Commoning Possibilities project in Garvagh

Garvagh Development Trust, through the Garvagh People’s Forest Project, has been leading on an exciting new project, exploring how local people might take decisions about how and where to spend money for the benefit of the community and/or the forest.

In partnership with St Columb’s Park House, Anne McMaster and the Rural Community Network and funded by the Community Foundation for Northern Ireland, this is a project which believes the people who live, work and play in their communities will come up with brilliant ideas and solutions to care for what they share and hold in common - wellbeing, communities, green spaces, the air we breathe and the food we eat.

With a pot of £10 000 to spend, including contributions from CFNI, the Northern Health & Social Care Trust, O’Connell’s Garage, RiverRidge, the Multi-Disciplinary Team Social Work Team, Hutchinson’s Engineering, Radius Housing and the Causeway Coast & Glens Council, 39 fantastic ideas were put forward by individuals and groups which would benefit community and forest.

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More than 1,000 people voted during the Big Community Vote both online and by ballot papers with 26 of the ideas getting enough votes to get the funding requested to make their ideas happen next year.

Karin Eyben, Garvagh People’s Forest Development Lead said: “Democracy is not just about voting at elections. It’s about ordinary people feeling that they are making decisions on things that matter to them and there’s no bigger decision than deciding where and how to spend money.”

With the exit poll showing that 70.1% of people voted for people and groups that they’d never heard of before and 94% saying that being involved allowed them to find out more about what was happening their community, this way of making decisions is already helping to grow relationships and community.

Aidan Campbell from the Rural Community Network said: “All politics is local and the Commoning Possibilities project shows that people have a passion for their own area and want to have a meaningful say in decisions that are made about it. It’s a credit to the work of Garvagh People’s Forest who are building community spirit in the area in a way that tried to include everybody.”

There have been similar processes across the Council area in Cushendall, Harpur’s Hill (Coleraine), Armoy, and with Triangle Housing Association tenants. The collective hope is that this way of working and making decisions catches on with more communities and budget holders as it helps build democracy and relationships.

Councillor Richard Holmes, Mayor of the Causeway Coast and Glens Council, who was at the count and announced the successful bids said: “Opportunities like this are an important way to empower our citizens and I want to applaud the community for engaging with this initiative.  It’s been inspiring to see the range of ideas suggested and the interest these sparked among those who voted.

“I am very pleased that Council contributed to the overall funding pot, and that this money will now be used to deliver a range of projects to enhance people’s lives and the local area.

“Following this success, and that of similar schemes that have taken place before, I look forward to seeing this replicated in further parts of the Borough.”

For more information on the project please contact Karin Eyben, Garvagh People’s Forest Project, Tel: 07966 202184.