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At Community Finance Ireland 37% of our loan portfolio is made up of organisations from the sporting sector. So our team spend a lot of time talking to and walking with those in their local communities who see sport as a means to offer opportunities, address rural decline and also help personal and community fitness.

Each has a very hands-on approach when it comes to working with our clients. We put people first. When our clients call with a query, they hear a familiar voice at the end of the phone. They know the face who is at the other end of an email. Our change-makers are on the ground, supporting communities, meeting clients and making an impact in their regions.

We speak finance but we hear people – So, we thought you might like to hear their own thoughts on what a sporting change-maker might look like and also their own sporting stories.


Our next Change-Maker is Phelim Sharvin, Head of Community Finance NI from Co. Down. Working with clients like Teconnaught GFC, Glendermott Cricket Club and Carryduff GAC in Northern Ireland, Phelim is particularly passionate about Gaelic Games.


What has been your own involvement in sports?

I have played Gaelic football, hurling and soccer since I was a kid, retiring at 35. I always enjoyed cross country running when at school. I have coached GAA and soccer across a wide range of age groups including senior men’s and I would I still regularly run distances of 5k.

What client or local sporting clubs do you admire and why?

Slaughtneil GAC comes to mind. They are a club that are playing Gaelic football, hurling and camogie at the highest level. This is a remarkable achievement for a rural community with such a limited population. The club and locals have helped reverse rural decline and depopulation. The result of this is that they now have a thriving community and are a growing Gaeltacht in rural South Derry. Very much a club that is at the heart of the community and offering more than just a sports facility.

Who is your sporting hero and is there a particular reason?

Matt Connor, a Gaelic footballer from Offaly in the 1970s/’80s. He was technically very good and he was a player who could have played in any era. A brilliant, graceful footballer and a player before his time. Unfortunately, Matt was seriously injured in a car crash in 1984 and was no longer able to continue to play his sport.

How has sport helped you/ your family/ community personally?

As a volunteer at my local club, I have seen first hand how the GAA in particular helps bind communities, reinforce identity and can give a real sense of community purpose and belonging. Everyone at the club helps out due to their love for their sport and their community and this mentality truly showcases volunteering at its best. Sport not only contributes to the physical well-being of the participants but also alleviates stresses and strains on your mental well-being.

Finally on a scale of 1 (average) to 5 (excellent) how do you rate your own fitness?

I would say my own fitness is probably a 2- Fair.


If you and your team, have a dream that could make a difference in your community, we’re here to listen. Whether you want to change something by solving a problem or creating an opportunity, we want to hear what you have to say. Get in touch with us today.

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At Community Finance Ireland 37% of our loan portfolio is made up of organisations from the sporting sector. So our team spend a lot of time talking to and walking with those in their local communities who see sport as a means to offer opportunities, address rural decline and also help personal and community fitness.

Each has a very hands-on approach when it comes to working with our clients. We put people first. When our clients call with a query, they hear a familiar voice at the end of the phone. They know the face who is at the other end of an email. Our change-makers are on the ground, supporting communities, meeting clients and making an impact in their regions.

We speak finance but we hear people – So, we thought you might like to hear their own thoughts on what a sporting change-maker might look like and also their own sporting stories.


Nora Keogh Sports Community Finance Ireland

Our next Change-Maker is Nora Keogh, Client Relationship Manager from Newcastle West Co. Limerick. Working with clients like Dromcollogher Community Council CLG, Ardagh Community Centre Association and Crusheen Community Centre CLG in the Munster Region. Nora is passionate about cycling and spends much of her free time cycling our fantastic Greenways across Munster.


What has been your own involvement in sports?

As a young child/teenager I got involved in running as we had an annual sports day in our local parish where we all aspired to perform to the best of our ability and enjoy a great community day in the process. We had fantastic parish volunteers locally who gave up so much time to help get everything ready for the annual sports day. The 100m was my race of choice and I was delighted to be in the top three on a number of occasions.

