By Neil McKnight

The North Antrim disabled community has been dealt a huge blow with the shock folding of a local support group.

Relatives of those aided by the Ballymoney Friends of the Disabled told of their sadness as the group held a farewell Christmas party in the town at the weekend.

The group had been running for around 32 years, providing much-needed entertainment and light relief for disabled people and their relatives.

On Saturday around 50 to 60 disabled children and adults gathered at the Ballymoney Royal British Legion club to enjoy the party, but celebrations were tinged with gloom as it also marked the end of an area.

Organisers blamed a lack of funding and volunteers, and too much red tape for bringing about the group’s unfortunate demise.

Acting president Joan Walker said: “It’s our Christmas and last party of the year - and the last party of the group on Saturday.

“We are sad to close but there’s too much bureaucracy, health and safety.

“We raised the money but the government never gave us any.

“There’s a lack of funding and lack of volunteers.”

The group held parties and presented gifts four times a year at Christmas, Easter, Halloween and in the summer for its members.

It also sent in gifts when people were in hospital.

Mrs Walker said that under regulations the group needed one volunteer to mind five disabled people and with around 60 people to be looked after it “got too much”.

She said: “They always enjoyed our parties but if anything happened in our care we would be in terrible trouble.

“But it used to be not as bad until all this bureaucracy came in.”

Mrs Walker thanked the Royal British Legion members for their kindness.

She said: “They were very good and they provided soft drinks for the parties.

The voluntary group was supported through donations and fundraisers and Mrs Walker also praised the “Ballymoney Darts Club and Ballymoney Motoring Club for their support”.

Treasurer and long-standing member Jimmy Morrison lamented the end of the group.

He said: “Well it’s just one of those things; a lack of continuity from committee members, a lack of funding and too much bureaucracy.

“Fundraising is really tight at the minute. We struggled through last year and it’s just got too much.

“It’s sad but what can you do? Things just came to an end.