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The Escapists move on up from Awards for All

January 12, 2017

If your group regularly applies for small grants of up to £10,000, did you know you may be able to apply for a grant of £30,000 for a three to five year project under our People and Communities programme? People and Communities offers grants of between £30,000 and £500,000 but the application process is simpler for smaller amounts.

The Escapists have just received £35,325 from the People and Communities programme. They are a group of female carers taking on responsibility for their own personal development, companionship and respite in Fermanagh.

claddagh-glen-2The Escapists on a respite outing to Claddagh Glen. Clare McGovern is third from right.

Clare McGovern (52) is secretary of the Escapists, and she is delighted to have secured three year funding for the group. For years Clare struggled alone in rural Fermanagh, caring for her son Kieran who has ADHD and mobility problems. 

“I moved to Fermanagh as a lone parent with my two sons Conor (22) and Kieran (20) in 1997. Kieran was born at 24 weeks and had a lot of complications and when we moved to Fermanagh he contracted meningitis and was very ill. He was left with ADHD and mobility problems and I became his full time carer.”

“I had been living in London so I did not know many people here and was very much alone, as my family were not close by.

Clare McGovern and her son Kieran who has ADHD and mobility problems as a result of contracting Meningitis as a baby.

Clare McGovern and her son Kieran who has ADHD and mobility problems as a result of contracting Meningitis as a baby.

Clare McGovern and her son Kieran who has ADHD and mobility problems as a result of contracting Meningitis as a baby.

Then in 2008 she heard about a personal development course for carers organised by another group. There were 11 other carers on the eight week course – all women – most of whom didn’t know any other carers. They all formed strong bonds.

“I found the support of the other women gave me great strength and we could talk and help each other. We all had our own stories but we also had so much in common,” Clare said.

“When the course was finished we decided to set up a group for carers which would be run by carers, and I have grown so much since we formed the Escapists.”

The Escapists have received small grants from the Big Lottery Fund’s Awards for All programme over the years. They meet weekly in the Aisling centre in Enniskillen. Their new three year Me Time project is funded under People and Communities. It is designed by members and supports them to build friendships and confidence, reduce loneliness and gain coping mechanisms to improve their lives.

Clare said: “We thought the new People and Communities funding programme sounded like it suited our group as we are all those things – people-ledstrengths based, and connected. We had a big advantage in that the group was already so well established. We are very grassroots, and our group has a very strong mutual support system between members. We all have a lot of skills, knowledge and experience as carers, and we are best placed to understand the issues we face. We also have excellent connections with lots of other groups and services.”

In June the Escapists had a three week planning and consultation period culminating in a meeting with all of the members as well as carers referred from other groups and services. They had 35 carers say they wanted more opportunities for social activities, respite, self care, personal development and education. Then the committee got together to fill out the People and Communities application form over one evening.

Clare said, “I thought the application would be huge, but it turned out to be no harder than the older Awards for All application, and is less demanding at the lower requested amounts. We heard in November that we were awarded the funding and we are so delighted to have it. This grant will ensure that we can keep our group going and growing until 2020.”

For more information on People and Communities programme click here.

For more information about the Escapists, see

Northern Ireland groups have lots to #Celebrate with new grants boost

December 20, 2016

A multicultural community celebration at Wildflower Alley, College Park Gardens.

Groups across Northern Ireland are today sharing in £180,605 from the Big Lottery Fund’s Celebrate programme.

A total of 50 groups are using grants of £500 to £5,000 to run their own events or activities that allow people to celebrate what makes their local community special. (Click here for a full list of awards)

Here are just a few examples of the good work going on across Northern Ireland.


College Park Avenue Residents Association promotes social and economic regeneration of the local area. They are using a £5,000 grant to hold a ‘spring gathering’ celebration event on 12 March 2017 to bring together the diverse community living in the south Belfast Holylands/University area for a family friendly day of fun.

An alternative St. Patricks Day community celebration in the Holylands, Belfast – held by College Park Residents Association.

22nd Old Boys FC, based in north Belfast, provides football training and mental health awareness training to members and their families. The will deliver a community fun day for local people focused on celebrating the Take 5 for Wellbeing message.


22nd Old Boys FC celebrate having won a tournament, with the Lord Mayor of Belfast.


Waterside Women’s Centre provides community based education and support for women to give them confidence, skills and qualifications needed to achieve their full potential. They are using the £4,200 to provide activities which will celebrate and promote multiculturalism, diversity and bring people together.

Co Fermanagh

Mulleek Women’s Group, based in a rural area near Belleek, meets weekly to promote wellbeing. They used the £600 for a Christmas family fun day for all ages in the local community hall.


