By Ben Hart, Storybeat

A retired train conductor from Coleraine who suffered with severe depression is now determined to make a difference to others around him thanks to the help of a National Lottery-funded project supporting communities bearing the brunt of the cost-of-living pressures. 

Stephen O’Hara is back on his feet delivering food to those in the Coleraine community who are struggling to make ends meet, despite struggling to pay his own bills.  

After crucial support from the Northern Ireland National Lottery-funded charity Be Safe Be Well, O’Hara is now eager to make a difference himself and seek to help others through hard times.

Be Safe Be Well runs Men’s Sheds across the Causeway Coast and Glens Borough Council area which improve the health and well-being of men aged over 25. 

They are using a £500,000 grant from The National Lottery Community Fund, the largest funder of community activity in the UK, over four years to continue to support existing Men’s Sheds across Coleraine, as well as set up a new shed in the Laurel Hill area. 

These sheds provide a safe, positive, inclusive and creative community space. Members can socialise, learn new skills, receive counselling and peer support, and be more involved in their community. 

This leads to reduced isolation, increased confidence, improved health and opportunities to get involved in the management and delivery of elements of the shed.

Thanks to National Lottery players, the money has helped some of the most vulnerable people impacted by the cost-of-living crisis 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%).

O’Hara, who runs a men’s group to help with depression and also drops food parcels for up to 100 people a week, believes projects like Be Safe Be Well are of the utmost importance to communities.

He said: “I wasn't able to get out of bed for a while, but I found that helping somebody else helped me to feel better.” 

“I’ve had depression myself, so I know what it’s like and can help those when running the men’s group with depression.

“I've encountered people that have no heating. I know one mother of three who has no oil in her car and hasn't done for about six months. She had no money and the food cupboards were empty.

“If I wasn't doing what I am with the food drops, there would a lot more people struggling. 

“I worry that people won’t see a way out, and will really hurt themselves, either turning to alcohol or taking their own life.”

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 crisis. 

Organisations throughout the UK facing increased demands, challenges, and hardships as a direct result of the crisis 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, environment, and sports sectors during these challenging times. 

Stephen O’Hara could not be more grateful to National Lottery players and hopes the impact of the funding across all corners of the nation can continue to make a difference.

He added: “I think the Men’s Sheds are really important, because if we weren’t around, there wouldn't be that interaction between men. 

“The impact on the community would be very negative. For example, we have people with learning difficulties come in and they’re treated like everybody else.  They have fun, do something positive, something creative, like helping to build a bench.

“I encourage certain men to go there because if they don’t, they sit at home wasting away. But they go there and they enjoy themselves.

“It’s like an extended family. On some of the most miserable days of the year you will find men from the group working out in the cold and rain just to get that camaraderie and to chat. 

“The boys’ mental health has been so good because of that.”

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