Northern Ireland Rural Affairs Minister Edwin Poots has handed over the first grant from a new rural fund to help create employment, protect the environment and support volunteers.

Minister Poots said the £600,000 Rural Social Economy Investment Scheme will support new and established rural social enterprises to increase their capacity, potential profitability and sustainability.

During a full day of visits to a variety of DAERA-funded projects in Co. Down, the minister handed over a Letter of Offer for funding of £34,000 to Kairos Enterprises in Newcastle. The money will help the enterprise develop its community vegetable outlet, from whicj it supplies local shops and restaurants, as well as running a shop on site.

Minister Poots said: “It is crucial we support our rural social enterprises so that they can be sustained and grow. Enterprises such as Kairos provide employment and volunteering opportunities for rural dwellers, so I am delighted to be here today to offer my Department’s support to this project.

“Today’s investment will allow this business to reduce its waste, provide employment for two additional members of staff and create volunteering opportunities for another 20 people.”

The pilot scheme aims to:

  • Improve rural social enterprise sustainability;
  • Strengthen rural communities;
  • Improve the economic circumstances of rural communities, and
  • Support work in partnership with others.

Minister Poots added: “This is the first time my department has implemented a specific grant scheme for rural social enterprises and demonstrates my continued commitment to supporting our rural communities.

“There has been great interest in the scheme and diversity of projects applying for the grants which offer between £25,000 and £50,000 of capital investment on expenditure related to non-agricultural activity.”

John Nixon from Ark Community Gardens said: “Everyone associated with the Ark Community Gardens are so grateful to DAERA for awarding us this generous grant.

“The grant will make a huge difference to the organisation by allowing us to invest in growing capacity, cleaning processes and bagging facilities and ultimately helping us produce great produce that our customers love.”

The scheme is targeted at emerging and established rural social enterprises in Northern Ireland to enable them to increase their capacity, potential profitability and sustainability whilst supporting those who live in rural areas.

Is my social enterprise eligible?

The minimum grant support available for the Rural Social Economy Investment Scheme is £25,000 and with the maximum set at £50,000 to fund up to 80% of eligible costs.

To be eligible for this scheme, the social enterprise must have been trading for at least one year.

For the purposes of this scheme, if an enterprise has been trading for less than two years it is considered as emerging and if trading for two years or more is considered as established.

A social enterprise is defined as a business with primarily social objectives whose surpluses are principally reinvested for that purpose in the business or in the community, rather than being driven by the need to maximise profit for shareholders and owners.