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Community and Voluntary groups across Northern Ireland, including those from the environment sector, have received almost £4million in support from DAERA during the Covid-19 pandemic, Minister Edwin Poots MLA has said.

Minister Poots confirmed that the financial support provided by his Department was increased due to the additional and ongoing pressure on the Community and Voluntary Sector (CVS) during 2020/21 as a result of the Covid-19 pandemic.

He said: “The Covid-19 pandemic has had a devastating impact on every aspect of everyday life, affecting individuals, businesses and community and voluntary organisations.

“The Community and Voluntary Sector plays a vital role in supporting local communities through many challenges. Covid-19 further demonstrated the selfless attributes of volunteers and coordinators in actively working to meet community needs.”

Referencing some of the groups that received funding, Minister Poots continued: “In the Belfast Hills some of this funding has gone to Belfast Hills Partnership, Colin Glen Trust, National Trust and the Woodland Trust to support the creation and management of walking opportunities in the natural environment which has been so important to our health and well-being throughout the pandemic.

“Such organisations rely on donations from the public and businesses, in addition to funding from Government. I am pleased that my Department was able to provide £3.98million in support during the Covid-19 pandemic in helping to ensure that such vital services could continue in the most challenging period Northern Ireland has experienced.”

Jim Bradley from Belfast Hills Partnership said: “During the Covid-19 pandemic more people made use of outdoor spaces, with increasing numbers visiting the Belfast Hills. With DAERA grant support we are able to tackle the big issues facing the Belfast Hills such as managing increasing numbers of visitors, expanding walking routes, bringing thousands of young people up to the hills and showing them how to look after them, and assessing sites for priority habitat management and new woodland creation.

“DAERA funding has meant that we can build up positive local relationships and partnerships over the long term to jointly address issues such as how to maintain upland farming in the Belfast Hills, to expand the network of managed walking routes and use our local upland heritage and history to bring communities together.”