A new community enterprise shop opened in Ballymena this week, stocking arts and crafts made by local people.
‘The Window – Bringing Community Ideas to Life’ is operated by Bann Maine West Community Cluster in the Northern Zone Social Enterprise Hub premises on the corner of Bridge Street and Castle Street.
The shop - managed by LEDCOM - will be open two to three days per week and is one of 11 hubs established across the nine Social Investment Zones under the Northern Ireland Executive’s Delivering Social Change Framework.
The Window will also be an area where people can come in to find out more information about what is going on in the local area and attend workshops and other events.
It’s also an opportunity to raise the profile of the communities within the Bann Maine West cluster including Cloney, Cullybackey, Grange, Hillstown, Portglenone and Tullygarley.
With £4 million of funding from the Executive’s Delivering Social Change Fund, the Social Enterprise Hub Signature Programme tackles poverty, dereliction and unemployment by encouraging social enterprise business start-up within local communities.
Joanne Brown Kerr, Development Officer for Bann Maine West, said : “It’s a tremendous opportunity for us to trial a retail outlet that has the potential to bring in finance to support the work that we are doing in the community.
“The Window will be staffed by volunteers from seven rural community groups – our cluster has really pulled together and we would never have been able to achieve anything like this without working in partnership. We have some wonderful unique products created by our own local people that would make ideal gifts.”
Mayor of Mid and East Antrim Councillor Billy Ashe said: ”I am very pleased to attend the launch of this dynamic community enterprise initiative by the Northern Zone Social Enterprise Hub.
“It will allow members of no less than seven separate community development associations across the Bann Maine West Community Cluster to work together on this enterprise, with the aim of improving communities at grass roots level where it matters most.
“I commend the volunteers from the various associations for their hard work and welcome the overall initiative that is in itself designed to empower local communities by ‘opening a window’ on the start of something new and exciting.”
Ken Nelson, from the Northern Zone Social Enterprise Hub, added: “The Hub is an important catalyst supporting social enterprise within this large region which includes four council areas – Mid and East Antrim, Antrim and Newtownabbey, Mid Ulster and Causeway Coast and Glens.
“This new enterprise demonstrates how the hub initiative supports local communities to develop entrepreneurial spirit and respond to the needs and wishes of people and industry in the region.”
The community cluster concept was initiated by Ballymena Borough Council in 2010.
Bann Maine West is one of four clusters and members are Cloney Rural Development Association, Cullybackey Development Association, Cullybackey Improvement Association, Grange Cross Community Association, Hillstown Rural Community Group, Portglenone Enterprise Group and Tullygarley Residents and District Association with the Lead Partner being Portglenone Enterprise Group.
All involved with Bann Maine West are volunteers apart from one part time development officer.
Successes have included attracting almost £200,000 into the Bann Maine West area, an ongoing successful Lunch & Learn programme for older people and youth initiatives.
Bann Maine West also work closely with the other Clusters and are currently in the process of developing community wind turbines with generated income coming straight into local community initiatives.
Joanne added: “It’s important for community groups to look at alternative sources of finance and not to be wholly reliant on grants in today’s economic situation.
“Our cluster is forward-thinking and we are excited to be opening this shop in the centre of Ballymena. We hope people will call in and see what we have to offer.”
The shop stocks a range of unique gift products including handcrafted wooden candlesticks, bowls, goblets, pens and cutting boards.
There are paintings created by two local art clubs, gorgeous renovated vintage furniture, handmade jewellery, blankets and bed spreads as well as small craft items like cards and plaques.
In addition to the handcrafted items there is also a range of beautiful new handbags and scarves, as well as used books for sale.
For more information on the shop, products or volunteering opportunities, don’t hesitate to get in touch with Joanne on either 028 2588 2281 or 07866408092. Information is also available on www.bannmainewest.co.uk or its Facebook page.