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RCN AGM 2018 Celebrating Rural Life

RCN’s AGM and conference this year took place in the Seamus Heaney Centre in Bellaghy on 29th November.  A large crowd of members and stakeholders gathered to hear about the work the organisation has undertaken in the past year and to carry out the essential AGM business.  We retuned this year to our traditional AGM and conference which included a half day conference and site visits to rural community groups.

Our keynote speaker Julie Harrison, Chair of the Big Lottery spoke about the importance of small grants programmes, which represent nearly 90% of the Lottery’s grant giving in NI.  These small grants support a wide range of activities and are particularly important to volunteer led groups.  This was followed by a panel discussion and question and answer session with Julie Harrison, Paddy McEldowney Director of Easilink Community Transport, Brenda McMullan Executive Director of Halifax Foundation and Kate Clifford Director of RCN.  We also took the opportunity to launch the results of our Social Value Engine project, funded by Halifax Foundation, which has worked with 6 rural groups over the past year to help them measure the social impact of their projects. 

After lunch delegates travelled to the Lockkeepers Cottage, Toome where we were welcomed by Una Johnston and her fellow directors from TIDAL.  We heard an inspiring input from Una about how their determination and perseverance in fighting for a GP surgery in the village had led to the development of a community hub.  This has had a great impact on the wider community and health and well-being continues to be a focus for the group’s work.  TIDAL is now working on developing tourism assets in the village and we were hosted in the renovated Lockkeepers Cottage on the banks of the Bann.  Una talked about the exciting plans the group has to develop a marina on the shores of Lough Neagh.  We also heard from Helen Boyd Chair and Suzanne Winter of Tidy Randalstown about the work they have done on environmental improvements in their village and how that has brought the community together.  The day finished with a bracing walk from the Lockkeepers cottage to the community allotments in Toome with gardener Lizzie and TIDAL director Thomas.  We visited the impressive poly tunnels which are still turning out salads and herbs at the end of November and which had produced a bumper crop of tomatoes this year due to the warm early summer weather. 

Feedback from participants has been very positive and people were particularly inspired by the work of the local groups we visited and who showcased their work through the Social Value Engine project.  As always, the buzz of conversation in the room at coffee time and lunchtime was evidence of the importance of networking and sharing stories and struggles is still hugely important even in these days of virtual communication.