SPEAKING at the annual general meeting of the East Down Rural Community Network in the Ballymote Centre in Downpatrick, Chairman Nick Moore said that the network had continued to grow across Down. “The EDRCN’s core business of providing a crucial community development service to a wide range of rural community groups has continued to develop and grow across Down and Ards through 2010.”
He explained that they had worked closely with the Rural Development Programme and in partuclular the Down Rural Area Partnership, the Local Action Groups and the Southern Organisations for Action in Rural areas bringing many new opportunities and challenges. Nicholas McCrickard, the EDRCN manager and his team provided much assistance to local groups in funding applications and training, and also helped out farmers on the Farm Modernisation Programme.
Mr Moore added, “At the policy end, the EDRCN has also been engaged with the rural community in consultations such as PPS21 and DARD’s Rural White Paper. The EDRCN also commissioned various research papers such as the Minority Ethnic Community Audit in North Down, Ards and Down District Council areas and also been involved in producing a number of key research papers which have had a substantial impact on producing good relations across the area.
“Work has also been ongoing in conjunction with the Down Diversity in Action Forum with many schools and there were four peace oriented projects in South Down. Other projects inlcuded the development of the Mourne Mountains Landscape Partnership plan, and cultural and capital works.”
The health development programme has also been moving ahead positively with a team of five staff working to reduce health inequalities and improve health and well being throughout the Down District. The team work closely with local health and government agencies and through 2010 there was a special focus on addressing poverty by maximising access to services and benefits.
He added, “The health team have worked with 35 different older groups this year from across the district. This has included assisting groups with funding, development and training. The EDRCN continues to facilitate the Down Senior Forum which allows us to highlight needs, issues and priorities and to organise relevant and exciting senior events.
“The team work with younger people too across the Down District and have been involved in a number of community safety events touching on theatre, team building activities, drugs issues, alcohol awareness sessions and sports programmes.
“The health team have been active in addressing women’s and men’s health issues and have also made a contribution to respecting differences and valuing individuals through the Down Diversity in Action Forum. An ethnic minority programme funded by Peace III has been set up in 2010 to support ethnic minorities and local groups to explore diversity and address issues such as racism.”
EDRCN staff have also supported inter-estates’ community development programmes in Downpatrick covering the Marian Park, Bridge Street, Stream Street, Kennedy Square and Flying Horse Ward.
The key aspect of the work of the EDRCN over this past year has been its ability to reach out into the rural community and make a difference. It has even engaged in a community relations programme funded by the International Fund for Ireland.
A varied range of activities were provided for the Downpatrick area for residents in the Downpatrick Neighbourhood Renewal Area.
Ritchie Praises EDRCN
South Down MP Margaret Ritchie addressing the meeting said, “It is a tribute to the EDRCN and the groups of this area that you have improved the area and the services around you with their vision and dedication.
“As former DSD Minister, I have lived, worked and also grew up in Downpatrick and I am personally delighted to have approved the funding for the town centre improvements in Downpatrick… we are essentially rural, and we must work together for further regeneration and for the needs of the communities. And we must utilise the funding of Peace III.”
McCrickard Says There Are Huge Opportunities For Local Groups
In making his annual report, Nicholas McCrickard, EDRCN manager said that the network had had a very busy year being engaged in a wide number of programmes and activities. And he outlined that there were a number of opportunites for groups and communities to take up.
He explained that the Down Men’s Forum has taken off well and that there have also been projetcs for senior citizens and many other groups.
Also, he addressed the issues around local community transport initiatives. Against a backcloth of further cutbacks and mergers, and rationalisation of these services, he explained the rural community transport system may continue to strive to meet needs into the future.