£4.5 million redirected to help NI rural dwellers cope through Covid-19

Over £4.5 million of public money has been redirected to help around 50,000 vulnerable and isolated people in rural communities in Northern Ireland to stay home and stay safe during the Covid-19 pandemic.

Minister of Agriculture, Environment and Rural Affairs, Edwin Poots MLA instructed his department to “do all it can” to ease the burden to rural communities and businesses, as well as to find new and innovative solutions to the problems created by Covid-19.

Minister Poots said: “In the last three weeks, I have secured £2.5 million for DAERA for the 2020/2021 Tackling Rural Poverty and Social Isolation Programme (TRPSI), and pushed that support towards dealing with the immediate impacts of Covid-19 in the rural sector.

Rural life is already susceptible to isolation issues and Covid-19 has left that community particularly vulnerable.

“The funding I have repurposed, allows our community and voluntary partners to work alongside councils, health trusts and others, to identify those most vulnerable and offer help.

“That help might be in the form of receiving food parcels, getting access to transport, having prescriptions brought to their house or being helped to contact mental health services.

“The Rural Support charity has also been supported to prepare advice and guidance for the farming community and rural dwellers.”

Fast-tracked payments

DAERA also provides grant aid to rural businesses and communities through the EU LEADER and Tourism projects and TRPSI Programme.

The Minister commented: “I am very aware of the need for rural businesses and the community and voluntary sector to receive funding at this critical time.

“Therefore, I have fast-tracked over £2 million in payments to project applicants by introducing a number of easements, including speeding up the electronic processing of payments and refocusing staff resource to ensure this vital work can continue. This will provide some degree of assistance and security during these difficult times.”

Speaking on behalf of the six Rural Support Networks, Nicholas McCrickard of the County Down Rural Community Network, said: ‘We are living in extraordinary times and it is imperative that we all do what we can to assist the most vulnerable members of our society.

“Thanks to the Minister’s prompt action, the Rural Support Networks, and our 1,500 member organisations, can now concentrate on helping to contribute to the emergency effort.”

Minister Poots added that he would continue to monitor the impact of Covid-19 and consider taking further actions as the need arises.

If you are part of a group helping people in rural areas, further information can be found here.

Just last week Rural Support launched a new listening service to combat rural isolation.

If you, or anyone you know, could benefit from the Across the Hedgerow Project, the service can be contacted via telephone on: 028-8676-0040.