A Liverpool community group that transformed an old flyover, a volunteer-run Scottish arts trail that attracts visitors from far and wide, a Welsh performance space for people affected by mental illness, and a Dublin storytelling group with a difference have all had their achievements recognised at this year’s Epic Awards.

An inspirational reception, hosted by BBC Outreach at MediaCityUK in Salford and funded by Spirit of 2012, saw voluntary arts groups from across the UK and Ireland converge to share their success. Epic Awards is an annual initiative run by Voluntary Arts. The awards shine a spotlight on excellence and achievement in the voluntary and amateur arts, and champion creative cultural participation.

The 2015 winners and runners-up are as follows (NB all group names are hyperlinked to more information):

Friends of the FlyoverWinners

Epic Awards 2015 England Winner – Friends of the Flyover
Rather than see millions wasted on tearing down an ugly, under-used flyover, this innovative group is turning it into a cultural space for everyone to enjoy.

Epic Awards 2015 Ireland Winner – Milk and Cookies
Dublin-based storytelling group, open to all, which meets monthly to share stories both traditional and modern, accompanied by a fun ‘bake-off’.

Epic Awards 2015 Scotland Winner – Kirkcudbright Art and Crafts Trail
A volunteer-led arts trail, which has grown to include over 100 venues filled with work created by over 200 participants – attracting audiences from far and wide.

Epic Awards 2015 Wales Winner – MaDCaff
A pressure-free performance platform in West Wales for musicians and dancers who have been affected by mental illness to share experiences and get creative.

Milk and CookiesRunners-up

England – Cordwainers Garden
A community garden in Hackney, London whose ‘grow a garment’ project saw people create fabric from seed to finished product.

Ireland – Free Wee Library Project
A trail of little outdoor libraries in Donegal, reminiscent of bird boxes, filled with books which readers can borrow and replace with others.

Scotland – DD8 Music
Music group run by volunteers in Kirriemuir, which provides free lessons, jams and recording equipment for young people.

Wales – Photomarathon
Annual, volunteer-led photography event, during which participants take twelve photos on twelve different topics in twelve hours.

Kirkcudbright Arts and Crafts TrailEpic Award for exceptional work with people with disabilities - Kent Association for the Blind Medway Art Group 
Creative group for people with sight impairments that produced a spray-paint graffiti exhibition based at Rochester Cathedral.

Epic Award for exceptional work with young people - DD8 Music
Music group run by volunteers in Kirriemuir, which provides free lessons, jams and recording equipment for young people, and includes them on their board.

People’s Choice Award (voted for by the public) - Knitted Knockers UK
Group of knitters and crocheters coordinating activity online to handmake prostheses for women who have had mastectomies or lumpectomies.

MadCaffPeer Award for Excellence (voted for by the shortlisted groups) - Joint winners

Wee Free Library Project - Project in County Donegal that creates trails of outdoor wooden libraries stocked with donated books.
Crafty Corner – Cross-community craft project in Derry-Londonderry to help unite people from divided communities

The winning groups received their Epic Awards at a reception at MediaCityUK compered by BBC Radio 4 presenter Sheila McClennon, who had this to say about her involvement:

I’m delighted to be involved with the Epic Awards this year. The arts are such a vital part of our lives – now more than ever and this is a wonderful opportunity to celebrate the creativity and hard work of practitioners from all corners of the UK and Ireland. The shortlisted groups are all amazing. Sometimes the simplest ideas are the best - storytelling with cake, transforming an unloved corner of the landscape or giving young people access to music making. But done with energy, imagination, love and not a lot of fanfare - these people have made a real difference to their communities.

Culture Ministers from all five Governments across the UK and Ireland were full of praise for the groups:

Ed Vaizey MP, Minister of State for Culture and the Digital Economy:

Many congratulations to Friends of the Flyover for winning the Epic Award 2015. They can, and should, be very proud indeed for what they have achieved in such a short amount of time. Flyover Fest is a fantastic example of local people working together creatively and with innovation to transform their community through the power of arts and culture. I have seen this happen with other projects in all parts of the country, and it is inspiring to see the effect that taking part in creative cultural activity can have on the lives of people, and the strength and identity of their community.

I am proud to have supported Epic Awards since the first winners' reception in 2011 and I have the greatest respect for all the winners, runners-up and shortlisted groups. They show the positive difference that voluntary arts groups can make across the country.

Carál Ní Chuilín MLA, Minister of Culture, Arts and Leisure:

Congratulations to this year’s winner, Milk and Cookies and also to runner-up, The Free Wee Library Project. These are innovative projects which are more than worthy of this recognition. At the core of all my Department’s activity is a commitment to promote equality and tackle poverty and social exclusion, and I am always excited to hear of projects like this which demonstrate the power the arts have in bringing communities together and initiating positive change. Voluntary and amateur arts are of immeasurable value to our communities. They provide a means to celebrate local identities and strengthen the fabric of communities where cohesion has been eroded. These projects and others like them are operating at the heart of our society and I commend them all and I thank Voluntary Arts Ireland for highlighting and celebrating the work local organisations are doing on the ground.