None of this could happen without the dedication of the committee and their team of volunteers. I now understand the dedication of those involved at the grass roots of the parish in encouraging us all to join in sports regardless of our ability. This fostered a love of running in many of the participants which has resulted in some fine athletes from the parish and, at a broader level, an appreciation of how sports can help us all stay fit and healthy and promote a feel good factor.

What client or local sporting clubs do you admire and why?

Our local athletics club, the West Limerick Athletics Club (AC) inspires me as they have always maintained a great club for people of every ability with no facilities other than the local Demesne Town Park. A new state of the art Regional Athletics Hub is currently under development on the outskirts of Newcastle West in Co. Limerick which has taken years to get to fruition through the hard work and perseverance of the people involved.

This will really help all level of athletes train in all seasons and will bring a number of athletics clubs together in the region. This facility will be the first of its kind in the West Limerick /North Cork area and will also be used for regional and national competitions when completed in 2022.

West Limerick AC have great, dedicated coaches who work with all the juniors and foster a love of running and all are welcome and encouraged regardless of speed or ability.

The mantra is to get involved and enjoy and keep fit in the process. Every junior is encouraged to take part in events and the focus is on taking part and finishing the race which helps build character and life skills.

This new Regional Athletics Hub will provide a fantastic facility for all level of athletes and provide a top class facility for all the members to train locally in a state of the art facility and reach their personal best. I am really looking forward to seeing the new Hub finished in 2022 which will be a top class Regional Athletics Hub comparable to anywhere in Europe.

Who is your sporting hero and is there a particular reason?

Carolyn Hayes is our local Triathlon winner from Newcastle West Co. Limerick who competed in the recent Olympics and finished in the top 28. Carolyn previously won silver in the World Triathlon Cup in May 2021 and is currently ranked no. 28 in the World Triathlon rankings.

Carolyn is a fantastic example of dedication and commitment and a real model for young people. Carolyn cycled with our local Newcastle West Cycling Club and always encouraged everyone else to get involved.

Carolyn is also a doctor and really shows us what you can do if you are dedicated to your goals. She is a true ambassador for all women and promoting women’s sports at every level and has always taken time to encourage local sports clubs at every turn and encourage everyone to get involved regardless of ability.

How has sport helped you/ your family/ community personally?

Although I don’t run anymore I have taken up cycling and joined the local Newcastle West Cycling Club. Cycling really helps me maintain a balance in a busy live with family and also keeps me fit.  I’ve competed in a number of cycling events such as the Ring of Beara, in Kerry. Organised by one of our members we covered 175km and helped raise over €2,000 for the Alzheimer’s Society.

We now have a new Greenway across West Limerick which has really helped encourage cyclists of all ages and families to cycle or walk together and enjoy quality time outdoors while taking in our fantastic countryside. I and my family are found here most weekends, whatever the weather.

Finally on a scale of 1 (average) to 5 (excellent) how do you rate your own fitness?

Currently I would say 3, depending on the company I am in. I am always striving to get better but that is a never ending story.


If you and your team, have a dream that could make a difference in your community, we’re here to listen. Whether you want to change something by solving a problem or creating an opportunity, we want to hear what you have to say. Get in touch with us today.

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At Community Finance Ireland 37% of our loan portfolio is made up of organisations from the sporting sector. So our team spend a lot of time talking to and walking with those in their local communities who see sport as a means to offer opportunities, address rural decline and also help personal and community fitness.

Each has a very hands-on approach when it comes to working with our clients. We put people first. When our clients call with a query, they hear a familiar voice at the end of the phone. They know the face who is at the other end of an email. Our change-makers are on the ground, supporting communities, meeting clients and making an impact in their regions.

We speak finance but we hear people – So, we thought you might like to hear their own thoughts on what a sporting change-maker might look like and also their own sporting stories.


