Skip to content

Ten years of funding

16 June 2014

Over the last two weeks, we’ve been looking back over the last ten years of Big Lottery funding and highlighting some of the fantastic things people have achieved with our money.

The Big Lottery Fund is in a privileged position. Our scale, scope and reach mean that our funding has touched every part of the UK.  Since we were set up in 2004 we have made £6.1 billion in grants – most of them small grants of under £10,000 to small local groups.

Behind these numbers are fascinating stories from some amazing projects led by inspirational people. Everyone day-11-blog-NI-dogswho’s read the blogs and case studies we’ve posted over the last two weeks will be impressed by the range of work we’re privilege to fund. Our funding has supported thousands of volunteering opportunities, helped to connect communities, transformed the places people live and play, and funded thousands of jobs.

One of the most exciting things we’ve seen over the last ten years is how small amounts of money can improve people’s lives. A typical example is an Awards for All grant of £10,000 to Assistance Dogs Northern Ireland. The dogs have been expertly trained to help people such as Patrick McDonnell (26), from Co Armagh enjoy life again. Spinal injuries left this active young man in a wheelchair two years ago. “I didn’t go out much. When I did, people tended to see the wheelchair and not me. Now, with Holly, it’s all about her and not the chair. She’s given me back independence,” he said.

a-way-out-1One of the most rewarding experiences for us has been funding the growth of organisations. A Way Out in Stockton-on-Tees was set up in June 2002 with three volunteers to offer a way out to women and children as young as 13 who were addicted to heroin or being sexually exploited. In 2004 A Way Out received a grant of £5,000 from Awards for All for premises costs. Fast forward two years and we awarded them £155,359 and in 2007 a further £297,657. A Way Out went from strength-to- strength. In 2009 it moved into new premises, and a once-derelict building was transformed into a friendly and welcoming place.

At the other end of the spectrum from Awards for All are our large scale strategic investments, such as the Silver Dreams Fund – our initiative dedicated to older people in England.

The Older People’s Advocacy Alliance UK is using its £1 million funding to roll out advocacy services across the country for older people affected by cancer. Volunteer advocates and Cancer Champions will use their own experience of the condition to provide a comprehensive advocacy service tailored to the needs of each individual. The support will include helping older people make decisions on their treatment and care by carrying out research into care options; being present during ward rounds; attending meetings with their consultants; and helping cancer patients gain confidence when talking to medical staff.

Where next?

We’re now running a conversation – Your Voice Our Vision – which will inform our approach over the next five or so years. It’s great that so many people have taken the trouble to add their voices to this conversation. There is still time for you to contribute at

Our funding has to be responsive to the opportunities in local communities, it has to support and enable people with ideas and to cherish the small and the local, as well as tackling difficult issues.

Dawn Austwick



Dawn Austwick, Chief Executive, Big Lottery Fund




#BigLottery10    #BigLottery10 logo

Wave of Lottery money brings sea-change to Rathlin

13 June 2014

Support from the Big Lottery Fund has helped to spark a community revival on Rathlin, the only inhabited island off the coast of Northern Ireland. Nigel Tilson reports

It’s remote, unspoilt and has scenery to rival anywhere in the world.

spring flowers at Rathlin harbour

Spring flowers at Rathlin harbour

But there’s nothing backward-looking about the 120-strong community who call Rathlin Island home.

The island off the County Antrim coast has a community association  whose commitment and energy would put much larger organisations to shame.

Islander Michael Cecil is chairman of Rathlin Development and Community Association, which has also attracted a loyal force of more than 40 volunteers.

Back in 2008 the association received a grant of over £300,000 from Big Lottery Fund, and Michael says that helped to spark a sea-change in the island’s collective psyche.

The money paid for a full-time community development officer, David Quinney Mee, who commutes to the island from Ballycastle everyday on the ferry.

Building relationships has been a key part of David’s work and has helped the association attract support from government departments and statutory agencies.

Michael says: “The confidence of the people and the capacity to get things done have increased.

“In the past people living on Rathlin would have expected others to look after their interests, but now they want to shape their own future.”

David Quinney Mee

David Quinney Mee

As a result, several events have become regular fixtures on Rathlin’s calendar, including the Rathlin Sound Maritime Festival and Halloween and New Year celebrations.

Michael explains: “The festivals attract lots of visitors and going forward we want to improve the tourism offering. We want to build on the 30,000 visitors who make the trip to Rathlin each year.”

The organisation is planning to build a wind turbine on the island which, it hopes, could generate enough profit each year to pay for its work. It is all part of the islanders’ desire to become self-sustaining.

