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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.

Dormant Accounts – Round Up

December 19, 2019

We launched the consultation on Dormant Accounts funding in October and since then we’ve been out and about listening to the Northern Ireland Third Sector.

We hosted major regional events in Newtownabbey, Craigavon, Derry-Londonderry and Enniskillen with over 300 people across all 4 events.

We’ve hosted, facilitated or taken part in 25 roundtable discussions with over 350 VCSE representatives and have received 36 written submissions as well as hundreds of emails, phone calls and conversations.

As we’ve gone through the consultation, we’ve shared some of what we’ve been hearing in blogs – you can read the previous one here.  As we finish this phase of the consultation, we wanted to share a couple more reflections.

In our discussions, there has been lively debate about the balance between direct support for smaller organisations and the benefits of collective support.

People have been telling us that one size doesn’t fit all. The change each individual organisation would make to become more sustainable and fit for the future might look different. So, any fund should be flexible enough to accommodate that.

But people also really value what they learn from each other – they’d like to reduce competition and see collaboration enabled, not enforced.

Some would like to have collective resources or expertise to draw on which they might not necessarily be able to afford themselves e.g. professional financial, HR, legal or governance advice.

Many people have commented that support networks, particularly in rural areas, have faced cuts and are no longer able to provide this kind of support to smaller voluntary and community groups.

How could this funding help foster collaboration or connectedness while still supporting local groups on the ground?

We’ve also been talking about loans and other types of social finance.

We’ve heard some great examples of organisations which have benefited from existing loan funds which support VCSE organisations in Northern Ireland.  But a large proportion of the sector say they aren’t ready to access this type of social finance.

The main issues around loans or hybrid social finance models seem to be confidence and capacity. Some organisations say they don’t want to have to prioritise paying off a loan over their core purpose. Others say they don’t have the skills to understand the difference finance models which might help them realise their long-term goals.

Could the Dormant Accounts fund invest in organisations to build those skills, enabling them to leverage other, more sustainable investment or income?

We may have finished this stage of our consultation, but we still want to hear from the sector.  You can make written submissions over the Christmas break and up until January, or you can call or email.

Our office will be closed from lunchtime on Tuesday 24th December until Thursday 2nd January, but we will respond to any queries when we return in the new year.

We’ll be analysing our findings and working on programme design in January but we won’t turn down any chance to talk or discuss any of these issues once that process begins.

If you have any thoughts, ideas or views on any of this – send them to us at or you can comment on this blog, drop us a line on the phone or social media.

Finally, thank you to everyone who has taken the time to be involved so far.

Dormant Accounts – What we’ve been hearing

December 4, 2019

We launched the consultation on Dormant Accounts funding in October and have been out and about ever since listening to the Northern Ireland Third Sector.

Since October, we have hosted three major events in Belfast, Enniskillen and Craigavon – 280 people attended to tell us what they think.

As well as this, we’ve hosted, facilitated or taken part in 16 roundtable discussions with over 200 people and have received 22 written submissions as well as hundreds of emails, phone calls and conversations.

We promised that we would share what we are hearing throughout the consultation so this blog highlights some of the key themes coming through the conversations. We would love to hear back from you on what you think of what we’re hearing so far.

It’s important to reiterate that Dormant Accounts funding is not the same as National Lottery funding.

The policy directions state that this funding ‘should benefit the third sector in Northern Ireland, through projects/work primarily delivered by Voluntary, Community and Social Enterprise organisations to increase capacity, grow resilience and encourage sustainability’.

This list isn’t exhaustive but gives a sense of some of the things we’re hearing throughout the consultation.

Strategic Planning 

Leaders across the sector are rarely funded and don’t have the time to lift their heads to think about and plan for the future.

Could Dormant Accounts funding help fill that gap and help to build a sustainable sector in the future?


There is a need to strengthen boards, committees and governance structures, ensuring the right mix of skills and training, putting all the appropriate policies and procedures in place to support an organisations’ purpose and activities.

Again, this is rarely funded but could investing in this help develop a more resilient sector? 

Income generation 

Organisations should be supported to take time to consider options for diversifying their income and/or reducing reliance on public funding, ensuring all their work fits with their core purpose – rather than chasing project funding which can often lead to mission drift.

Would funding for this allow organisations to think longer term and be more sustainable?

Capacity building and Skills 

We should recognise that there is a lack of understanding of the different social investment and finance options out there, as well as the other skills needed to translate vision and good ideas into action.

How would building this kind of capacity within the sector lead to its sustainability?


The sector needs to be supported to strengthen its volunteer bases, including attracting young people, providing pathways into leadership alongside appropriate training and recognised qualifications.

How could Dormant Accounts funding support this to help build sustainability and resilience within the sector? 


With our own funding, we have seen there is lots to learn from other organisations operating in the same area or working on the same issues, but a culture of competition hinders collaboration.

How could investing in activities that connect organisations, not collaboration for collaboration’s sake, help build up capacity in the sector? 

Digital skills and Communications 

We’re hearing there isn’t enough time to focus on providing staff and volunteers with appropriate digital tools and skills to make them fit for the future. Alongside this, there is no capacity for organisations to develop the communications skills needed to tell the story of the amazing work they do to a wider audience.

Could funding aimed at digital skills and communications help build a more resilient sector? 

We would love to hear what you think about these questions as well as any other thoughts you might have. Here’s how you can get involved:

  • Join us at our last event in Derry-Londonderry on 12th December at 9.45am in the Guildhall – register your attendance by email