Community wellness centre and social farm An Tobar, based in south Armagh, has been named the 2022 National Lottery Northern Ireland Project of the Year.
The facility in Silverbridge, which aims to connect people with nature in order to improve their health, was presented with the award by comedian and actor Ardal O’Hanlon.
It was formed by sisters Margaret Finnegan and Kathleen Finnegan-Agnew in April 2018 and is based on their farm, a 40-acre site that has been in their mother’s family for at least 300 years.
Funding from The National Lottery helps them allow visitors to enjoy their woodland, learn new skills and gain health benefits from outdoor activity and connecting with nature.
In addition, it developed interactive trails exploring the natural and cultural heritage of the area and covered the costs of outdoor classrooms with 450+ primary school children experiencing Brian’s Wood. A group of young people completed the John Muir environmental award, while young adults with disabilities installed the signage and helped with maintenance of paths.
The Brian’s Wood Heritage Project enhanced access to the wood, where more than 13500 native trees have been planted and features include four poetry trails, depictions of native wildlife and etching plates.
Ardal O’Hanlon said: “I was bowled over by An Tobar. It’s a fantastic facility in a special setting which uses nature to help improve mental health and well-being.
“I found the woodland poetry trails particularly inspiring, tapping into history and heritage to promote hope and healing.
“It’s clear that this visionary project has had a positive impact on the community and beyond and it was an honour to present them with their National Lottery Award.”
Margaret Finnegan said: “We are delighted to have won this award and are honoured to have received this recognition.
“Our National Lottery funded project hosted 60 nature-based and cultural heritage workshops, increase access to our woods and create a new website and interactive learning materials to promote the wood’s heritage to an even wider audience.
“We would like to thank everyone who voted for us and National Lottery players for making our work possible.”
Dr Paul Mullan, director of The National Lottery Heritage Fund in Northern Ireland, added: “The rich natural and cultural heritage in Brian’s Wood is a wonderful environment for learning and exploration.
“At An Tobar they have ensured their beautiful surroundings are not only preserved but are celebrated and accessible for everyone.
“National Lottery players, who raise more than £30 million for good causes every week, should be very proud to have helped support this wonderful project. I congratulate all at An Tobar on their award, which is fully deserved.”
The National Lottery Awards celebrate the achievements of the inspirational people and projects who do extraordinary things with the help of National Lottery funding.
More than 1,300 nominations were received in this year’s campaign and An Tobar emerged the Northern Ireland winner following a public vote in September.
An Tobar received a National Lottery grant of £61,900 from The National Lottery Heritage Fund in May 2021.