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Skills and thrills of the circus giving Belfast's over-55s a new zest for life thanks to lottery handout

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People learning circus skills with Streetwise Community Circus

People learning circus skills with Streetwise Community Circus

� Ronan McGrade / www.ronanmcgr

Nicholas and Rosemary Watts are among those learning circus skills with Streetwise Community Circus

Nicholas and Rosemary Watts are among those learning circus skills with Streetwise Community Circus

� Ronan McGrade / www.ronanmcgr

People learning circus skills with Streetwise Community Circus

A stilt-walking 70-something and a lady just shy of 90 who just can't stop practising her juggling skills - those are just some of the people benefiting from circus lessons for older people in Belfast.

The weekly circus workshops aimed at improving the health and wellbeing of older people, are rolling out to other parts of Northern Ireland with the help of a National Lottery grant worth almost £200,000.

Nicholas Watts (71) is delighted, as he and wife Rosemary will be able to attend each week - both in Belfast and in their home village of Tamlaght, Co Fermanagh.

"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," said Nicholas of the programme managed by Streetwise Community Circus.

The circus has been awarded £195,520 from the National Lottery Community Fund to pay for the programme and its expansion over the next four years.

"In addition to the physical activity and circus skills part of it, we thoroughly enjoy socialising with the rest of the group," Nicholas said. "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."

The funding for the circus project for over-55s is part of more than £2m to be disbursed to various groups in Northern Ireland.

Close to 50 grants from £500 to £500,000 have been awarded to a range of projects, from children with cancer, independence learning for the disabled, a community cinema, even a ploughing match.

The Streetwise Community Circus project aims to "improve the physical and mental health of people who may be isolated or vulnerable, by bringing them together to learn circus skills," according to the group.

"We have been running a really successful group for older people in Belfast where there's a woman in her late 80s who's gone from thinking she couldn't juggle to constantly practising ball tricks and a 70-year-old who now enjoys stilt-walking," said Jim Webster from Streetwise Community Circus.

"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. 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."

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."

Among the major awards are £471,540 to CLIC Sargent Cancer Care for Children and just over £497,000 to the 'Together We Thrive' youth mentoring project in Armagh, Banbridge and Craigavon run by Reconciliation Education and Community Training (REACT).

Belfast Telegraph