First Steps Womens centre practicing Salsa moves for International Womens Day. L-R Maura McAvoy (Dungannon Rotary), Denise Nicholl, PC Kirsty Baker, Bernie Mallon and Amanda Boyd, (Wellbeing Co-ordinator FSWC)

Co Tyrone

First Steps Women’s Centre provides training, support and education to women and their families in the Dungannon area. They are using the £1,500 to recognise, promote and celebrate the importance of women.

FSWC Information Officer, Bernie Mallon said: “Each year, we recognise, promote and celebrate the importance of women in our locality by hosting a celebratory event  showcasing our diversity whilst recognising our community.  This event is held on 8th March – International Women’s Day – at our premises and is be open to all. Dungannon has the fastest growing population in NI giving us multicultural and very diverse communities. In the last three years we have worked with over 20 nationalities.   Each year these women come together and celebrate their cultures in the form of food, music and dance. This is a day not to be missed.”


Co Armagh

Scotch Street Youth Club runs activities for the community in Portadown. They are using the £4,150 to deliver two Christmas celebration events: one for children and one for adults, as well as a Big Community Breakfast and fun day.

Co Antrim

Glarryford Young Farmers Club provides activities for 12-30 year olds in a rural community helping to reduce isolation and develop skills. They are using the £2,225 to bring local people together to celebrate the history of their building and the local area over the past 70 years.

Co Down

Dundrum Coastal Rowing Club supports people from the local area to get involved in rowing. They are using the £5,000 to commemorate the Club winning the Skiffie World Championship in 2016 through a celebration regatta and by building a second boat for new members.


Pawzitive’s Book Buddies dogs are helping kids who are struggling to read- #A4ANI funded

December 16, 2016


Pawzitive promotes pet assisted therapy for people in need in the Downpatrick area. They were recently awarded a £9,839 grant from Awards for All to train dog handlers to carry out support with 100 primary school children in the Downpatrick area. The children are developing literacy by reading aloud to the ‘book buddy’ dogs.

Pawzitive’s Volunteer Coordinator Fiona Robertson, said: “Literacy is a life skill not an academic subject. If someone has poor literacy skills their whole life is affected. Our dogs are able to give non-judgemental comfort and support to kids who are struggling to read.”

Book Buddies was first piloted in 2011 in St Patrick’s Primary School, Ballynahinch and the success of the pilot led to a plan that could be used in all primary schools in Northern Ireland.

A Book Buddies team works with children of primary school age and their teachers/education professionals in the school environment, where each Book Buddies programme provides literacy support for four children over a 10 week period. The children enjoy one to one sessions with the Book Buddies team twice a week and their reading level is assessed before and after taking part in the Book Buddies programme.

Fiona said “The children in the Book Buddies programme progress significantly more than those with other forms of literacy support. Many have exceeded even the highest expectations of their teachers. The average improvement in reading age is 1 year and 4 months, with a few children moving forward by more than 2 years.”

“All of the children in each school love the Book Buddies dogs and they all want to read with them,” said Fiona. “The dog reduces the child’s stress when reading. The children not only improve their reading but also their self-confidence, social interaction and engagement in other school subjects. I have seen some  go on to read aloud to their younger siblings after completing our programme.”

“One little girl in particular sticks in my memory as she had little or no engagement in literacy in class and was already receiving support from the Education board. Her Book Buddy helped her improve her reading by almost 2 years, and she also made a beautiful Xmas card for her Book Buddy doggy. She started to enjoy her other classwork, putting her hand up and volunteering answers for the first time.”

“Poor literacy is a root cause of many young people falling behind in school and being excluded from the job market after leaving school. Prisons and young offenders’ institutions have high levels of illiteracy in their populations. By reversing the trend of poor literacy which exists in Northern Ireland, post primary children, we hope we can give our Book Buddies children opportunities and options they would not have had otherwise.

The Book Buddies programme can’t change everyone’s life, but we aim to change the lives of those who take part in our sessions, their families and the wider community for the better; and give them a helping hand on the start of their life’s journey. Everyone at Pawzitive hopes you have a very Happy Xmas and that Santa brings lots of books to enjoy.”

Lighting up the Shankill Road for Christmas

December 7, 2016

By Rachel Skinner, Big Lottery Fund, communications officer

No one in the huge crowd looking down the Shankill Road last Friday night could miss the incredible sight approaching from the lower end of the road: a ‘Shankill Shooting Star’, the new Lantern Parade’s artistic float (a huge, spinning, shining star with glowing tails) was leading a galaxy of 500 paraders carrying their personally-made star lanterns.

My eyes were drawn to the children and adults in celebratory procession, lanterns joined with dancers – and accompanied by festive music from trumpets, samba drums and flute band. The route from Lower Shankill onwards was lined with families from the neighbourhood, waving at everyone taking part including Santa and Mrs Claus, elves and reindeer-costumed performers. When the lantern procession arrived at Mid Shankill Community Garden, groups then performed on stage and Christmas Tree Lights were switched on.