Peter Smyth Sports

Our next Change-Maker is Peter Smyth, Client Relationship Manager from Moira who works with clients like Ballymacash Sports Academy, St Molaise GAC Irvinestown, Ballynahinch Rugby Club and Glendermott Cricket Club.


What has been your own involvement in sports?

I have had a love for sport for as long as I can remember. My real passion is for soccer and I loved nothing more at school than at break and lunchtime getting the football out and playing until the school bell rang. When I moved to grammar school I played rugby for the 1st XV and have fond memories of lining out on a Saturday morning for my school team Rainey Endowed in Magherafelt. Those few years were probably my most enjoyable sporting years as I was playing along with boys who I sat in class with every day and with who I formed great friendships.

On leaving school I then played rugby for Rainey Old Boys’ for a few years and enjoyed stepping up to a higher level. This involved travel all over the country which I really enjoyed. Due to work commitments I stepped away from rugby and became more of a soccer fan again and especially when my son began to play for our local club Lurgan Town. I have been watching him play now every Saturday since he was four years of age and he is now 28.

He now plays for and captains Lurgan BBOB and while I love standing on the sidelines watching him play, nothing beats stepping over the white line oneself. I have now been brought onto the club committee and I enjoy employing my financial skills to assist in the club’s ongoing development.

Until recently I have been playing six a side soccer every Monday evening however having just reached a significant birthday I have gracefully retired! My one major regret is that I didn’t keep playing rugby competitively for much longer.

What client or local sporting clubs do you admire and why?

To be honest I am reluctant and would struggle to single any one local club out. I continue to be amazed at the enthusiasm, energy and commitment of the vast number of volunteers involved across the full range of sports we have supported.

Our entire loan portfolio is characterised by dedicated teams of volunteers who give themselves selflessly to a range of causes including sport. Given the many mental health issues that have been caused by the COVID pandemic, sport is such a great channel to clear the head and focus on something positive.

Who is your sporting hero and is there a particular reason?

My local sporting hero, who unfortunately is no longer with us was George Best.  He was quite simply a natural talent who excited the crowds and was someone who all youngsters wanted to be like in terms of his ball skills. I also admired Willie John McBride for his man management skills as well as his rugby playing ability. Leading the British Lions to an unbeaten tour in South Africa in 1974 was an amazing feat.

How has sport helped you/ your family/ community personally?

Sport is great medicine for one’s health and emotional wellbeing. There is nothing better than to get out in the fresh air and clear the head. Whether it be playing or just observing the game, it does push the stresses and strains of everyday life into the background which can only be beneficial.

Finally on a scale of 1 (average) to 5 (excellent) how do you rate your own fitness?

I’d say a 2, Fair.


If you and your team, have a dream that could make a difference in your community, we’re here to listen. Whether you want to change something by solving a problem or creating an opportunity, we want to hear what you have to say. Get in touch with us today.

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At Community Finance Ireland 37% of our loan portfolio is made up of organisations from the sporting sector. So our team spend a lot of time talking to and walking with those in their local communities who see sport as a means to offer opportunities, address rural decline and also help personal and community fitness.

Each has a very hands-on approach when it comes to working with our clients. We put people first. When our clients call with a query, they hear a familiar voice at the end of the phone. They know the face who is at the other end of an email. Our change-makers are on the ground, supporting communities, meeting clients and making an impact in their regions.

We speak finance but we hear people – So, we thought you might like to hear their own thoughts on what a sporting change-maker might look like and also their own sporting stories.


Anne Graham

Our first Change-Maker is Anne Graham, Client Relationship Manager from Buncrana, Co. Donegal. Anne’s sporting clients include the likes of Kilcar Kayaking, Illies Golden Gloves Boxing and Craughwell Athletics Club.


What has been your own involvement in sports?

I wasn’t very involved in any team sports at all growing up, as in all honesty there wasn’t much encouragement or coaching locally for girls. It was just the way life was back then. I was and still am a keen runner. I remember winning a three mile run when I was about 10 years old. I had no idea I was such a natural at it, until I was told I was first across the finishing line. I still have that trophy.

