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Older people joining the ‘circus’ thanks to National Lottery funding

Older people across Northern Ireland are getting the chance to learn circus skills like juggling and plate spinning, all while making new friends, keeping active, gaining new skills and having fun, thanks to funding raised by National Lottery players.

Streetwise Community Circus has been awarded £195,520 from The National Lottery Community Fund, as part of a roll-out of more than £2 million across Northern Ireland. A total of 46 grants ranging from £500 to £500,000 have been awarded to a range of projects including those that support children with cancer, help people with disabilities become more independent and bring people together through events like a community cinema or a ploughing match.

Streetwise Community Circus runs workshops by skilled performers to improve the physical and mental health of people who may be isolated or vulnerable, by bringing them together to learn circus skills. Their Age-ility Circus Project funded over the next four years is open to anyone aged over 55.

Jim Webster from Streetwise Community Circus, said: “We have been running a really successful group for older people in Belfast where there’s a woman in her late eighties who’s gone from thinking she couldn’t juggle to constantly practising ball tricks and a 70-year-old who now enjoys stilt walking. These are just two people who we’ve taught that age and even health issues don’t have to be a barrier to learning new, life-affirming skills and having fun with a group of people similar to you.

“We knew how much the older people got from the Belfast group and we wanted to benefit others, particularly those who may be isolated in more rural areas. We first received £10,000 from the National Lottery Community Fund in 2019 which allowed us to pilot a programme to develop partnerships to expand into four new areas. We are now absolutely delighted to receive nearly £200,000 of National Lottery money which will help make this programme become a reality for the next four years, allowing us to reach older people in other parts of NI.

“I was just 24 when I discovered circus performing and it changed my life. I’m a juggler, stilt walker, unicyclist and ladder balancer, but passing these skills on to other people is perhaps the biggest thrill of all.

“Social benefits are important, as people can become very isolated in later years, especially if they are caring for a loved one. We work with people with dementia and their carers as part of the project, and while people can be nervous at the start, soon they’re laughing and making friends.”

One of the new groups made possible through the National Lottery funding has been set up in Tamlaght in Co Fermanagh. Before that, Nicholas Watts, 71, travelled from his home near Enniskillen to the group in Belfast every week. He’s delighted to be able to take part closer to home: “The Age-ility Project has really changed my life. I’ve got a completely new interest and it has given me a real sense of improved mental wellbeing, which filters through into the rest of my life. Both myself and my wife Rosemary really look forward to Fridays in Belfast and now Mondays in Tamlaght. It’s great we can both go and enjoy this together too.

“In addition to the physical activity and circus skills part of it, we thoroughly enjoy socialising with the rest of the group. We love the craic, everyone is always laughing and enjoying themselves while trying to get things right. It is something different for people to try and I am so glad that I did.”

Kate Beggs, The National Lottery Community Fund Northern Ireland Director, said: “Our experience of working with communities is that when you listen, people have amazing ideas to make things better and to change people’s lives in their own area. It is great to see the diverse work being done through projects funded by National Lottery money.

“Whether it’s small pots of funding or larger grants, people are being brought together to make good things happen and change lives. When people take the lead and develop their own great ideas, communities really do thrive. I want to say thanks to all The National Lottery players who have helped make this possible.”

For more information on applying for National Lottery funding, please visit If you have an idea you would like to discuss or need guidance please call The National Lottery Community Fund on 028 9055 1455 or email

Grants table

Notes to Editors

  • We are the largest community funder in the UK – we’re proud to award money raised by National Lottery players to communities across England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland. Since June 2004, we have made over 200,000 grants and awarded over £9 billion to projects that have benefited millions of people.
  • We are passionate about funding great ideas that matter to communities and make a difference to people’s lives. At the heart of everything we do is the belief that when people are in the lead, communities thrive. Thanks to the support of National Lottery players, our funding is open to everyone. We’re privileged to be able to work with the smallest of local groups right up to UK-wide charities, enabling people and communities to bring their ambitions to life.
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