Heather Humphreys T.D., Minister for Arts, Heritage and the Gaeltacht

The Epic Awards celebrate the best of the voluntary cultural sector across Ireland and the UK. Voluntary arts groups play such an important role in communities across the country, and it is wonderful to see their hard work recognised by these awards. The dedication and innovation of the voluntary sector greatly enhances our culture and helps make the arts more accessible. I would like to congratulate this year’s winners and I hope others will be inspired to get involved in their local arts organisations.

Fiona Hyslop MSP, Cabinet Secretary for Culture and External Affairs

The Voluntary Arts Epic Awards showcase excellent examples of inclusive and local participation in the arts and the initiative and drive of many dedicated volunteers across the country who set up and run thousands of arts and cultural groups. Voluntary arts contribute much to Scotland's rich and varied cultural life and Voluntary Arts Scotland's support helps enable more people to get involved in creative activities. Congratulations to Kirkcudbright Arts and Craft Trail for winning this year's Scotland Epic Award. This cross-art form event each summer has involved the whole community and attracts new visitors to the local area to see for themselves the stunning and vibrant town. The Runner Up of the Scotland Epic Award, DD8 Music- a music recording and rehearsal facility- is led by some truly inspirational young people in the town of Kirriemuir. I wish them all continued success.

Ken Skates AM, Deputy Minister for Culture, Sport & Tourism:

The Welsh Government is immensely supportive of the work undertaken by Voluntary Arts Wales in encouraging the voluntary arts sector in Wales. The annual Epic Awards are a great opportunity to recognise all the important work that goes on in the sector. The success of MaDCaff, in creating a pressure free performance platform for musicians and dancers who have been affected by mental illness, is richly deserving of recognition as part of these prestigious awards. There are serious challenges to having an on-going mental health condition, and in a rural county like Ceredigion it is very easy to become isolated. To have a chance, once a month, to spend time with people who will let you be yourself, and express yourself through creative activities like music and dance, is a valuable and potentially life-changing thing. I am pleased to see this award go to such a richly deserving project and I’m sure MaDCaff will continue to be a vital resource to its users.

Chief Executive of Spirit of 2012 Debbie Lye said:

At Spirit of 2012 we are immensely proud to be supporting the EPIC awards for a second year, and particularly pleased to have sponsored two new awards this year - one for exceptional work with young people and the other for disabled people. Volunteers keep creative activities thriving in our communities, and are to be celebrated for all they do to realise the potential of art to bring us into closer connection with the world around us, and challenge perceptions of what we can achieve. A rich cultural landscape improves the wellbeing of us as individuals, our communities and society as a whole.

The Winners

The 2015 Winners received a range of prizes, including mentoring, memberships, cash prizes – and the Epic awards themselves. Being shortlisted, or winning an Epic Award can also have very positive effects for voluntary arts groups, who find they are taken more seriously by funders and have their profile raised locally and nationally.

Here’s what our winners had to say:

Epic Awards 2015 England Winner – Friends of the Flyover:

We are thrilled that our event Flyover Fest has been chosen as the national winner for England in the Epic Awards. Flyover Fest was a massive public consultation event and celebration of our idea to transform 25,000 tonnes of concrete highway, walkways and spaces beneath into an elevated urban park. The Flyover Fest event showed just how successful the project could be and how the space could go on to be an important venue in Liverpool for more cultural and arts events owned and managed by the voluntary sector. We are excited about what will happen in the next chapter of The Flyover. (Kate Stewart, Friends of the Flyover)

Epic Awards 2015 Ireland Winner – Milk and Cookies:

We are absolutely delighted to be have been given this award, that recognises the work both current and former volunteers have put into Milk and Cookies over the years to make it what it is today. I think everyone would agree that no one volunteers for a cultural/arts organisation for acclaim, we all get rewarded in different ways, but getting this accolade is an unexpected delight and added boon! It really means a lot and we are honoured to be chosen. (Edel Doran, Milk and Cookies)

Epic Awards 2015 Scotland Winner – Kirkcudbright Art & Crafts Trail:

The Kirkcudbright Art and Crafts trail has grown from strength to strength over 12 years, and winning this prestigious Epic Award is a truly wonderful recognition of all the hard work that has gone into the creation of this event - not only by the committee of three, but all those who volunteer to help us fundraise and give hands-on help. We feel truly honoured to win this award, especially considering our worthy opponents and we are confident this award will further help to promote our friendly town. (Pauline Saul, Kirkcudbright Art & Craft Trail)

Epic Awards 2015 Wales Winner – MaDCaff:

We are amazed, excited and delighted as well as thoroughly grateful to the judging panel for choosing our project for this year’s Epic Awards for Wales. We started this project with big ideas and this award will help us in so many ways to develop it further. We want a MaDCaff in every county in Wales because, everywhere we go, we know we will find people who have the experience of living with a mental health condition combined with extraordinary skills as musicians, dancers, poets and performers. MaDCaff can only get bigger and better from here onwards. (Rachel Stelmach, MaDCaff)

For more information about the Epic Awards, visit www.epicawards.co.uk.