Nowadays, a lot has changed, I spend a lot of my time in my car, ferrying my two teenage children to GAA and soccer matches.  Between the two of them, they play on five teams- so it is a busy household.  What fills me with joy is seeing two local teenage girls like Emma Doherty and Kerri Loughery lining out for Republic of Ireland games at underage, this is gigantic step both locally and regionally for women in sport.  Make no mistake: this is directly related to local coaching, passion and commitment from volunteers who give their time at grass route level to get our young people to this level.

What client or local sporting clubs do you admire and why?

Our new client Mulroy Hoops is a basketball club located in a rural location within the Fanad Peninsula in North East Donegal.  This club offer an alternative fitness and wellness program for those kids who for various reasons do not or cannot access GAA or soccer. They pay attention to goals for individuals that do not demand winning while at the same time offering avenues for elite athletes to develop. In their current older groups they have players at regional levels for Ulster who are offered trials for the Irish squads and at the same time we continue to introduce players to the sport at a beginners level well into their teen years. This leads to a retention of boys and girls when in other sports they are beginning to drop out.

Additionally, this club have developed avenues for children to train in other aspects of sport such as refereeing, table officials and as player representatives at committee level within the club. They also actively encourage the children to take coaching certificates and offer them opportunities to gain experience coaching within the club and with responsibilities to manage and organise games within the competitive league structures. 

For me this is a club who have more than just winning games at heart, they are producing experiences and avenues for children to explore a lot more than sport.  In my day sport was never uttered as a career option, what Mulroy Hoops are doing here is sowing a seed of exploration for children at a young age and showing them the way forward. This is done not just in terms of sport but also shows how involvement in sport can forge alternative career options away from the traditional routes for future generations.  They also work collaboratively with the LYIT Sports Department and invite in undergraduates to work with the team.

Who is your sporting hero and is there a particular reason?

Ellen Keane.  She is not only a European Champion and Paralympic bronze medallist, but she is an advocate for, women, disability sport, and positive body image. She highlights the inequity and difficulties faced daily by people with disabilities, something most able bodied people have little or no awareness or understanding of. In a world where there is a lot of emphasis placed on appearance, Ellen is a role model in changing this perception.

How has sport helped you/ your family/ community personally?

Running has helped me stay fit, stay connected and socialise with friends.  In 2020 I took up sea swimming which has helped me push past my comfort zone. The cold temperatures are no joke. I find my children’s sport now forms a large part of my social life and meeting up with other families and volunteers helps me get out of my own head.

Finally on a scale of 1 (average) to 5 (excellent) how do you rate your own fitness?

I feel like I am 3+, always room for improvement, I just need to keep it, as part of my routine. 


If you and your team, have a dream that could make a difference in your community, we’re here to listen. Whether you want to change something by solving a problem or creating an opportunity, we want to hear what you have to say. Get in touch with us today.

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At Community Finance Ireland we take a hands-on approach when it comes to working with our clients. We put people first. When our clients call with a query, they hear a familiar voice at the end of the phone. They know the face who is at the other end of an email. Our Change-Makers are on the ground, supporting communities, meeting clients and making an impact in their regions.

We speak finance but we hear people – So, we thought you might like to get to know them a bit better.

Our first Change-Maker is Emmett O’Hara, Client Executive from Meath. Working with clients like Alone, Irish Association of the Deaf and Dublin Food Co-Op in North Leinster, Emmett is passionate about getting out on the ground and helping our clients make change happen.

Some of Emmett’s clients from L to R: Alone, National Society of the Deaf and Dublin Food Co-Operative

What did your journey to Community Finance Ireland look like?

