By Ben Hart, Storybeat

Isolated Strabane residents have been thrown a vital social lifeline thanks to a National Lottery-funded project supporting communities bearing the brunt of the cost-of-living pressures.

And new research announced by The National Lottery Community Fund, the largest funder of community activity in the UK, this week shows people across the country are predicting mounting difficulties for local services due to the impact of the current economic climate.

Strabane & District Caring Services have received £10,000 of National Lottery funding to run a Community Lounge for people who are facing social isolation and impacted most by the increased cost of living.

Members of the community can spend time in a warm, safe space over the winter months and get fully immersed in community life.

The project aspires to alleviate the pressures felt by the increased cost of fuel and utilities as well as the seasonal isolation faced by those living alone.

It will also enable the continuation of the Stay Young social support group for ladies aged 55-plus, which offers activity sessions such as crafting, social outings and life skills.

Thanks to National Lottery players, the money has helped some of the most vulnerable people impacted by the cost-of-living pressures in our communities. 

And new figures released this week through The National Lottery Community Fund’s latest **Community Research Index shows that six in ten people in Northern Ireland (59%) believe that supporting people with the rising cost-of-living is most important for the wellbeing of their local community, with almost exactly one in two in Northern Ireland (49%) intending to volunteer in 2023 with young people (18 to 24) leading the way (65%).

Chris McDaid, Strabane Community Development Officer, says that the community’s fighting spirit is one of the few things helping residents through the current economic climate.

“The current situation is as bad as I've seen it in the community volunteer sector for a long time,” said McDaid, who has spent 17 years in the voluntary sector.

“Thankfully, the community spirit in this area is really strong and people are always willing to put the shoulder to the wheel in difficult times, so long may it continue.

“Fuel costs have completely skyrocketed, there's not that disposable income anymore.

“The impact has been drastic in terms of people just being able to put food on the table, to heat their home and it has become a case of heat or eat.

“People are replicating our set up so that there's an option of going and sitting in a warm family environment, having a cup of tea in a non-judgmental space and taking the pressure off families.

“The reality is, if these things weren't happening, a lot of people would go hungry this winter.”

National Lottery funding distributors - encompassing sports, arts, heritage, and community - collectively awarded over £1 billion pounds to support communities throughout the UK during the coronavirus pandemic, to help them cope and recover.

And now the £30 million raised each week by National Lottery players for good causes is at the forefront in supporting communities who need it the most during the cost-of-living pressures.

Organisations throughout the UK facing increased demands, challenges, and hardships as a direct result of the current climate are being supported in various ways, as National Lottery funders throughout the UK have responded with new priorities to help communities with an approach that centres around flexibility and support. 

Many existing funding programmes have been adapted or tailored by National Lottery funders to prioritise cost of living support. The National Lottery Community Fund alone is making an initial £75 million available UK wide to help those most in need – providing community groups with greater certainty at this critical time. All funding will be kept open and available, and ready to adapt, as part of its We’re Here for You commitment.

Whether it’s funding to improve the thermal efficiency of heritage sites, providing energy efficient floodlights for community sports clubs faced with the burden of increased costs, providing thousands of free hot meals and food parcels, warm places for the community to come together during the winter months, or supporting with money management and mental health initiatives - The National Lottery is making life that little bit easier by providing a wide array of support across sports, arts, community and charity, heritage, education and environment sectors during these challenging times.

Chris McDaid believes the situation will get worse before it gets better and hailed The National Lottery for supporting those people most in need.

“Another cold spell will mean families going without food, families going without fuel,” he said.

“It could cost people their jobs because they can no longer afford to travel out of town on the wages and salaries that they are getting.

“Across the board, the cost of living has had a massive impact and what we're doing, albeit a very small gesture, could be really meaningful to certain people.

“This is just our effort to address those issues and ones around mental health and isolation that have arisen on the back of Covid.

“Achieving that would not have been possible without the support of The National Lottery - it’s critical.”

National Lottery players raise more than £30 million a week for arts, education, environment, health, heritage, sport, and voluntary projects across the UK; see the difference it’s making near you at

** NB: Research conducted on behalf of The National Lottery Community Fund by Savanta ComRes between 2nd and 28th November 2022, amongst 8,968 UK adults, including 625 in Northern Ireland, weighted to be representative of UK adults by gender, age, region, social grade and ethnicity. 8,059 UK adults were previously surveyed between 7th and 22nd September 2021 and 7,009 UK adults were interviewed between 27th November and 8th December 2020.