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Dolmen Leisure Company CLG has announced it has successfully secured €175,000 in LEADER funding, which has been formally approved by the Donegal Local Development Company and Donegal LCDC, to establish a new Thatching School at the Dolmen Centre in Kilclooney, Portnoo, Co. Donegal.

The project, developed by the committee of Dolmen Leisure Company CLG, aims to support the continuation of the craft of thatching, which is an integral aspect of vernacular architecture in Donegal and Ireland.

With 75% of the construction costs covered by LEADER funding, the committee is actively raising funds to secure the remaining 25% through other funding and donations. The Thatching School will provide training in thatching delivered by master thatchers, who are keen to pass on their skills and knowledge. This unique educational facility will create employment opportunities and boost tourism in the area, offering a rewarding role to those who are seeking to work for themselves.

Speaking about the initiative, Patsy Harkin from Dolmen Leisure Company CLG, said: 

“One of our founding members of The Dolmen Centre, Conal Shovlin, first mooted this idea for Portnoo and tried to secure funding over 20 years ago so we’re thrilled to see our plans come to fruition after all these years. We’re excited to have professionally trained thatchers pass on their skills and keep this dying trade alive. The Thatching School and its construction is no longer a dream but will now be a reality.”

Dolmen Thatched Cottage 1
Sinead McLaughlin, Rural Development Manager DLDC, Barry Symes, Head of Community Finance Ireland ROI, County Councillor Anthony Molloy with the Dolmen Centre Committee and members of the local community who came to celebrate the announcement of the LEADER funding.

Sinéad McLaughlin, Rural Development Manager, DLDC, expressed her support for the Thatching School:

“DLDC is delighted to support the Dolmen Leisure Company CLG in their efforts to establish the Thatching School through its LEADER programme. This project will not only contribute to the preservation of an important cultural heritage but also create employment opportunities and boost tourism in the area.  We look forward to seeing the Thatching School thrive and the continuation of this unique craft.”

Dolmen Leisure also thanked Community Finance Ireland for providing interim finance for the project.  Barry Symes, Head of Community Finance ROI, said: 

The team at Dolmen Leisure Company CLG are a fantastic example of visionary community spirit. We are delighted to be able to help finance this project and welcome the opportunities both of employment and future tourism that the project will bring to the area”.

Paddy Mc Hugh Building Contractors Ltd has been appointed as the local contractor, and Cornerstone Architecture in Ardara will be responsible for the design and supervision of the build. The planning permission was approved by Donegal County Council in mid-2022.

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Community Finance Ireland are delighted to announce that we have been awarded the Social Enterprise Mark Accreditation. This prestigious accreditation demonstrates that the company is creating real benefits for people and the planet, and is committed to social impact.

The Social Enterprise Mark is an independently assessed accreditation that recognizes organizations that are operating as social enterprises. This means that they are using business to create social and environmental impact, and are committed to reinvesting their profits back into their mission.

Community Finance Ireland’s CEO, Donal Traynor, expressed his excitement about achieving the Social Enterprise Mark accreditation, saying:

We are thrilled to have received this accreditation, which confirms our ongoing commitment to creating positive social impact. At Community Finance Ireland, we believe that social finance can play a critical role in building a more equitable and sustainable future for everyone. Our recent Social Value Impact report and findings further demonstrate how social finance is working to achieve great results, and we are committed to continuing this important work.”

The Social Enterprise Mark is awarded by Social Enterprise Mark CIC, the leading global authority on social enterprise. To achieve the accreditation, Community Finance Ireland underwent a rigorous assessment process that evaluated the company’s social and environmental impact, governance structures, and financial sustainability.

SE Mark Donal and Stephanie
Community Finance Ireland’s Compliance Officer Stephanie NIcholl and CEO Donal Traynor awarded the Social Enterprise Mark Accreditation April 2023

As a registered social enterprise, Community Finance Ireland is committed to using finance as a tool for positive social change. The company provides affordable loans to community and voluntary organizations, social enterprises, and charities across Ireland, helping to build stronger communities and support important social causes.

As well as recognising Community Finance Ireland’s dedication to achieving high quality social impact, holding the mark demonstrates our commitment to effective good governance controls, stakeholder engagement, financial transparency and ethical and good business practices.

Stephanie Nicholl, Compliance Officer at Community Finance Ireland said:

The Social Enterprise Mark recognises and builds the capabilities of social enterprises as sustainable businesses that are dedicated to maximising social impact. The Mark recognises the value of our social impact, specifically with our clients that we work with in the Social Enterprise sector across areas such as sport, arts and heritage, community organisations, faith and church groups and the workspace provision.”

Stephanie further explains the importance of the recognition in the short video below:

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– £18 million social finance provided to Northern Ireland voluntary sector since 2016 –

Loughgiel Shamrocks GAC, based outside Ballymoney, is celebrating a win of a different kind. The club is set to repay a £250,000 loan to social finance providers, Community Finance Ireland in full after just five years, following investment in new club facilities including a sand pitch and ball wall. 

With no penalty incurred for early repayment, Loughgiel Shamrocks hit fundraising targets early using a patron scheme fundraising strategy, where members and friends of the club commit to supporting loan repayments.

Sean McNaughton, former Treasurer of Loughgiel Shamrocks GAC, said:

“Our Development Committee identified a need for better facilities due to increased participation in sports in the area.  After purchasing land, we needed financial support to construct a sand pitch with floodlights and fencing and an enclosed, floodlit ball wall with a 3G surface.  We knew that Community Finance Ireland was familiar with the GAA and the needs of local clubs, and we very much appreciated their fast decision making, advice and of course flexibility, allowing us to repay our loan early without penalty.”

