Our Rural development team Nicholas McCrickard, Frances McCormick and Janine Connolly, have supported many community groups wishing to apply for funding under the Rural Development Programme. Funding from DRAP & SOAR has helped to develop or update village plans across the area, or as in the case of Saintfield, helped them through the funding process to get their Playground project underway. Despite many bureaucratic and technical obstacles, the network has worked positively with the funders, partners and groups to ease the process of getting projects on the ground.
The Rural Development team continued to offer support by researching and giving advice on issues affecting rural communities. A case study report was compiled in partnership with Building Change Trust on ‘Owning and Managing Assets in the Upper Ards’. The team continued to communicate with farm families throughout the area informing them of events, funding opportunities and relevant support. CDRCN promoted stakeholder events and met with senior DARD officials and DARD Minister Michelle O’Neill at the Downpatrick road show, who answered questions on a variety of topics such as CAP reform and Rural Development Programme.
Moreover, the team has provided assistance tailored to individual groups and their needs including advice on governance and best practice, as well as creating local and county wide networking opportunities. In March 2012 we organised a NI wide Rural Villages and the Social Economy Conference providing opportunities for many groups to learn from the experiences of local groups in Castlewellan and Portaferry on what is involved in running a social economy business, as well as asking them what support they would like in future.
CDRCN assisted three groups applying to the Rural Development Programme for capital projects. Furthermore, the development team assisted 8 groups throughout Down District to apply for and manage village plan projects. These plans will identify priority projects which can be brought forward to improve the life of local people throughout the areas. We also continue to assist new groups in setting up in the area and develop projects to benefit their local community. Staff are represented on various boards and forums in the area and we work closely in partnership with other organisations to highlight community concerns. Earlier this year in partnership with the Integrated Education Fund and Rural Community Network we held a Discussion Forum entitled ‘Our Children… Their Education’ in Ballynahinch looking at the challenges and opportunities for our schools and communities on education in Down.
CDRCN continued to strengthen their presence in South Down. CDRCN now have 35 groups and 27 farm families in the South Down area. Throughout the year the Rural Development team have provided tailored assistance to a wide range of South Down groups with various matters including identifying, applying for and managing funding, governance, best practice and networking opportunities. CDRCN has assisted 5 groups considering applications to or issued with letters of offer from SOAR. Again the projects are varied in their remits. One of these projects involved the erection of town land stones whilst another project has seen a cultural and educational centre to the value of £316,314 being constructed in the Annalong area. CDRCN staff continue to sit on a number of boards including the Mourne Mountain Landscape Partnership in order to ensure community consultation and involvement in all projects. By doing so CDRCN has encouraged the use of Newry & Mourne and Down Community transport for projects. We look forward to further increasing our services, developing further projects and bringing yet more benefits to the area over the coming year.
The network continues to be a vital source of support in the Ards area with several villages being assisted to develop projects through the Rural Development Programme. We were delighted that through our support Portaferry Community Collective won the overall ‘Large Community Award’ making it ‘Calor Village of the Year 2011’. We have also assisted many groups and individuals in the Ards area to meet their training needs. Within the Ards Peninsula area we have been working closely with Church Leaders on building relationships across denominations and between Churches and the community. Our work has continued with older people in the area and we recently held a networking event for over 80 Seniors from across the Ards Borough in Ballygowan.