STRICTLY Come Dancing star Neil Jones, who struggled with homelessness as a teenager, is highlighting the incredible support National Lottery-funded homeless projects have provided to people across Northern Ireland in the last 10 years.

The 31-year-old professional dancer is now a regular fixture on screens across the UK, but a few years ago he was in a very different position and, for a brief time, he even found himself sleeping rough on the streets.

With Christmas fast approaching, Neil is helping to highlight the extensive funding and support The National Lottery has provided to homelessness projects over the last decade.

And has joined forces with Northern Irish homeless charities Street Soccer NI and Simon Community NI.

Hillingdon Times: Strictly Come Dancing star Neil Jones has opened up about his own battles with homelessness as a teenagerStrictly Come Dancing star Neil Jones has opened up about his own battles with homelessness as a teenager

Strictly Come Dancing star Neil Jones said: “With winter upon us and Christmas just around the corner, now is the perfect time of year to spare a thought for those who don’t have a home to go to or have somewhere safe, comfortable and warm to sleep over the festive period.

“It’s tough to think about the difficult things they’re going through at this time of year because it’s such a time of joy for most of us, but it’s important to recognise that there are so many people out there who really do need our help.

“Thankfully, there are countless incredible charities and organisations doing some really incredible work supporting homeless people across the UK with National Lottery funding.

“Having experienced homelessness, myself, I know just how crucial that kind of support is. I’m incredibly thankful to have made it through that dark period in my life, but this Christmas I hope people will take a moment to think about those who are still experiencing such challenges.”

The National Lottery Community Fund, the largest funder of community activity in the UK, alone has awarded more than 600 grants worth around £80 million to projects that involve homeless people since the start of the Coronavirus pandemic.

Hillingdon Times: Street Soccer NI is a charity that supports people who experienced homelessness with a shared love for footballStreet Soccer NI is a charity that supports people who experienced homelessness with a shared love for football

Street Soccer NI is a charity set up for the disadvantaged groups of society such as the homeless, people with addictions, mental health issues, ex-prisoners, refugees, asylum seekers and long term unemployed. It aims to bring positive change to people’s lives using football.

While Simon Community NI works without judgement to support people who are experiencing or are at risk of homelessness. A £500,000 National Lottery grant means the group can work with homeless people living in Simon Community accommodation providing individual support and counselling as well as group sessions.

The service will provide specialist support to address issues such as drug and alcohol abuse to help people return to live fulfilling lives in their communities while helping others reach a level of stability and begin to access the treatment they require.

CEO and co-founder of Street Soccer Northern Ireland Justin McMinn said: “The funding from the National Lottery has helped us develop volunteers, to make them more effective in the role in training.

Obviously, a lot of our players still have problems and there’s a lot of work involved. The funding helps us to get them to a better place, and then they can become volunteers with us, implementing the skills that we’ve taught them to help others.”

Chief Executive of the Simon Community NI since January 2014, Jim Dennison said: “We reached out to the National Lottery to help and support and provide better care for people that come to us. They’re falling through the net of the health services, so the Lottery allowed us to try something new, innovative and different to help people with complex issues. It’s worked brilliantly and it’s been life changing for people, it absolutely has.”

Since 2010, more than half a billion pounds (over £576 million) has been awarded to more than 3,000 projects that involve or support homeless people or help tackle homelessness throughout the UK.

Many people sadly won’t be spending the holidays in comfort and safety this year, and charities have warned that the “double threat” of coronavirus and cold weather is likely to prove fatal for some homeless people this winter.

With the support of National Lottery funding however, many organisations and charities are providing immediate and much needed help for thousands of homeless people throughout the year, including this critical time of year.

National Lottery funding helps to support homeless people in countless vital ways, whether it’s providing them with essentials such as shelter and food, helping them onto the employment ladder, or providing crucial services to improve their mental health and well-being.

Hillingdon Times: Street Soccer NI co-founder Justin McMinn is proud to be supported by the National LotteryStreet Soccer NI co-founder Justin McMinn is proud to be supported by the National Lottery

David Knott, Chief Executive of The National Lottery Community Fund, said: “Thanks to National Lottery players, we are able to provide much-needed funding to incredible organisations that are making an important difference to people experiencing homelessness or at risk of homelessness. Whether supporting people experiencing homelessness to improve prospects for employment, supporting with mental health or providing a safe place where people can build their confidence and self-esteem, dedicated groups and their volunteers are working tirelessly with the homeless community, so that they are better able to overcome challenges and hopefully go on to prosper and thrive.”

Thanks to National Lottery players, more than £30 million goes to good causes across the UK every week, which in turn helps charities and organisations which support homeless people in our communities. To find out more about National Lottery funding go to