Voluntary and Community Sector Support Programme - Infrastructure and Capacity Reference Group

To assist in the development of refreshed policy and funding frameworks for our voluntary and community sector support, we have carried out extensive engagement at different locations throughout NI over the past few months. We have engaged with people from a wide range of organisations, to draw together their collective experiences, understand key priorities and needs, listen to ideas and opinions, and add voice and input to help us to shape future programmes for whom the refresh will deliver. 


In addition to seeking views from sectoral representatives and ensuring broad representation across stakeholder groups, a reference group has also been established. Reference group members discussed the outcomes of engagement sessions, providing specific focus on certain topics and offer general advice.

Reference group members comprise of a range of sectoral interests, through which we will draw on lived experience, expertise, and knowledge, and together explore a range of insights and ideas in the design of new approaches.

We have worked closely with this group, representing a cross-section of interests from the Voluntary and Community Sector, alongside local government, DAERA colleagues, and other funders.

A list of reference group members are noted below:

Organisation Member
Age NI Eithne Gilligan
Dep Paschal McKeown
Ballynafeigh Community Development Association Gerry Tubritt
Community Development Networks Forum (CDNF) Cathy Polley
Community Foundation of Northern Ireland (CFNI) Orla Black
Consortium of 6 Independent Volunteer Centres Ashleen Schenning
Department of Agriculture, Environment and Rural Affairs (DAERA) Ciaran McLaughlin, Rural Affairs Division (West)
Derry City and Strabane District Council (DCSDC) Barry O Hagan
Dep Teresa Bradley
Falls Community Council Gerry McConville
Funders Forum NI Brenda McMullan
Greater Shantallow Area Partnership (GSAP) Rory McParland
Mid Ulster Council Philip Clarke
Northern Ireland Council for Voluntary Action (NICVA) Una McKernan
Resurgam Trust Adrian Bird
Rural Community Network (RCN) Kate Clifford
The National Lottery Community Fund (TLNCF) Alison Fraser
The Antrim Down and Armagh Rural Support Network (TADA) Diane Ewart
The Rainbow Project John O’Doherty
Volunteer Now Denise Hayward
Dep Jane Gribben
Women’s Support Network (WSN) Karen Sweeney
Women’s Resource and Development Agency (WRDA) Anne McVicker


11 September 2023

The sixth meeting was in NICVA offices, Belfast. DfC gave a summary of the work of the Reference group to date and a recap on the aims of the review and shared details of the draft Consultation document. In a breakout session, members revisited the headline outcomes and indicative priorities and fed back. A plenary discussion followed on programme level impacts with thoughts on definitions and metrics supporting an understanding the sector, what data was available and where areas where gaps existed. The group was thanked for its interest and contribution each month. DfC advised on next steps: the consultation process and work on commissioning with a potential role for current members of the Reference group to continue having an involvement.

9 August 2023

The fifth meeting was in Clifton House Belfast. DfC gave a brief recap of the work to date, including updates on the draft vision and outcomes. There was a presentation on draft priorities for investment, delivery partners and principles for how to deliver this work. Members took part in two breakout and group discussions to explore and feedback on these priorities. It was agreed to have a further meeting in September.

19 June 2023

The fourth meeting of the reference group was held in Seamus Heaney Homeplace, Magherafelt. Members were presented analysis from the survey which focused on the profile of the sector, how organisations are operating and strategic priorities for support. There was a breakout session to discuss the survey findings. DfC also introduced a draft vision and outcomes framework. There was also a breakout and group discussion to respond to this draft text.

17 May 2023

The third meeting was held in East Belfast Network Centre. DfC gave a brief overview of the engagement sessions, noting those which had already taken place and those which are still to happen. There was also an overview of the headline challenges and an exploration of a potential vision statement and supporting outcomes. Members took part in a breakout session and subsequent group discussion looking at key questions under each of the four functions of infrastructure. There was also a discussion on how to target future engagement with feedback from the group taken on board.

19 April 2023

The second meeting of the Infrastructure Support Reference Group was held in Lough Neagh Discovery Centre. Members were provided with an overview and update on the first four engagement roundtables. Members also took part in the Mentimeter exercise which was used at the roundtable engagement sessions. DfC provided feedback on sectoral needs and priorities emerging from the engagement and a brief overview of the initial findings from the survey. There was a discussion and feedback on reflections from what we had heard so far. Members were introduced to the ‘four functions of infrastructure support’ – Leadership and voice, collaboration and partnerships, capacity building and volunteering. There was an open discussion on the next stage of engagement with feedback provided.

9 March 2023

The Infrastructure Support Reference Group held its first meeting in Girdwood Hub. There was full attendance across all members who also welcomed and appreciated the opportunity to shape the refresh of our policy framework. Members discussed and agreed the Terms of Reference and members’ expectations. There was also a productive and detailed group discussion on engagement methodologies. The Programme team have taken on board feedback and made appropriate amendments to both the terms of reference and our engagement methodology and have fed this back to all members.

Information on the engagement methods which took place between March and June 2023 is available.

Find out more about the Voluntary and Community Sector Support Programme or the future plans relating to community and voluntary sector infrastructure support.

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