Newspaper for Crossmaglen, South Armagh, Newry and Down.

£50k People’s Project prize is “Down Right Brilliant!”

A Newry-based support group for children and young people with Down’s Syndrome is celebrating after a swathe of public votes landed them a life-changing £50,000 cash injection from the Big Lottery Fund.

Down Right Brilliant is one of three groups across Northern Ireland given the good news last Thursday that they had scooped £50,000 each in the People’s Projects competition run by the Big Lottery Fund in conjunction with UTV.

The Newry youth group had been battling for their share of the much needed funds over the past fortnight, with a dedicated social and media campaign which garnered huge support and votes.

The news that the group had won was greeted with elation right across the district with well wishers and supporters posting their congratulations on Facebook for most of Thursday and Friday.

The group, which caters for children and young adults with Down’s Syndrome in the Newry and Mourne area, has over 50 members from Kilkeel to Culloville who meet once a week in Altnaveigh House for a wide range of activities.

Speaking to The Examiner about the win, Chairperson Mairéad Robb said the £50k prize will completely transform members’ lives, enabling the group to finally rent its own premises in Newry and establish their own youth club as an extension of the existing activities.

“We’re absolutely delighted – this means so much to our children and young people. The youth club will be a great social outlet for them, and we’ll be able to do other activities as well like run a summer scheme,” said Mairead.

“There is so much we can do with this and we have so many plans. We already run weekly speech and drama clubs as communication would be one of the difficulties for our children so the money will fund a Speech Therapist for this year, something which is vital to the continued progress of the children.

“We want to thank the Big Lottery Fund, UTV, the National Lottery, Belfast Live for giving us this fantastic, life changing opportunity and the wider community for taking the time to vote for us.”

Mairead also extended her thanks to local media and radio stations as well as the many schools, sports clubs and organisations who got behind the voting campaign.

“We are overwhelmed with the support we received,” she said.

The important project of a youth club for children and young adults with Down’s Syndrome and their siblings will now have the capital to be realised and the group hope to offer a range of activities there including dance, circus skills, football and outings, helping to build friendships and give the young people a place to call their own where they can go and have fun.

Crossmaglen mum, Paula Duffy, whose 9 year old son Tiernan attends the group every Saturday says parents and children are “absolutely over the moon” with the win.

“We just can’t believe it! It’s like a dream come true for us,” she told The Examiner.  Describing the support group as a “lifeline” for parents and children, Paula says Tiernan leaps out of bed every Saturday morning to attend the Down Right Brilliant Speech and Drama classes.

“Tiernan loves going.  He learns speech and drama and maths and just has a great time there interacting with his friends and learning in a fun environment.”

“The youth club would be such a welcome extension of what we have, providing a great social outlet for the kids and the opportunity to do dance classes, art, sports cookery and go to discos at the youth club.

“The group are hoping to run the youth club on a Friday evening which will be great as it will mean Tiernan has something just for him twice a week, as well as the other day trips and activities that the club will now be able to organise.” The devoted mum says plans for a summer scheme will also be of huge benefit to parents and children, with many kids with Downs Syndrome unable to attend other summer schemes due to the extra support they require.  “The money from the People’s Project will allow our children to experience so much more and to gain their independence as they get older.  Funding a speech therapist to oversee the current programme and assess the children will have lifelong benefits for them.”

Paula says the support from her local community in South Armagh and beyond has been “unbelievable” and she thanked everyone for their efforts in drumming up votes during the campaign, especially the Crossmaglen Rangers  who constantly shared the and posted the voting process on their Facebook page.

“A huge cash injection like this is so important for us and will give us such a kickstart to keep going.  There was so much work put it into the campaign by everyone involved so we are just so thrilled to have won.! It’s going to be amazing for everybody!”