Visitors from Estonia welcomed by GROW South Antrim

23 May 2019

GROW South Antrim welcomed a group of 20 people from Estonia to Antrim and Newtownabbey to showcase how GROW has helped develop & nurture the rural area through the distribution of funding under the Northern Ireland Rural Development Programme.  The Programme is part-financed by the European Union and the Department of Agriculture, Environment and Rural Affairs, and the Estonian group deliver similar funding in their own rural area.  The visit provided the opportunity to share best practice and learn how the same Programmes operates in different European countries.


During their 5 day stay in the Borough, they visited a range of businesses, community groups and village renewal projects that have benefited from funding since the first rural development programme was delivered in the local area in 2002.  They had the opportunity to meet with GROW South Antrim Local Action Group (LAG) Members and counterparts in Mid and East Antrim LAG and to speak to project promoters about the impact of funding.


The group visited the villages of Ballynure, Ballyeaston and Broughshane to see capital projects implemented in each village with Programme funding, including outdoor fitness equipment in Ballynure and preservation works at St Augustines Church Ruin in Ballyeaston.  They met with community representatives in Broughshane to learn about community involvement in village improvement works and to see at first hand the benefits of partnership working.


The group visited the thriving tourism businesses of Dunamoy Cottages and Spa and Breckenhill, both based outside Ballyclare, and both of whom benefited from Rural Development funding to bring dilapidated stone agricultural buildings back into economic use and to develop and grow their businesses over recent years.  Dunamoy Cottages and Spa boasts 4 self-catering cottages, a spa and tea room and has further plans to develop by increasing accommodation provision and the addition of an on-site Health & Well-being facility later in 2019.  Breckenhill is an outdoor activity provider, and award winning wedding venue and the visitors were impressed with the multi-use facility that’s has been created by business owners and that boosts tourism in the rural area.  The visitors also had the opportunity to sample some local cuisine at The Holestone restaurant in Parkgate, which was set-up thanks to Rural Development funding in 2015.


The visitors enjoyed a guided tour of the Whitehead Railway Museum, courtesy of the Railway Preservation Society of Ireland, which in total, was granted over £1 million of funding by GROW under the previous Rural Development Programme.  This working museum and Victorian style tea room has attracted over 15,000 visitors in its first year of being open to the public.  They also had the opportunity to meet with members of Doagh Cultural Society at Doagh Community Hall, which was renovated in 2012 with GROW support, and which added a lift into the building in 2018 thanks to a second grant award.


This visitors also heard about GROW’s cooperation scheme which has plans to improve the accessibility of Lough Neagh, and has applied for funding to cooperate with partners in Finland, Latvia and Mexico to support craft businesses.


Councillor Vera McWilliam, Chairperson of GROW South Antrim commented on the visit “We were delighted to welcome the group from Estonia to Antrim and Newtownabbey and to show off the range of projects that have benefited from the Rural Development Programme in recent years.  It was really interesting to learn from each other how the same programme is delivered in different areas and to discuss potential cooperation in the future.”