I came to Community Finance Ireland after 24 years at one of the top finance lending businesses in Ireland where I went direct from school and worked through numerous roles initially in back office support before progressing though to credit risk, and front line commercial banking management roles. In that time I’ve also studied for a BSc in Credit Risk from Dublin Institute of Technology/Technical University Ireland. I hold a QFA and a Professional Diploma in SME Credit from UCD/Institute of Bankers. So, I bring a lot of financial experience to the team and I’m still learning! I’m currently studying for a Diploma in Big Data from Dublin Business School.

What does your current client base look like? Are there sectors you expect to see or want to see growth in?

Our current client base includes a good number of sports clubs, particularly GAA Clubs, but there’s also a mixture of social enterprises, faith-based organisations, organisations in the health sector, environmental organisations and community working hubs.

In terms of how our client base might change or grow in the future – it will all depend on what communities need. We’ll continue to maintain and develop strong relationships with our existing clients across those sectors and keep talking to people in local communities to understand where else we can provide the support they need. We’ll always look to expand our offering in sectors such as the environment and community working hubs which are definitely a key focus from a government and, more generally, a societal perspective given the great changes we’ve seen in the last year or so.

Do you have a client that, in your opinion, best demonstrates the impact Community Finance Ireland can have?

In my opinion, I would have to say Let’s Get Talking a non-profit Counselling & Psychotherapy Service providing accessible, professional, non-set fee therapy across Ireland. Each client of the service is treated according to their needs and not what they can afford to pay. They focus on early intervention, supporting adults and children in relation to a wide range of issues ranging from depression, anxiety, stress, relationship issues, addiction, trauma, bullying, eating disorders, parenting issues, and family breakdown support. 

Let’s Get Talking have seen a 53% increase in demand for access to their services due to the pandemic. Community Finance Ireland has been working with Let’s Get Talking for the last year providing support which has allowed them to increase their weekly appointments to clients nationally and helped them to be proactive in their response to the mental health implications of the pandemic. Our support has meant that Let’s Get Talking remained accessible to clients by providing online counselling & psychotherapy since March 2020.

Let’s Get Talking is now in a stable financial position and ready to move to the next stage of their strategy to further provide mental health services to the community. Community Finance Ireland will be there to support them along that journey whenever they need us.

How do you switch off from work? What are your hobbies and interests? (Do you play with any local clubs? Do you coach any local underage teams? Are you involved with a community group?)

I live with my family within walking distance of Bettystown Beach in County Meath, so a large part of my unwinding time is spent there!

Both of my children are involved with local sports clubs Naomh Colmcille GAA and Donacarney Celtic Football club so a large part of my time when I am not working or studying is spent ferrying them to training or matches.

Now you know a little more about us, we’d like to hear about you.

If you and your team have a dream that could make a difference in your community, we’re here to listen. Whether you want to change something by solving a problem or creating an opportunity, we want to hear what you have to say.

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Tinahely Community Sports Hall, Arklow Gerladine’s Ballymoney GAA Club and Hillside Evangelical Church are just some of the projects that have benefited from Community Finance Ireland’s €30 million investment in communities between 2016 and 2019.

The extent of their investment in communities across Ireland was detailed in the first all-island impact report launched last month. At the launch, Dónal Traynor, Associate Director of Community Finance Ireland spoke about the importance of access to social finance as communities recover from Covid-19.

“With the fallout from the pandemic, we anticipate a reduction in grant funding to the community sector generally, so- in the coming years- social finance will play an increasingly vital role in supporting grassroots community organisations and social enterprises. At the same time, Covid-19 has starkly shown the importance of community solidarity, ‘social capital’ and sustainability within communities.”

Dónal Traynor, Associate Director of Community Finance Ireland

As Ireland’s and the UK’s fastest-growing social finance provider, the organisation works with groups that drive social impact, including sports clubs, social housing organisations, community projects, faith-based groups and social enterprises.