This was the first Shankill Lantern Parade, organised by Beat Carnival and part funded by Big Lottery Fund through our Celebrate programme. A range of funders contributed towards this event that brought people together from different areas in Greater Shankill for a community-focused Christmas celebration.

To create the event, 700 people of all ages from community, youth, school, cultural and arts groups plus individuals and families in Greater Shankill and across the interface took part in workshops and rehearsals, most making their lanterns, some learning dance and music. We provided a grant of £5,000 that supported the community workshops programme and construction of the shooting star float.



David Boyd, director of Beat Carnival said:

“There is now no doubt about the importance of this event as a new and significant celebration on the Shankill Road. The groundwork that Beat did in encouraging the community, in creating partnerships to plan and preparing together, has all paid off – as everyone can see. The buzz on the road is remarkable and already people are asking how do we all make this celebration bigger and better next year.

“We started with an idea and no funds, so we initially set a ‘reasonable’ expectation of having 250 people making lanterns in 25 workshops led by Beat Carnival artists over November. By the end of the short project those numbers had more than doubled. It’s the same with audience: at first we imagined 2,000 to 2,500. Then we thought there could be up to 5,000. The official number at the event is actually 7,000. We are all bowled over.

“We were able to achieve such high levels of engagement thanks to Big Lottery Fund’s support. The very special nature of this celebration, and people’s eagerness to be part of it, was summed up for me by a community leader from Twaddell Avenue. At the event with families and their lanterns, he told me: ‘this is so important:  our children haven’t had an opportunity like this – for three years they have been stuck behind the protest that was on-going right at our doorstep. This is the first time we have been out celebrating and doing something creative together and it’s fantastic.’

“At Beat Carnival we are now thinking about the developments that will spring from this. After Christmas we will be generating discussion and ideas – and increasing community representation along with current key partners such as Greater Shankill Partnership; Greater Shankill ACT & WBACS who have been organising the Christmas Tree and lights; the Shankill Arts Forum; and the many groups around the neighbourhood. In 2017 we will definitely be painting more into this bright picture.”



Grant boost to TIDAL to revitalise Toomebridge community

November 15, 2016

Today we’re announcing grants to TIDAL in Toomebridge, Co Antrim and Enagh Youth Forum in Derry/Londonderry through our People and Communities programme.

Mum of five Geraldine McCoy from Toomebridge tells us how is being part of TIDAL has changed her life.

Roughly one in every hundred people will experience bipolar disorder at one point in their lives – and Geraldine is one of them. She was 32 and working as a primary school teacher when she started experiencing mood swings, going from feeling highly energized to lows of depression where she couldn’t get out of bed. She was diagnosed with bipolar disorder and had to give up her teaching career, and struggled to control her condition while dealing with family life.

It’s only in recent years that Geraldine, now 49, feels she has control of her condition and has a positive role in the community again, thanks to volunteering with TIDAL. They’ve just received £177,950 from Big Lottery Fund to develop a community enterprise. Local people including Geraldine will be involved in running the enterprise which will improve health and well-being, bring people together, and revitalise the community in Toomebridge.


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 in her early thirties, it became clear that something was wrong.

Geraldine, said: “I couldn’t see it at the time, but in hindsight it all started after my fourth child was born. I started to get highly energized, almost hyper and I felt like I could succeed at anything which meant my ideas became too big, too quick.

“I would get frustrated with people who weren’t as productive as me, say things out of character and have intense mood swings. But at this stage I didn’t know anything was wrong, I felt normal. Without medication, support or any understanding it just got worse. There were days when I’d be in bed with the curtains closed and I wouldn’t answer the door.

“The highs and lows went on for a couple of years before I was diagnosed.

“It was 17 years ago and I still get emotional thinking about leaving my teaching career. I loved my job. But I have five beautiful children and when I left teaching I dedicated the next few years of my life to my kids, who were all under 11 years old.

“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. Even making simple decisions like what to buy in the supermarket for dinner became a huge task.”

Geraldine’s husband Kevin and children Anne (16), Paul, (22), Caoimhe (24), Ciaran (26) and MaryKate (27) are all great supporters of her. But despite this, Geraldine had been used to working, and felt something was missing. She taught herself to craft wood and started gardening.


Two years ago she got involved with TIDAL where she helped 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 bipolar has been easing. 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.”

The grant from Big Lottery Fund is being used to develop the group’s community enterprise. Waterways Ireland and Lough Neagh Partnership, supported by Heritage Lottery Fund have also provided funding to renovate the disused Lockkeepers cottage and Quay area which will be used for the community enterprise facility.

Geraldine said: “When you change one person’s life there is an enormous ripple effect. With this new project we are going to be able to improve the health and wellbeing of the whole community. A safe community space will be created where people can come and get involved and talk to other people. I’ll be able to spend more time with people in the garden and help them talk about their mental health.”

To find out more about our People and Communities programme visit: