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Three Top Tips for School-based Projects

September 4, 2020

With schools in Northern Ireland back for the first time in months, we’ve seen a rise in applications for school projects and equipment.

We can fund schools, groups applying on behalf of schools like PTAs and ‘Friends of’ groups, and charities that work in schools, as long as they’re able to show the project is open to the wider community.

The most popular way we fund schools is through our National Lottery Awards for All programme. And we’ve funded lots of fantastic school-based projects over the years.

Unfortunately though, many of the more recent applications we’ve received are for things we can’t fund.

With that in mind, here’s our top three tips if you are applying for funding to do work in a school:

1. Steer clear of teaching time

We can’t fund school-based activities during teaching time. This is the case whether you are a school applying for a grant, or a charity applying to run some activities for pupils in a school.

Even if the activities are quite different from normal lessons, we can’t fund them if they will replace teaching activity.

Before school and after school are fine, as are break times and lunchtime.

If there’s no other time the activities could happen it’s best to speak to us before applying, and we’ll keep you right.

2. Avoid applying for equipment that could be used in school teaching time

This is a common request, but isn’t something we can fund.

For example, we are unlikely to fund sports equipment that could be used in P.E. lessons or computers for IT classes. This is the case even if the equipment will also sometimes be used outside of school hours.

We understand that COVID-19 social distancing rules mean many schools want to install outdoor teaching areas to ease the pressure on classrooms. Unfortunately, this isn’t something we can fund. We aren’t allowed to fund equipment that will mostly be used for teaching the school curriculum, even in these difficult circumstances.

3. Make sure to involve the wider community

The main point here for schools is this: we are unlikely to fund work that only, or mainly, benefits school pupils or staff.

We look for wider community involvement in any work we fund – in schools or otherwise.

If you’d like more information on this or what it means, don’t hesitate to drop us a line.

For us, the best examples of this are when you have asked your community ‘what would you like to do?’ rather than ‘do you support this idea we’ve already come up with’ or ‘would you like to do this free activity we have arranged?’

Some examples

Here are some examples of things we couldn’t fund, based on some recent applications:

  • Stationery supplies for children returning to school
  • Installation of outdoor classroom to allow lessons in the playground
  • Computers and iPads for IT lessons within school hours.

We also receive many applications for improvements to school grounds for the sole benefit of pupils, which is something we are less likely to fund.

So what can we fund?

There’s lots of things we could consider funding as well.

If it’s happening outside of school teaching time, and meaningfully involves people from the wider community, then we’ll consider it.

For example, as long as the project involves or is open to the wider community, we might fund things like:

  • An after-school drama production that is performed over Zoom for local care homes
  • A food club where local people are invited to work alongside pupils to grow food on a community garden
  • Sensory Gardens that can be accessed by the wider community

If in doubt, talk to us.

And finally, remember – we’re always happy to have a chat about your idea before you apply, so don’t hesitate to get in touch if you aren’t sure.

National Lottery funding helping ease loneliness during lockdown

June 18, 2020

The National Lottery funded Newington Day Centre supports older people in north Belfast to stay independent and keep living in their own homes. To help those feeling lonely during lockdown the centre have been delivering care packages and making twice weekly phone calls to members, to check in and see how they are doing.

It can be very difficult to admit that you’re feeling lonely, but Loneliness Awareness Week which runs from 15th to 19th June is about encouraging people to speak openly about how they are feeling.

Having been shielding at home for the last 12 weeks, 90-year-old Philomena Lee has thanked the Newington Day Centre for being her lifeline throughout lockdown, helping make the long days bearable and easing the loneliness with their weekly packages and phone calls.

Philomena joined the centre back in February 2019, shortly after her sister Irene passed away. The pair had been inseparable all their lives, travelling across Europe and enjoying their weekly trips to Dublin together. The day centre has been a real lifeline to her, but now, like many others across Northern Ireland, Philomena is feeling the effects of shielding and having her independence taken away. It’s the weekly care packages and phone calls from those at the day centre that have been making her time at home less lonely.

“I live by myself and have found the last few months very difficult, it’s very hard having to stay at home all the time and it’s lonely. I look forward to my weekly calls from the wonderful ladies at the centre, it’s lovely to hear their voices but I do miss getting out to see them. I normally go to the centre twice a week and now I can’t even get out of the house. I’m very active for 90 years old, I love going on trips away and meeting up with my friends, but I can’t do any of that now,” said Philomena.

“I try to fill my days by doing things about the house, but it’s not the same as being able to see people. I have been doing a lot of reading to pass the time, I think I’ve read every newspaper they sell in the shops and I’ve been enjoying the packs the ladies have been dropping off too.”

Over the last five years The National Lottery Community Fund has awarded more than £37.8million of funding to community groups in Northern Ireland to help combat loneliness. Prior to the outbreak the Newington Day Centre had been using a £10,000 grant to run daily activities for older people and their carers but have now adapted the funding to create and deliver their care packages, filled with activity packs, colouring books and crosswords, to help keep members engaged in some fun activities and to ease the loneliness of lockdown. They have also recently received over £300,000 of National Lottery funding to run their carer support service over the next four years, which is helping reduce social isolation and loneliness, improve wellbeing and re-connection with the local community.

Margaret McCrudden, Manager of the Newington Day Centre said, “The lockdown has been difficult for a lot of our members, many live alone and the trips to the centre are normally the highlight of their week. Not being able to get out of their homes is a huge change and as a result many are feeling lonely and isolated. That’s why we decided to create our care packages, to help brighten up their day and reduce the pain and anxiety caused by loneliness. This week we delivered cushions, each with a heart and a poem attached, for them to squeeze when they’re feeling lonely. It’s just a small gesture so they know we’re thinking of them and missing them too.”

Now more than ever it is so important to reach out, to help and support those who are struggling. If you are feeling lonely and would like someone to talk to about your worries and concerns, please contact Samaritans on their 24-hour helpline at 028 9066 4422.

For more information on how The National Lottery Community Fund are responding to loneliness during the pandemic and some helpful information for those who may be feeling lonely during this time, please visit:

How exercise transformed my life after living as an addict for 15 years

May 21, 2020

After struggling with addiction for 15 years, Gary Rutherford turned his life around, training as a mental health nurse, addiction counsellor and setting up ARC Fitness, to help people in Derry/Londonderry with their addiction struggles. Now nine years into his recovery, Gary shared his story during Mental Health Awareness Week to show how exercise proved crucial to his mental health journey and now, thanks to funding raised by National Lottery players, he can continue to help more people build resilience, thrive and succeed in life after addiction.

“The more we learn about mental health, the more we see how important it is and that we need to look after it. I learned a lot about mental health through my own addiction struggles. When you’re an addict you will always find some way to cope. For most people, like me, alcohol and drugs were an easy option.

“I’d used drugs and alcohol from my early teenage years. I always wanted to feel confident and accepted as a young person and wrongly thought the drugs would help with that.  I was a nervous kid, I was overweight and bullied in school. It affected my attitude as I grew up, and I carried all those insecurities into adulthood.

“For a long time, 15 years really, I’d wake up every Monday morning and promise myself that I would change. But I’d only manage to get to about 10:30am and I’d be drinking again. It wasn’t until my second stint in rehabilitation that my mindset switched, I had relapsed on and off for two years following it and I was mentally and physically exhausted. One day I decided that I was done with alcohol and drugs and the destruction that went along with it.

“When you’re in recovery everything changes, I literally had to start again and find structure in my life. My addiction cost me everything – my marriage had broken down, I had no job, no purpose, and I had to move back home to my parents’ house after being away for 10 years.

“This is when I first started running, there’s therapy in running, you can process feelings and emotions. It gave me focus and the exercise was really benefiting me physically and mentally. I was driven to change my ways and I ran five marathons in 18 months, joined a gym and I’ve now been drug and alcohol free for nine years.

“Because exercise was a massive part of my journey, I wanted to find a way to pull the love, passion and benefits of exercise together with addiction recovery. I’m not saying that exercise cures addiction, but it can build resilience. People with addictions really struggle with self-esteem, self-worth and insecurities, a lot of that can be rebuilt through sport and exercise. These are all the building blocks of recovery, stopping drinking and doing drugs is only the first point.

“It was about a year and a half ago that I set up ARC Fitness, to use my experience for the benefit of others. I really do feel like when you’ve been through something as dramatic and life-changing as the destruction of addiction and then recovery, it’s selfish not to share that with other people. I first set up ARC Fitness as an online signposting service, but it just expanded really quickly from there, to the point that within the first week people were looking to send referrals. Since then the research from our first intake has been validated by Queen’s University in Belfast and we’ve had 22 people complete the programme so far.

“At ARC Fitness we run small group training sessions coupled with experienced Addiction Recovery Coaching, to help people make positive and informed choices about their recovery. We empower people through physical activity then watch them thrive and succeed in life after addiction.

“I fear that during this period of isolation caused by the COVID-19 pandemic, people will be managing their mental health, anxiety, lack of routine and structure with drugs and alcohol. Potentially finding themselves in a sticky situation when it’s over. It’s so important to give structure to your days, especially now that we’re spending a lot more time at home and indoors. I encourage everyone to get outside, eat good food and do some form of exercise every day, it will make you feel better.

“For anyone out there who is struggling with their mental health, I set up this group to show that hope is possible and there’s always support out there, you just have to find the right fit for you.  Look at me, I’m now a qualified mental health nurse, an addiction coach, a personal trainer, a father and a husband.

“The funding from The National Lottery Community Fund has made a massive difference to our group, it has enabled me to go from taking two classes a week to running six exercise classes a week, plus two online check-ins and reaching the wider community through our video and social media content.”

Here’s my tips for looking after your mental health during lockdown:

  1. Keep active – Do something once a day that is going to raise your heart rate, staying inactive has a big effect on our mood.
  2. Keep connected with people – We were created to be in communities, so we need people. Make sure you stay in touch with those who matter to you.
  3. Eat good food – Your diet has a big impact on how you feel about yourself, fuel your body with good food.
  4. Structure and routine – Days can be long when you don’t have a plan or a purpose. Make sure to have something planned for morning, afternoon and night time, no matter how small.

ARC Fitness was awarded a £7,460 grant from The National Lottery Community Fund to deliver a programme of physical activities for people in recovery from drug and alcohol dependence. These activities, coupled with experienced Addiction Recovery Coaching, help those participating make positive and informed choices about recovery.

For more information about ARC Fitness visit their website here.

Dormant Accounts – What you told us and next steps

March 3, 2020
Kate Beggs, Northern Ireland Director of The National Lottery Community Fund

Kate Beggs, Northern Ireland Director of The National Lottery Community Fund

Our latest blog has been written by Kate Beggs, Northern Ireland Director of The National Lottery Community Fund. She gives an update on the findings of the consultation and way forward for Dormant Account money being delivered.

From October to December 2019, The National Lottery Community Fund consulted with the VCSE sector about how they think Dormant Account money should be delivered in Northern Ireland. We have analysed all the information gathered and a full report is available here.

As part of the consultation, it was great for me to meet people and hear first-hand about what is important to them.

Thank you to everyone who took part and contributed in any way to this important work.

What you told us

The Dormant Accounts policy directs us to focus on improving the capacity, resilience and sustainability of the VCSE sector in Northern Ireland. Throughout the consultation, we talked about definitions and how terms and language used can mean many things to different people.