Mr Traynor said:

“We can provide loans ranging from €30,000 up to €500,000 and our finance products are specifically tailored for the community sector. We have waived arrangement fees to make loans as accessible and cost-effective as possible, we have a quick turnaround time for lending decisions, and- given the organisations we lend to are typically run by volunteers- we do not ask for personal guarantees. There has been a default rate of just 0.75% on our loans since 2008, which is low by any standard and particularly when you consider that many of our loans are made available on an unsecured basis. This is in no small part due to the strong relationship which we have developed with communities over time.”

Dónal Traynor, Associate Director of Community Finance Ireland

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Earlier this summer we were accredited as a lender under the Coronavirus Business Interruption Loan Scheme (CBILS).

This initiative, created directly to help those impacted by Covid-19, is welcome news for UK based Social Enterprises and Charities (as well as small and medium sized businesses).

As an accredited lender under the British Business Bank’s CBILS scheme, we are delighted that we can continue to support those amongst us, who are working to make a positive impact on society or the environment but are working through the impact of Covid-19 to their ideas or projects.

If you are re-setting or re-collaborating a CBILS loan could be very attractive and timely:

Reduce your cost of funding.
The scheme promises no interest or fees payable in the first year – these costs will be covered by the Government’s Business Interruption Payment.


No need to provide personal guarantees
For a facility up to £250,000.

Here is a Confidence Checklist:

How much can I borrow? 
The range is between £50k -£500k+.  

Do I have to apply to the British Business Bank?
No. Community Finance Ireland and in particular our Associate Director, Phelim Sharvin are on hand locally to handle every aspect with you.  

I’m an existing client, can I apply for CBILS?  

Of course. The fund is for open to all social enterprises or charities if they meet the loan criteria.

How long does the application take?  

If you are fast – we are fast. There is supporting paperwork you need to pull together but once we have that – it can be all in place in a matter of weeks.

Can I repay my CBILS facility early?  
Yes and without any early repayment fees.
Need to chat further?
We speak finance but we hear people. Associate Director, Phelim Sharvin is ready to listen and has already approved CBILS funding to NI clients. Contact him directly on 07803834124

You are eligible to apply if you answer yes to any of these short criteria:  
Your business has been adversely impacted by Covid -19
 Your CBILS-backed facility will be used primarily to support trading in the UK.  
 You are able to confirm that your business generates more than 50% of its turnover from trading activity e.g. Sports clubs may include some fundraising, event income and gate receipts (registered charities are exempt).  
 You are a UK-based small or medium sized enterprise with an annual turnover of up to £45 million per year.  
 Please note: The following are not eligible under CBILS:
• banks, insurers and reinsurers (but not insurance brokers),
• public sector bodies,
• state funded primary and secondary schools.

The borrower always remains 100% liable for the debt.

The Coronavirus Business Interruption Loan Scheme (CBILS) is managed by the British Business Bank on behalf of, and with the financial backing of, the Secretary of State for Business, Energy & Industrial Strategy. British Business Bank plc is a development bank wholly owned by HM Government. It is not authorised or regulated by the PRA or the FCA. Visit british-business-bank.co.uk.

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A makeover for the annual ‘Willie Clancy Festival’ in Clare, an upgrade for Ballinasloe Town Hall Theatre, and new equipment for the Dublin Cliffhangers Climbing Club in Finglas are just some of the projects that have benefited from Community Finance Ireland’s €30 million investment in communities between 2016 and 2019.

As Ireland’s and the UK’s fastest-growing social finance provider, the organisation works with groups that drive social impact, including sports clubs, social housing organisations, community projects, faith-based groups, and social enterprises.

The extent of their investment in communities across Ireland was detailed in the first all-island impact report launched today (02.07.2020). Since 2016, Community Finance Ireland has loaned €8.6m to clients in Leinster, €3.5m to clients in Munster, €1.8m to clients in Connacht, and €16.3m to clients in Ulster.

Dónal Traynor, Associate Director of Community Finance Ireland, said:

“We can provide loans ranging from €30,000 up to €500,000, and our finance products are specifically tailored for the community sector. We have waived arrangement fees to make loans as accessible and cost-effective as possible, we have a quick turnaround time for lending decisions, and – given the organisations we lend to are typically run by volunteers – we do not ask for personal guarantees.

