group. “If you once lived in Sailortown, you’ll always say you’re from Sailortown, even people who moved away 50 years ago.”
“We just get together every week to have a drink in the club and chat about our families, our memories – and the stories you hear,” said Brian Quinn (59), a committee member of the group. “We decided that’s the one thing we have going for us – our stories – so let’s make the most of them.
“I was born Sailortown in 1957 lived there until the age of about 15,” he said. “Our house had an amazing shared back space and from a young age I was allowed out to play with friends as long as we didn’t go too far. Everybody knew everybody and lifelong friendships were made.
But times changed in the 1960s and ‘70s when almost all of the houses in Sailortown were vested to make way for the new ring road and the West link, forcing the residents to move away.
Brian said: “I have known one of our members Philip Ward, since childhood. When we left school we lost touch because we had moved far away from each other. The Troubles raged for decades and socialising was problematic. Sadly, some of the few occasions when we did meet was attending the funerals of old school friends or neighbours who were killed during those bad times. We had lost the closeness we once had.”
“We only really started to get together again, meeting in the Dockers Club in Sailortown when family commitments became less time consuming and Belfast became somewhat normal again after the Troubles.”
After a while more old friends and neighbours started getting together and they came up with the idea of establishing a formal, constituted senior men’s group. They got in touch with Volunteer Now who helped them to get formally constituted in 2006. Since then, they have produced four books on the people of Sailortown, each a treasure trove of evocative old photos, documents and stories. The series is called Echoes of the Past.
“Creating the books has been very important as it brings us together and gives us meaning. What we know of the people in the books is sometimes different from what their families know and putting this knowledge together is bringing up a lot of connections and a lot of stories.
“Collecting these stories is a small step to pull people together and keep them together,” said Brian. “That’s always been our strength: We can tell some stories here in Sailortown. It was always our social life.” “Through interviewing families and friends for the books, we are able to connect with people, and to connect those people to Sailortown. We are recreating the community that was lost.”
More information about the People and Communities programme, including details of a dedicated phone line for groups to discuss their project idea, can be found on our website, www.biglotteryfund.org.uk/northernireland.