350 sports clubs and organisations have applied for financial assistance through the Department for Communities Hardship Fund for Sport since the scheme was launched on Monday.

The £500,000 fund, managed by SportNI, aims to provide financial assistance through a £2000 grant to sports clubs and organisations to assist with essential overheads and the costs of maintaining their facilities during the Covid-19 lockdown period.

Communities Minister Deirdre Hargey said: “I am aware that the level of demand for financial relief through the Hardship Fund for Sport has been exceptional with over 350 applications having been received since it opened on 14 April. I have previously said that, while we want to do as much as we can for the sector, we always knew that this Fund would not meet the needs of everyone in the sport sector.

“In order to meet that huge scale in demand I am pleased that the initial funding of £500,000 has been increased by a further £250,000 through the reallocation of exchequer funding from Sport NI programmes.

“The level of demand for the scheme is exceptional and shows that there is a significant need across the sports sector at this time. The funding will go a long way to ensuring that clubs and organisations continue to exist, that facilities are maintained and that the sector is ready when the lockdown restrictions start to be relaxed.”

Such is the level of interest in the scheme that it has had to be suspended to allow for the backlog of applications to be assessed. The hope is that it can be reopened, but that decision will be made in due course.

The Minister added: “The success of the scheme has however financial implications and I regret that for now the scheme has had to be suspended pending the assessment of those applications that have already been submitted. The suspension of the scheme will be kept under review and I would hope, subject to additional funding becoming available, to be able to open the scheme again in the future.”

Sport NI confirmed their budget for the scheme had been exhausted just days after it was launch and was left with no option to suspend it until added funds can be found, but those applications that have been received and meet the criteria will be honoured.

“Sport Northern Ireland regrets to announce that we have reluctantly taken the decision to suspend new applications to the Sports Hardship Fund pending confirmation of additional funding,” said Chief Executive Officer, Antoinette McKeown, in a statement.

“By lunchtime on Thursday 16 April, the number of applications received had exhausted our confirmed budget. We would like to assure anyone who has already submitted an application that we have begun to process those already and expect to begin making initial payments to eligible applicants, over the next five working days. We will honour all eligible applications currently in our system.

“We recognise the huge contribution that your club, and so many other sport clubs and organisations, are making on a daily basis to provide community resilience through the current emergency and the unique challenges that the current essential public health restrictions present to you in maintaining your club and facilities.

“We would like to reassure you that we are working closely with the Department for Communities to identify and secure additional funding for the Sports Hardship Fund and will update this webpage at the earliest possible opportunity.”