There has been a default rate of just 0.75% on our loans since 2008, which is low by any standard and particularly when you consider that many of our loans are made available on an unsecured basis. This is in no small part due to the strong relationship which we have developed with communities over time.”

Donal Traynor, Associate Director Community Finance Ireland

Panel Discussion
Following the launch of their all island Impact Report, Community Finance Ireland hosted an online panel discussion on sustaining communities across the island beyond Covid-19. The panel was chaired by broadcaster and journalist Dil Wickremasinghe. Dil was joined by Tipperary hurler Noel McGrath, CEO of ARC Healthy Centre Julie Irvine, as well as Associate Directors of Community Finance Ireland Dónal Traynor and Phelim Sharvin.

Mr Traynor said:

“Access to social finance will be more important than ever before as communities recover from Covid-19. With the fallout from the pandemic, we anticipate a reduction in grant funding to the community sector generally, so – in the coming years – social finance will play an increasingly vital role in supporting grassroots community organisations and social enterprises.

At the same time, Covid-19 has starkly shown the importance of community solidarity, ‘social capital’ and sustainability within communities.”

Donal Traynor, Associate Director Community Finance Ireland

Official Rebrand
Community Finance Ireland was established in 2007 as part of an expansion into the Republic of Ireland by the Ulster Community Investment Trust (UCIT) Group. UCIT was established in Belfast in 1995 in response to decreasing grant support from government and the difficulties experienced by community organisations in accessing commercial loan facilities.

Under a rebranding initiative announced today (02.07.2020), the social finance group will be known as Community Finance Ireland in both Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland. The organisation unveiled a new logo, website, client videos and a new podcast series as part of the rebrand.

Community Finance Ireland Chief Executive Harry McDaid said:

“While the organisation’s trading name is changing in Northern Ireland, our collective purpose remains the same – to support people changing their communities for the better across the island. The response to Covid-19 has highlighted a public desire for greater collaboration and cooperation between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland. This first all-island annual report and our brand reflects a renewed focus for the organisation operating on an all-island basis.”

Harry McDaid, CEO Community Finance Ireland

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A leading social finance provider has recorded its highest ever level of funding for the community, voluntary and social enterprise sector in Northern Ireland, a report launched today has revealed.

The annual social impact report from Community Finance Ireland (formerly UCIT) reported loans for community organisations in Ulster to the value of £14.2m from 2016-2019.

The all-island report, a first for Community Finance Ireland, revealed that a total of £26m had been loaned across Ireland in the last four years, with more than half of all customers (54%) based in Ulster.

As Ireland’s fastest-growing social finance provider, the organisation works with groups that drive social impact, including sports clubs, social housing organisations, community projects, faith-based groups and social enterprises. Phelim Sharvin, Associate Director, Community Finance Ireland said:

“We can provide loans ranging from £10,000 up to £500,000 but an average loan request is typically £100,000. In our 20-year history, first as UCIT and now as Community Finance Ireland, we have helped more than 500 organisations across Northern Ireland, spanning the arts and culture, hospitality, faith and sports sectors. We have seen first-hand the force for good behind these organisations and the positive change they make to the communities or end users they serve. We’re only too glad to support these extraordinary change-makers in their ambitions to enable change in our society.”

Phelim Sharvin, Associate Director Community Finance Ireland

The Community Finance Ireland report has been published to coincide with a rebranding initiative which will see the social finance provider transition to be known as Community Finance Ireland in both Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland. The organisation unveiled a new logo, website, client videos and a podcast as part of the rebrand.

Community Finance Ireland Chief Executive Harry McDaid said:

“While the organisation’s trading name is changing in Northern Ireland, our collective purpose remains the same – to support people changing their communities for the better across the island. The response to Covid-19 has highlighted a public desire for greater collaboration and cooperation between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland. This first all-island annual report and our brand reflects a renewed focus for the organisation operating on an all-island basis and signifies a new era for the organisation.”

