Thousands of disadvantaged people in Mid Ulster will be hard hit by the Department for Communities decision to axe the Volunteering Small Grant, it was claimed yesterday.
Workers’ Party representative and member of the Magherafelt-based ‘Off the Cuff’ Drama Group, Hugh Scullion described the move as “ a direct attack” on the disadvantaged in the Mid-Ulster district.
The grant cut is the latest victim of the Stormont collapse, on-going since the start of the year.
It was set up in 2013 by the Department for Communities to contribute towards travel, subsistence and other expenses for volunteers who donate their time to help those who are disadvantaged, whether through disability, poverty or social isolation.
The grants programme has been slashed each year - dropping to £615,876 last year.
Now it has been axed completely, leaving scores of community groups across the district without vial funds to operate.
It provides sums of between £200 and £1,200 to help organisations throughout Northern Ireland and last year more than 700 groups availed of the financial assistance.
Mr Scullion told the Mail the small grants were essential for community groups to continue to function on a day-to-day basis.
“This cut goes straight to the heart of our community,” he said.
“It’s not a large amount of money but it provides essential support to cross community groups like Off the Cuff.”
He said he did not know how they would be able to continue to operate without the small grant.
“The group motto is ‘Bringing People to the Theatre and Theatre to the People’.
“We organise bus trips to the theatre for people, mostly senior citizens, who would otherwise find it difficult to attend the theatre because of our rural location.
“Last week we took 50 patrons to see Fire Below in the Lyric Theatre.
“These are also enjoyable social occasions which include meals in a local hotel on the way home. This gives the group members the opportunity to discuss the production or just have a chat.
“Now in addition to volunteering their own time and expertise, our volunteers are being asked to fund their own expenses.
“This withholding of funding is a direct attack on the volunteers who freely give of their time and expertise for the benefit of their community.”
A Department for Communities spokesperson said: “The volunteering small grants scheme was previously approved by ministers on a year-by-year basis.
“A scheme has not been put in place this year in the absence of ministers and in the light of ongoing funding constraints on the department. Any allocations to a future scheme will be for consideration by incoming minsters.”