The response to our questions highlighted the diverse nature of the VCSE sector and the many ways it makes a positive impact on people’s lives.  However, cuts to public funding and increasingly complex social challenges mean the sector is largely operating in crisis mode, feeling overwhelmed and unable to find the breathing space to explore options for sustainability, development and diversification.

This Fund provides a unique opportunity to take a long-term approach to rejuvenating the sector, but it can’t be all things to all people or bring about sustainable change on its own. Dormant Accounts funding will allow organisations large and small to look at their own capacity and sustainability.  People understand the need for such strategic development and planning in order to become less dependent on grants in the future, but they currently struggle to even think about it because they are operating in a constant state of crisis management.

We heard about major systemic issues in the way that funding is delivered and the challenges that come with public sector procurement and commissioning. Genuine, cross-sectoral and long term collaboration is required to change this; that includes a change in attitudes and systems, including levels of bureaucracy, from government departments, funders and the sector more broadly. People also told us about their positive experiences of working with funders when they are responsive to their needs rather than dictated by strict criteria. There was a real endorsement of approaches built on trust and ability to change. Outlined was the need for flexibility in how funding is made available in relation to things like grant size, timeframe and funding criteria to enable and empower organisations to adapt and become sustainable.

We heard views on the need for leadership, strategic planning and core costs to be funded so that organisations can focus on their core purpose. We were told about the need to strengthen boards and committees, provide support for volunteers, enable genuine collaboration and reduce competition.

There was recognition that while welcome, Dormant Accounts funding is still a limited pot of money and should be directed toward initiatives that can have the greatest impact on the sector.

What’s next?

We are now working on delivery plans for the Dormant Accounts Fund, using what you told us and wider learning from the ways in which Dormant Accounts have been delivered in GB.

We won’t have all the answers immediately, but the consultation has indicated the need for a tiered and phased approach to have impact over a sustained period of time. In the first phase we plan to offer small, flexible and responsive grant funding to build the core resilience of individual organisations.  We are also planning to support larger strategic investments that leverage other funding, enable collaboration and new creative approaches to sustainability. We will apply a test and learn approach to develop the fund over time and look forward to continuing the conversations we have started with you this year.

We will be sharing our plans for this fund with the Department of Finance in March 2020, who will then lay the strategic action plan in the Northern Ireland Assembly. We expect to have the first phase of the programme open for applications by June 2020.

Kate Beggs, Northern Ireland Director of The National Lottery Community Fund

If you would like more information please contact

Dormant Accounts – What we did and who we talked to

January 24, 2020

It’s been four months since we launched our consultation on how Dormant Accounts funding should be delivered in Northern Ireland.

We met organisations – large and small – across the Voluntary, Community and Social Enterprise sector to hear how they thought this funding could have the biggest impact in communities across Northern Ireland.

We engaged with over 300 people at four major regional events in NewtownabbeyCraigavonDerry-Londonderry and Enniskillen. We also hosted, facilitated and took part in 25 smaller roundtable discussions with communities across Belfast, Lisburn, Randalstown, Newry, Cookstown and Strabane.

We made a conscious effort to reach different parts of the sector engaging with people with disabilities, BME communities, rural groups, environmental organisations, sectoral leaders, other funders, the volunteering sector, organisations working with children and families and the arts and sports sectors.

Since October 2019 we’ve had over 700 face to face conversations, talking to people from more than 460 organisations.

We also dealt with over 500 enquiries and received 62 written submissions.

We used social media to tell people about the consultation and reached over 50,000 people on Twitter and 11,000 people on Facebook. Our update blogs were also read by over 1100 people.

We’re now reviewing this information and analysing the responses.

Emerging themes so far include core costs, collaboration, income generation, governance and strategic planning.

As well as this, there are some interesting insights into the overall funding environment, attitudes to long- and short-term funding, and a range of other issues facing individual sectors.

We are pulling together a report of everything we heard and will be sharing this by the end of February.

Our plans for the delivery of the programme will follow later in March.