ARDS and North Down Council has been strongly criticised for rejecting a funding bid for Holywood’s popular May Day Festival just days before it took place.

    Over 10,000 people flooded into the town on Monday for the one-day event, oblivious to the funding drama which almost forced the cancellation of the Festival.

    The council waited until just four days before the Festival to reject an application for £4,000 from Holywood District Community Council (HDCC). With the event hanging in the balance, an appeal was heard on Friday which overturned the decision and released the money.

    The funding problems have attracted criticism from local politicians of all parties while a spokeswoman for the Community Council said the stress of the situation came close to ‘breaking’ the group.

    What has particularly annoyed the local community group is that it is the second year in succession that a funding bid to the council for the May Day Festival has been refused.

    Last year the funding application was turned down almost two weeks after the Festival took place and the appeal against the refusal was eventually successful – in October.

    The Merry May Day event, which is organised by HDCC in partnership with the council, includes the crowning of the May Queen and dancing by local schoolchildren around Ireland’s only historic maypole. It is recognised as a vital day for Holywood businesses.

    The HDCC volunteers had applied for a grant from Ards and North Down council’s Events And Festivals Fund but were turned down, a decision described by local councillor Martin McRandal as ‘ludicrous’.

    The volunteers said such was the pressure they faced in the days running up to the event, they feared the council would ‘break’ their community and volunteer led organisation.

    Following this week’s ‘amazing’ May Day celebration, Louise Green, HDCC committee member, called for the council to work with community groups and volunteers and to provide an earlier funding application submission date in future.

    She said: “We are in a society where we are supposed to be supporting volunteering and the community but they (the council) have nearly on two occasions broken a community volunteer led organisation. We do not want any animosity, we want to be able to enjoy what we do.

    “Everybody works as a team. We are an entirely voluntary organisation and have been running for 40 years but we have been pushed to the brink of closure over this funding,” said Louise.

    “This really needs looked at, we can’t go through this again. Forty eight hours before this year’s May Day event and the event was at risk.

    “I was talking to people at the event and they are saying ‘you are doing a great job’ but they don’t know the real pressure the group has been under.”

    She thanked the local business community for their May Day support. “It is 2023 and businesses are struggling to survive and May Day was a bit of a lifeline for shops and cafes and was probably their best day of trade.”

    Marilyn Toogood, another committee member, said the group had bills to pay and was trying to juggle suppliers.

    “It had a knock-on effect on people waiting to pay their bills,” she said.

    To add insult to injury for the group, the council charged it £800 to close the road to allow the Maypole dance rehearsal.

    “So they (the council) turned the grant down and said you owe us £800 to close the road,” said Marilyn.

    Sarah Aston, the chairwoman of HDCC, explained that volunteers had attended application workshops in a bid to follow the council’s good practice guidelines following last year’s funding rejection.

    However, after learning that this year’s funding application had also been refused the community volunteers turned to local councillors for help who unanimously supported them.

    Ards and North Down Council issues a brief statement in response to the criticism from the Festival organisers and local politicians.

    “Holywood District Community Council submitted an appeal to council on Thursday, April 27 at 6pm. In response to this, council officers coordinated an appeal panel the following day, at which the grant application was reviewed.

     “The outcome of this panel discussion was that additional points were awarded to Holywood District Community Council and therefore the group has now been approved to receive grant funding. Monies will be credited to the group on receipt of invoices/receipts for the May Day event in Holywood.”