Harry McDaid, CEO Community Finance Ireland

Ulster Community Finance Ltd (another group company) has since 2013, managed two Northern Ireland Small Business Loan Funds on behalf of Invest Northern Ireland with the latest contract awarded in 2018. The loan level is up to £100,000, which means the new Fund has the potential to lend over £9 million to local SMEs, helping them to optimise their potential through investment. To date, approximately £10m has been disbursed to SMEs in Northern Ireland.

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Community Finance Ireland, the fastest-growing social finance provider across Ireland and the UK, has welcomed the announcement today by the Social Finance Foundation of new funding initiatives targeted at community organisations and social enterprises.

The Social Finance Foundation (SFF) is an independent organisation established by government in 2007. It provides loan funding to social organisations through lending partners including Community Finance Ireland.

Today, SFF announced that:

  1. Facilitated by Banking and Payments Federation Ireland, the Irish banks (AIB/EBS, Bank of Ireland, permanent tsb and Ulster Bank) will make available an additional €44 million in low-cost funding to SFF over the period 2021 to 2025; and
  2. The European Investment Fund has agreed to provide loan guarantees totalling €25 million to support new lending by the Foundation.

Access to capital “at a time when it is really needed”
Welcoming the announcement, Dónal Traynor, Associate Director of Community Finance Ireland, said:

“These measures confirm access to capital for the community and social enterprise market for at least another five years, at a time when it is really needed.

“With the fallout from the Covid-19 pandemic, we anticipate a reduction in grant funding to the community sector generally, so – in the coming years – social finance will play an increasingly vital role in supporting community organisations and social enterprises. At the same time, Covid-19 has starkly shown the importance of community solidarity, ‘social capital’ and sustainability within communities. The SFF measures announced today will help us continue our support to grassroots communities groups and, in turn, will help groups provide essential services in their local areas.

“We have been proud partners of SFF since our accreditation with them as a Social Lending Organisation in 2008. Right across the island of Ireland, Community Finance Ireland works with groups that drive social impact, including sports clubs, social housing organisations, community projects, faith-based groups, and social enterprises.

“We can provide loans ranging from €30,000 to €500,000, and our finance products are specifically tailored for the community sector. We have waived arrangement fees to make loans as accessible and cost-effective as possible, we have a quick turnaround time for lending decisions, and – given the organisations we lend to are typically run by volunteers – we do not ask for personal guarantees.

“Since the start of 2020, Community Finance Ireland has already approved loans of €3,900,000, supporting community organisations to acquire new premises and equipment, restructure current debt, and bridge financial gaps caused by delayed grants or other postponed income. The new SFF initiatives announced today will ensure we can continue this important work well into future years.”

Donal Traynor, Associate Director of Community Finance Ireland

Credibility of social finance sector
Mr. Traynor said the SFF initiatives – and the support for them from industry groups – demonstrate the credibility of the social finance sector, and will open up funding opportunities to a wider range of community groups.

“This commitment from Banking and Payments Federation Ireland is a testament to the credibility of the social finance sector, and to the strong performance of our diverse loan portfolio over the past 12 years.”

He added:

“There has been a default rate of just 0.25% on our loans since 2008, which is low by any standard and particularly when you consider that the majority of our loans are made available on an unsecured basis. This is in no small part due to the strong relationship which we have developed with communities over time.

“Meanwhile, the loan guarantee from the European Investment Fund will allow Community Finance Ireland to consider those deals where, previously, social finance could not provide the funding due to the level of risk involved, and potentially where the absence of realisable security may have been the difference in making funds available.

“At a time when communities across Ireland have been sorely tested and when many community groups are feeling the strain, today’s SFF announcement is good and welcome news for our sector.”

Donal Traynor, Associate Director Community Finance Ireland
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