It's been a busy few months since the new boss of Wicklow Rural Partnership took up the reins at the beginning of the year, and it looks set to get busier still when the new Leader programme kicks into action.
Wexford native Brian Kehoe was appointed programme manager with WRP back in January, taking over from the popular Jim Healy, and will be overseeing the implementation of Leader Plus, the successor to Leader 1 and Leader 2.
Once again, this Leader programme will be aimed at encouraging and promoting rural-based initiatives and enterprises and Wicklow Rural Partnership have a budget of over ?4.5 million to allocate to successful applicants.
This time around, the European Commission (which provides the money) asked all such groups around the country to pick a specific theme for their upcoming programme and the one picked by WRP was 'Quality of Life', for 2002-2006.
'Anything we do is supposed to improve the quality of life for people in Wicklow in some way', explains Brian Kehoe. 'That can be as broad or as narrow as you want it to be.'
The process of accepting applications will begin next month and the length of time taken to process each application will vary. 'It depends on what stage the applications themselves are at when they come in. In some cases they'll be ready to go and in others we'll need to do a certain amount of work with them.'
Projects which will be considered for funding by WRP will come under a wide variety of headings, such as rural enterprise, crafts, forestry, fishing, training, analysis and development, environment-enhancement, and more. In addition, about 25 percent of the total budget will be set aside for agri-tourism/rural tourism initiatives.
Youth and women
'There's a greater focus this time around on youth and women', comments the programme manager, 'which is probably true across the board with European projects.' Another theme running through the Leader Plus project is innovation - it's expected that successful applications will have an innovative product or service or even just an innovative approach to something.