A campaign to help Northern Ireland communities buck the trend of rural decline and revive village life by starting up new business ventures has been launched by the Big Lottery Fund.
The UK-wide Village SOS Active campaign, which includes a £5m funding pot, will inspire people-powered change, helping communities to tackle the problems they face. They might revitalise community-owned pubs, local food businesses or arts and heritage facilities, to attract visitors, create employment and rejuvenate their villages.
Big Lottery Fund NI Chair, Frank Hewitt, said: ‘Every year local amenities such as shops and pubs close down in rural areas. The effects of this, along with limited transport options, rural isolation and lack of employment opportunities for young people, can all strike at the heart of village life. Through this campaign, the Big Lottery Fund will help people to tackle all this by bringing together support, information and expert advice on how to develop community enterprises, as well as the chance to get some Lottery funding to aid them. The Village SOS TV series, which began on Wednesday 10 August, has been following the journey of six villages which have used Big Lottery Fund money to do just that. We want the campaign to harness the interest and inspiration that the show will generate to kick-start a rural revival.’
Central to Village SOS Active is the villagesos.org.uk website, which will offer a range of tools and information to help people bring their ideas for community business to life. It will also enable people to share advice and first-hand experience through an online community network where people can discuss ideas and share solutions to common issues.
Villagesos.org.uk will direct people to the best source of funding for their community business, including more details about the Village SOS Active competition. The competition has £5m Big Lottery funding in awards of £10,000 - £30,000 for the brightest ideas for new community enterprises that will make a lasting difference in rural communities with a population of less than 3,000.
The Big Lottery Fund will also offer face-to-face advice to communities at a range of learning events across the UK, and a dedicated national advice line, run by rural community enterprise experts the Plunkett Foundation, where people can receive tailored advice on different aspects of setting up a community business.
An example of the type of project that could be developed with the support of Village SOS Active is Ballygally Community Association’s community hall and retail shop. The group, based in the coastal village of Ballygally near Larne, was awarded a grant from Village SOS to build the shop and hall in the village main street, transforming an eyesore into a vibrant social enterprise. The village did not have a shop or post office and locals had to do a round trip of ten miles to get to the nearest shop in Larne. They have built a two storey facility with the shop on the ground floor and community hall on the second floor. The association now hopes to offer a range of services including drama for young people and IT classes for older people, while the shop has post office facilities, an ATM, internet access and tourist information.
For more information contact Andrew Kennedy, Big Lottery Fund Press Office on 028 90551426. Out of hours contact 077 88640791. Full details of the Big Lottery Fund programmes and grant awards are available on the website: www.biglotteryfund.org.uk.