Other projects in the pipeline include negotiating community management of the Manor House, the iconic guesthouse at Rathlin’s harbour.  The association is also aiming to transform an old Kelp Store into a marine research and education centre.

The group has also received Big Lottery-funding to encourage the creation of social enterprises and it has been receiving advice from the Scottish Islands on setting up such businesses.

Michael said that without the Big Lottery Fund money the improvements seen in recent years would not have happened.

“The attitude of the people here has changed dramatically. People on the island are now more determined to improve from within. In fact our new motto is ‘thriving from within’,” he added.



#BigLottery10    #BigLottery10 logo


The Birks Cinema – journey of a grantholder

13 June 2014

With a red carpet welcome and special appearance by its patron, actor Alan Cumming, the Birks Cinema officially reopened its doors on 20th November 2013. Originally a 1930s film theatre but closed for over 20 years, it was a moment the local community had dreamed of for some time.

Back in 2006 three friends set up the Friends of the Birks Cinema and began fundraising to purchase the disused building in the heart of Aberfeldy, Perthshire and refurbish it for 21st century film fans. With a donation from a private trust the group was able to engage a local architect to explore how the building could be converted which was followed in 2008 with a grant from our Investing in Ideas programme to carry out a feasibility study.

Birks Cinema Patron, Alan Cumming

Birks Cinema Patron, Alan Cumming

Then in 2011, after securing pots of money from other funders, the group found itself still requiring additional funding to make their idea a reality.

Successfully applying for and receiving £539,950 from our Growing Community Assets programme the group finally had the green light to get construction on The Birks Cinema  going. In just one year the 100 seat, state-of-the-art, 3D cinema underwent a full renovation finally opening its doors to the public in Spring 2013.  You can see how things developed in our special flickr gallery.

A community asset providing a thriving hub which all generations can enjoy, the Birks Cinema truly is the outcome of a hard working and inspirational local community. From three people in 2006 to some 450 members in 2013 the local community has been heavily involved throughout the project.

Following a seven-year journey the group members created a list of lessons learned during their community assets project. Below are just some of the key points they identified, which projects considering applying to our Growing Community Assets fund might want to consider:

  • Don’t underestimate the amount of work to be done – most people on our Committee are either fully retired or work part-time.
  • Create a team with specific responsibility for the success of the project, using a mixture of Committee members and interested volunteers.
  • Where possible search for new members with the skills that are missing from the current Committee.
  • Get the local community behind and involved in your project. Try to pull in volunteers to help have a presence at local events, shows, fairs and so forth, as the members of the committee may become over-extended doing
    The new Birks Cinema

    The new Birks Cinema

    this activity.

  • Do try to document what you do with the community e.g. numbers attending public meetings; surveys of community views; people attending focus group discussions etc. because you may need to provide evidence of community support and community views/needs for some funders.
  • Funders require reassurance that the operation resulting from their donations will be financial robust and sustainable; it may be appropriate to consider more than one income source.

You can find out more about the Birks Cinema and what it has to offer here . Equally, if you have a community asset that you would like to explore purchasing and developing, our Growing Community Assets programme may be able to help. The above lessons learned are a great starting point but if you need further support or want to run your project idea by us  you can email us for advice .


#BigLottery10    #BigLottery10 logo


Getting everyone connected

12 June 2014
Young woman helping young girl use computer

St Barts Leeds workshop

When the Big Lottery Fund was set up in 2004, Facebook was a mere twinkle in Mark Zuckerberg’s eye; the web had just 50 million websites – compared with today’s mind boggling 759 million; and, perhaps most shockingly, Britney Spears topped Google’s most popular search queries.

By 2024 the size of our online universe is projected to expand by nearly 300 per cent, fuelled by an ongoing digital explosion of human expression, opinion, content and measurable data. Advances in artificial intelligence, automated translation and real-time big data analytics, coupled with a global network of over 50 billion networked sensors embedded in smart devices, wearable technology, appliances and infrastructure (the Internet of Things) will revolutionise our online experience. New user interfaces operated by voice, retina movements or touch will transform how we work, play and communicate.

It’s clear we’ve only just begun to experience and understand the web’s game-changing potential; but it’s still all too easy to assume that everyone can already explore their own online opportunities.  Yet here in the UK, just under 1 in 5 adults (9.5 million people) still don’t have the basic online skills to be confident online.  They can’t send and receive email, use a search engine, browse, or complete forms online; let alone all the fun stuff the rest of us take for granted.

