Therapy garden will bloom with funding

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A MAGHERAMORNE-BASED company has been awarded a cash windfall to start up a community business venture that will breathe new life into the village.

Learning to Grow has been offered £49,759 by the Big Lottery Fund to create a horticultural therapy garden to support people across East Antrim living with mental ill health and disabilities.

The funding will pay for the construction of the garden, which will be available to other groups to hire out for activities. Learning to Grow will then use the money they make from this to look after the garden’s upkeep and run further events and activities for the people they support.

This project is supported by the Big Lottery Fund’s Village SOS scheme, which aims to inspire a rural revival across the UK and support rural communities that may be struggling with issues such as isolation, ageing populations, and the closure of local amenities.

Horticulture therapist Liz Hanvey said: “The therapy garden will be located on a currently disused plot at the Larne Lough Nursery and people will come along every week to learn horticulture with a focus on growing organic food. The garden will be in a beautiful and very therapeutic location, right on the shore of the lough. We will have chickens, and a beehive with lots of wildflowers for the honey bees.

“The aim is to use horticulture and being out in the open, surrounded by nature to help people relax and manage their health and their stress - to help them live the best life they can with their depression or anxiety.

“We are planning to hold barbecues and open days at the garden and we will also give people the chance to gain accredited qualifications. It is good to have a balance of both therapy and training. People feel great when they are awarded a qualification or certificate and it also opens up employment opportunities for them.”

Frank Hewitt, chairman of Big Lottery Fund NI said: “We are delighted to announce the funding for these innovative projects which is testament to the strength and creativity that exists in this rural community.

“I would urge other communities across Northern Ireland to explore this unique opportunity to get funding and support to start up a community run enterprise which will revive their local area and help buck the trend of rural decline.”

Grants of between £10,000 and £50,000 are now available to help rural communities with less than 3,000 people develop plans for enterprising projects that will answer a local need or improve services for local people. Projects could be anything from community-run shops and pubs to energy or transport schemes, craft or food projects.

People can register at www.villagesos.org.uk where they will find more information and advice about community enterprises, including an online support network. Application forms for the funding are available on the website now.