Grants of between £200 and £1,500 will be available to rural community organisations in Northern Ireland as part of the new Capital Grant Programme, the Department of Agriculture and Rural Development (DARD) has said.

It says that the programme is specifically designed to improve the lives of those living in rural communities and that the programme will be delivered by local Rural Support Networks on behalf of DARD.

The programme will be open for applications from Monday, April 13, 2015, until noon on Friday, May 22, 2015, and can be used for minor capital works and equipment.

The North’s Agricultural Minister Michelle O’Neill said that the health and wellbeing of those living in rural areas is linked to the support network of family and friends around them.

“This is the very heart of a community network, people talking, socialising and having a sense of belonging. Unfortunately, I am also aware that more could be done to support rural community groups to help them create the right conditions for their communities to thrive and prosper,” Minister O’Neill said.

The Agriculture Minister said that the new Rural Micro Capital Grant Programme, which will have £200,000 available initially, will provide funding towards the purchase of vital pieces of equipment and improvements to community facilities.

“By targeting rural community groups, this programme can directly contribute to reducing isolation and poverty in rural areas while at the same time strengthening community links and promoting health and wellbeing,” she said.

Minister O’Neill said that this programme is a real opportunity for community groups to build on their existing roles and to empower local people to make their lives, and the lives of their family, friends and neighbours, better.