Also surprisingly, thousands of businesses and charities are missing out on crucial opportunities to save money and time, or promote themselves online.  Between 2011 and 2012 alone, we in the UK donated a whopping £2.4 billion to charity via the web and now, over a quarter of philanthropic gifts are made online.  Yet just half of charities have a website – and of those who do – only 1 in 5 allow customers to donate from their site.

That’s why Go ON UK and its fabulous network of UK wide partners are on a mission to change this.  Big Lottery Fund for example – a Go ON UK founder – recently launched a £15 million Basic Online Skills programme to help people and communities most in need.

Anyone can share their online skills with others.  Our new site,, inspires and supports digital champions – everyday people who are willing and able to share their online skills.  Stuffed with over 3,000 top tools, including downloadable guides, certificates, posters and learning resources to rate and share, there’s something for anyone looking to share digital skills with someone they know, within their local community or organisation.

As we enter the next chapter of our digital journey, we want everyone to become confident online and start making the internet their own.  Together, we can help everyone in the UK get connected.


Emily Keef, communications manager @ Go On UK


#BigLottery10    #BigLottery10 logo


On your bike, Grandad

11 June 2014

The Sam Thompson Bridge is part of the Connswater Community Greenway project, which has transformed east Belfast. The project was part-funded by the Big Lottery Fund with a grant of £23.5 million. Former shipyard worker John McKeag was among the thousands who flocked to the opening of the bridge this spring.

John McKeag at the bridge

John Mckeag at the Sam Thompson Bridge

I’ve been cycling the roads of east Belfast for most of my life. I’m a great- grandfather now, but I still spend much of my spare time out on my bike – and I’m not going to stop now just because I’m turning 92.

I wouldn’t like to get up in the morning and have nothing to do. I’ve been running 74 years, and I’ve been cycling since I could ride a bike.

I worked at Harland and Wolff shipyard my whole working life, first as a welding instructor and then for Lloyd’s Insurance.

So it was great to be one of the first people who crossed the Sam Thompson bridge, just across the way from the shipyard’s famous cranes, Samson and Goliath, when it opened on 4 April. I had cycled the four miles to Victoria Park from my home in Dundonald and across the bridge. But that’s just a short hop for me – I recently took part in a 55-mile cycle to celebrate the Giro d’Italia.

Before I retired, I used to ride my bike from my home in Lisbane in Co Down to the shipyard – a round trip of 25 miles every day.

Now Victoria Park, which is spruced up as part of the Connswater Community Greenway project, is one of my favourite spots.

John McKeag cycling across the Sam Thompson Bridge

John McKeag cycling across the Sam Thompson Bridge

Sport has always been an important part of my life. I recently featured in a BBC Northern Ireland documentary about my sporting endeavours called Run Grandad Run and I have competed in running and cycling events in the UK and Europe.

I have all the trophies for running you can possibly get. I was the first runner over 80 to represent Northern Ireland.

Although I did my last half marathon aged 85, I still like to get out for shorter 5 and 10k runs, one of which is regularly held in Victoria Park.

My love of sport helped me cope when my wife Isobel passed away 22 years ago.

Being involved in cycling, sports and running was one of the things that got me through it. These things get you over adversity.

#BigLottery10    #BigLottery10 logo


Connecting communities

11 June 2014

Sustrans’ National Cycle Network received our biggest ever grant – £50 million – in 2007. Since then the Network has grown to 14,500 miles with millions of cyclists and walkers taking the opportunity to use a safe and environmentally sustainable way to travel.  Melissa Henry, communications director at Sustrans, tracks the Network’s progress.

Melissa Henry

Melissa Henry

December 12th 2007 is etched in my memory – the nerve-wracking wait to hear whether Sustrans, or another of the three other extraordinary projects in the running, had won the public vote to secure £50 million of Lottery funding.

A big amount of money, fitting for our big vision, of people, reconnected to places, creating a sense of pride in their community. Seven years on and our vision is a reality, and nearly four million people now live within a mile of a new walking and cycling network.

Our focus was on addressing barriers to people getting about by foot and bike.  Each network has at its heart a new crossing of a busy road, a railway line or a river, that had previously acted as a barrier to people accessing work, schools, shops, family and friends by foot or bike.

Like here in Bradford, where the busy Manchester Road divided communities, separating children from their school, and people from their friends, preventing access to everyday places.

The project has delivered a variety of iconic, landmark bridges and crossings like this that overcome these barriers whilst promoting a sense of civic pride and community ownership.

And the reach achieved is impressive – within a short distance of the average scheme there are 20 schools, 23,000 households and 53,000 people.

