Derelict or overgrown sites across Northern Ireland will be transformed into new community hubs as part of a £15 million project to bring diverse groups of people together.
Unused land could give way to city farms, allotments or play parks while run-down buildings are set to be reborn as cafes, gyms or workshops as part of the Big Lottery Fund initiative.
The Space and Place scheme will award grants of between £50,000 and £1 million over the next six years to groups whose ideas are given the green light.
Its guiding principle of bringing people together is not confined to projects aimed at bridging Northern Ireland’s traditional religious divide. Plans that will see younger and older generations sharing the same space, as well as those that accommodate disabled and vulnerable individuals are also being encouraged.
The programme will be delivered by a consortium of statutory and voluntary organisations led by the Community Foundation for Northern Ireland (CFNI).
Frank Hewitt, the chair of Big Lottery Fund NI, said: “There is a demand in Northern Ireland to provide new spaces and places and use existing ones better, particularly those that are currently viewed as under-used or difficult for a variety of reasons.
“Space and Place will connect people by helping to develop under-used and difficult and contested spaces, while improving the health and well being of local people by encouraging them to take part in activities in their areas.”
Avila Kilmurray, Northern Ireland director of CFNI, said: “In terms of the actual spaces, we are talking about prioritising communities that are perhaps disadvantaged or haven’t got access to the use of spaces.
“It could be environmental, it could be things like city farms, and community gardens or allotments or play parks, but more importantly is who is going to use them, and will they bring together groups of people that perhaps haven’t been connected before?
“So we are really looking at multi-functional type approaches.”
Ms Kilmurray said she would welcome projects with a cross-community emphasis.
“It’s not mandatory because obviously we know that a lot of spaces will be in single identity communities,” she added.
“But clearly that will get additional recognition if it is cross-community because so often our spaces do fall victim to single identity territoriality.”
Roadshows will be held in seven locations across Northern Ireland in June to provide communities with more information on the application process.
For further details visit www.communityfoundationni.org/spaceandplace.