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Celebration event marks SOAR’s £12 million investment in rural areas

More than £12 million has been spent on rural development programmes across Counties Armagh and Down under the SOAR initiative.

And Agriculture Minister Michelle O’Neill has hailed the success of the Southern Organisation for Action in Rural Areas (SOAR) in boosting the local rural economy during a celebratory event at the Armagh City Hotel.

SOAR is the delivery agent for the Rural Development Programme within the Armagh, Craigavon and Newry and Mourne Council area and has so far supported local rural projects worth over £12million.

Minister O’Neill said: “It is encouraging to see the vast, and very diverse, range of projects which have been delivered by SOAR.

“In total, 267 projects have benefited from Axis 3 monies, with over 200 new rural jobs being created. Job creation is a key focus for SOAR and this figure will continue to rise as projects complete. This is a fantastic achievement. These new jobs offer a real opportunity to grow our rural economy and will help make the SOAR area a more attractive and prosperous place to live, work and invest.”

Craigavon Borough Council is the lead administrative body in the partnership with Armagh and Newry Councils. They are responsible for the delivery of the contract to the Department of Agriculture and Rural Development (DARD).

The Rural Development Programme 2007-2013 was made up of six measures including: diversification into non-agricultural activities (Farm Diversification); business creation and development; encouragement of tourism activities; basic services for the economy and rural population; village renewal; and development, conservation and upgrading of the rural heritage to which funding could be awarded.

Under the encouragement of tourism activity measure, just over £1.8 million of grant aid has been awarded and this has not only improved tourist facilities for years to come it has also dramatically increased visitor numbers.

The Minister went on to say: “Our rural tourism sector has also been boosted by the various initiatives supported under the tourism measure, with over 130,000 additional tourist visits recorded in the same rural area over the course of the programme.

“Our rural villages have been revitalised, rural businesses have had the opportunity to grow, communities have gained from improved rural services, and farmers have taken the opportunity to diversify.”

The delivery of this programme has been overseen by dedicated volunteers on the Local Action Group comprising of elected members and social representatives.

Sinn Féin MLA Mickey Brady has commended the work SOAR.

He said: “SOAR recently marked the achievement of over £12.5 million spend on local rural projects, and I commend all involved in this work which ensures the economic and social sustainability of all our rural areas.

“For example under the Encouragement of Tourism Activity Measure just over £1.8 million of grant aid has been awarded and this has not only improved tourist facilities for years to come but has also dramatically increased visitor number by 132,354 tourist visits.”

Pictured at the event in Armagh City Hotel are Armagh Lord Mayor Cathy Rafferty, Newry and Armagh MLA Mickey Brady and Agriculture Minister Michelle O’Neill.

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