Q&A with Community Foundation for Northern Ireland Trustee, Suzanne Lagan

Foundation News

Q&A with Community Foundation for Northern Ireland Trustee, Suzanne Lagan

10 Jun 2024

How did you get involved with the Community Foundation for Northern Ireland?

My first experience of CFNI was taking part in a giving circle in 2016. The ‘Circle of Change’ was a group of people from different walks of life, meeting every month, exploring some of the biggest issues facing the communities we lived in and what each of us perceived as some of the biggest issues. Ultimately it was a discussion about how we could help. Having only recently moved back to Northern Ireland after over 10 years, the ‘Circle of Change’, facilitated by the Community Foundation for Northern Ireland, was a great opportunity to gain a deeper understanding of the breadth of issues facing different communities and a real eye opener thanks to the diversity of the group who brought so much to the discussions.

Each of us reached out to our own circles of family and friends. We explained what we were doing and asked for donations to our central pot. This was before we even agreed where the money would be allocated. We met with various groups that had been identified, and who had applied for funding, in the end distributing ten grants to projects right across Belfast. The fields these groups worked in included mental health, bereavement, homelessness, and addiction. As a Trustee and donor of the Community Foundation a highlight has been the chance to learn about many of the projects being supported through such initiatives.

What are giving circles and how do they work? 

Giving circles are a great way to connect with new people. Anyone can take part or set one up in a format that works best for you. The Community Foundation can, of course, help you to do this. You don’t need to raise or donate huge sums but the more people who take part, the more opportunity to raise money and awareness of the issues you’re trying to address.

What aspect of your work with the Community Foundation have you found most rewarding? 

I’ve been fortunate to learn about other great work being funded by CFNI whether through a zoom call on Giving Tuesday (the perfect antidote to Black Friday) or hearing first-hand from project workers presenting at a Trustee meeting. These provide unique opportunities to get a deeper understanding of what’s happening in a particular area, be it geographically or issue-wise, and what can or should be done to make improvements.

More recently, my husband and I were delighted to be part of a panel for the New Voices Fund. Organisations took part in a capacity-building programme, including a mentoring scheme and up-skilling opportunities, that ultimately aims to enable the projects to realise their full potential through accessing networks, funding and other support. We were blown away by the projects and those who worked on them, many of whom were volunteers who dedicated so much of their time to helping their communities.

The New Voices Fund was more than just a funding opportunity for projects, it was a chance to hear from, and celebrate, the individuals who drive change in our communities through their campaigning, fundraising and face-to-face support services, often in very testing circumstances. This was in an uncertain political climate when many families are struggling financially. Connecting in this way with the work that the Community Foundation supports is humbling and essential. It reaffirms my admiration for the selfless support our colleagues provide.

Are there any projects or grantees that have particularly stood out to you? 

One of the many projects that stood out was NI Connect. They offer a haven for people to come together in a safe space, forge new friendships and support each other. It was interesting to hear about some of the people whose lives had changed through having such a place and it is not surprising to learn that this fantastic model will soon be rolled out to other places across the UK.

Another incredible project we heard from was Rainbow Refugees NI, started by a few people who identified the glaring gap of support on offer to newly arrived refugees to NI. Often having fled because of their sexual orientation, many continue to be exposed to danger here too. Rainbow Refugees NI was originally set up to support a group of LGBTQIA+ refugees, asylum seekers and allies to take part in Belfast Pride 2022, offering a safe space to come together and make masks for Pride in the months leading up to the event with a clear message that Refugees are Welcome! It was great to see them winning best entrant at Pride Awards. The group continues to grow as more members see the value of having a safe space to meet others to learn, help overcome feelings of loneliness and enjoy themselves.


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