Men and children on bikes and foot repainting cycle way signs in Cardiff

Repainting cycle way signs in Cardiff

Creating safe, convenient routes has led to a major increase in the number of people choosing to walk and cycle, delivering enormous benefits to people’s health and well-being, the local economy and environment.

Our intention was two-fold: to support community cohesion, and to ensure that what was built really did improve accessibility, like the bridge over the A10 that now gives children a safe route to school.

This approach has reaped benefits – more than three quarters of the people who got involved in community events said that they would get involved in similar projects in the future, and half of those who attended events associated with the networks met someone new in their community

Creating direct, safe crossings for those walking and cycling improves access for everyone. A quarter of all households in the UK don’t have access to a car, and for people who do a huge number of short car journeys could be replaced if they felt they had a choice.

And what we’ve seen is staggering – 33 million more trips by foot and bike, and our experience shows that this will increase.

#BigLottery10    #BigLottery10 logo



I’m still here!

10 June 2014

Bernie Montgomery is the founder of Cancer Lifeline – a project which provides vital support for people living with cancer.

If anyone haCancer lifeline's Bernie Montgomeryd told me 17 years ago I’d still be around today with three lovely grandchildren I’d never have believed them.

I’d had a devastating breast cancer diagnosis after I noticed a lump in 1997. A 13% chance of survival means you quickly get things into perspective

Cancer is about needing help ‘now’ – but back then I couldn’t find the what I needed. I needed information about chemotherapy and I’d no idea reconstructive surgery was even available. There were financial worries too – I couldn’t work and feared losing my home.

There had to be a better way so I advertised in a paper asking other women facing cancer to get in touch. Four came to that first meeting in 1999 and since then our group – which developed into Cancer Lifeline  –  has helped hundreds of people affected by cancer from North Belfast, Shankill and Newtownabbey.

By 2011 we realised the scale of the need and an Awards for All grant was the catalyst in creating what we have today. We used the funding to think big and plan ahead.

Since then we’ve received support through Reaching Communities and are currently being funded through the Reaching Out Connecting Older People programme.

This funding is long term which gives you a chance to plan ahead and that’s often the single biggest factor in an organisation’s sustainability. Big Lottery Fund has been with us through every step of our development – giving us the flexibility to try new things and because of this we have been able to work with more than 20,000 people over the past 10 years.

I’m sitting here now and this is a dream. I still have health issues but you know what – I’m alive.

Did you enjoy reading this blog? Are you interested in shaping our future? Share your ideas and join the conversation @

#BigLottery10    #BigLottery10 logo


Living my dream

9 June 2014

Mahima Qureshi, 19, from Newcastle was involved in the planning of Keyfunds Winter Extravaganza, a Big Lottery-funded project which received £106,200 in 2006. The skills and confidence Mahima developed encouraged her to  follow her dream of becoming a henna artist. She has set up her own enterprise and on some weekends has a stall in the Metro Centre.

It all started when I joined Keyfund (now The Key) on a residential for young people with the purpose of organising a big event for other local young people. We decided to hold a concert in Newcastle City Hall, which was generously funded by the Big Lottery Fund.

After months of commitment, problem solving and careful planning, we recruited performers such as Ruff Diamonds, Silvar, Etta Smith and our headlining act Joe McElderry. The concert was a ‘sell out success’ and an AMAZING experience.

Tattoo art on a woamn's backOrganising this event gave me the confidence to do more and inspired me to take every opportunity that was presented to me, which leads me to where I am right now – a 19 year old henna tattoo artist. But I’m not an average traditional henna artist. I wanted to stand out from the crowd. I wanted to be known for doing henna but with a twist, using the body as my canvas to do what I can, to go where the henna cone takes me.

I’d been practising henna since I was 11 years old, but the confidence gained from volunteering with The Key is what has made me who I am today. Using friends and fellow pupils as testers, I’ve turned my passion in to a business and a career, living my dream, performing at shopping centres, events, parties and festivals across the North East.

My work and story had been recognised and I was given the chance to appear in a film, Ambition Lab, documenting my life and my passion with henna art. Soon enough I was watching myself and other young entrepreneurs on a cinema screen at Tyneside Cinema, reflecting on how far I had come.

Through Ambition Lab, I’ve been able to inspire other young people to follow their dreams and make the most of their unique potential. I hope to continue to grow both personally and professionally but most importantly, I want to continue to inspire others to grasp the opportunities around them. If I’d never grabbed the opportunity available through The Key I wouldn’t be where I am today.

6 min version

Full version (25 mins)


Did you enjoy reading this blog? Are you interested in shaping our future? Share your ideas and join the conversation @

#BigLottery10    #BigLottery10 logo




Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 493 other followers