The facilities at Loughgiel GAC are used by local club teams, Antrim County Hurling and Camogie teams and primary and post primary schools in the area. 

Loughgiel Shamrocks GAA Community Finance Ireland
Peter Smyth visits Loughgiel grounds and hears from its former Treasurer Sean McNaughton and local players benefitting from the new facilities.

Since 2016, Community Finance Ireland has supported 166 sports clubs, social enterprises and organisations from across the community and voluntary sector in Northern Ireland, with a total of £18.1 million in social finance loans.

Peter Smyth, Client Manager at Community Finance Ireland added:

“When we provide a loan to a GAA club, often towards a capital project like new facilities, it helps build momentum and shows that the club committee is delivering on the club development plan and is therefore worth supporting.

In the case of Loughgiel GAC, the improved facilities led to an increased sporting success by the club and greater usage by local schools and groups. The collective efforts of the committee, club members and supporters of Loughgiel to repay this finance in just five years, is an example of people power at its very best.”

Community Finance Ireland has provided £18million in social finance to Northern Ireland’s voluntary sector since 2016 and we’re proud £5.6m of that has gone to sporting organisations like Loughiel.

If you and your community facility need advice, get in touch today or follow us on Twitter.  

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– Community Finance Ireland delivers €4.87 million in support of Dublin communities since 2016 –

Fifty years since the people of Glenasmole took it upon themselves to build a community hub in the local area, Glenasmole Community Association (GCA) is preparing to reopen the doors of the newly renovated community centre. The community-owned building has undergone major refurbishment over the past two years with the support of Community Finance Ireland (CFI).

GCA board member and project manager, John Lee said the newly expanded community space will serve generations to come:

“Our ambition with this refurbishment project was to create a space which will serve young and old and everyone in between from our local area. We’re a small community here and this centre has been at the heart of it for decades but the building itself just hasn’t been fit for purpose. The original hall is now extended to include a kitchen space and meeting rooms, with underfloor heating and full disability access. It’s been a huge project for us but all the work will be worthwhile when we can open the doors to this new warm, inviting space to everyone.”

Glenasmole Community Association Dublin Community Finance Ireland Loan
Photographed at Glenasmole Community Centre are Barry Symes, Head of Community Finance Ireland ROI; Glenasmole Community Association board members John Lee and Angela McCann. Photo Credit: Julien Behal.

After being awarded a Dublin Rural LEADER grant and funding by South Dublin County Council for the planned refurbishments, Glenasmole Community Association approached Community Finance Ireland in 2020 to provide a bridging loan of €292,000 to undertake the works.

John says the bridging loan from CFI brought their dream to reality:

“If it wasn’t for Community Finance Ireland, we wouldn’t be here today. I’m a retired quantity surveyor and I’ve managed building works and budgets my whole career but for our group here – who are all volunteers – the sums we were looking at to get this off the ground were daunting. Because they support volunteer and community groups, CFI didn’t ask us for personal guarantees, and just talking to their team eased the financial fears. Nothing felt unsurmountable after that.”

Visiting the site ahead of completion, Barry Symes, Head of Community Finance ROI, congratulated John and the GCA team on the project’s success. He said:

“At CFI we talk about changemakers – the people in local communities who see an opportunity to create something and go for it. Glenasmole Community Association are the epitome of changemakers from the day they set out to build the original centre from scratch. We’re delighted to have supported GCA in this project and I have no doubt that they’ve created something which will serve the community for their next fifty years and beyond.”

Located just ten miles from O’Connell Street, Glenasmole is a small, rural community in the Dublin mountains. In 1972, the newly formed GCA purchased and erected a second-hand, pre-cast concrete pavilion, completing ancillary works in 1974. Built and run entirely by volunteers, the community hall became a hub for all generations, providing a much-needed space for Mother and Baby Groups, Youth Clubs, Drama Group productions, as well as a HSE-funded Health Clinic.

Glenasmole Community Association Dublin Community Finance Ireland Loan
Photographed at Glenasmole Community Centre are local youths Benjamin and Oscar Carey, and Michael Morell. Photo Credit: Julien Behal.

With the building works almost complete, the GCA has their sights set on the surrounding areas with plans to develop walkways and biodiverse landscapes in a 5-acre plot that has been purchased for community-ownership.

John said:

“There are people who grew up in Glenasmole and spent their childhood running wild in the mountains, who have moved away and now bring their own kids back to visit – we want them to think of this centre as their home too, to meet and reconnect with the community and the beautiful surroundings we have here.”

If you and your community facility need advice, get in touch today or follow us on Twitter.  

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– £18 million social finance provided to Northern Ireland voluntary sector since 2016

Belfast charity, Kids Together, has purchased a new premises on the city’s Springfield Road, with £150,000 support from social finance providers, Community Finance Ireland.  The purchase will allow Kids Together to provide services for 408 children and people with complex needs each year, in response to increasing demands from local health trusts. 

Since 2016, Community Finance Ireland has supported 166 social enterprises and organisations from across the community and voluntary sector in Northern Ireland, with a total of £18.1 million in social finance loans.

Phelim Sharvin, Head of Community Finance Ireland, Northern Ireland said:

“The rate at which Kids Together has expanded its service offering is indicative of the team’s professionalism and expertise and their desire to respond positively to the ever-increasing needs of individuals and their families. We’re delighted to support the next phase of Kids Together’s growth and development.  Community Finance Ireland has provided £18million in social finance to Northern Ireland’s voluntary sector since 2016 and we’re proud that almost a third of that has gone to organisations like Kids Together, which delivers Community Services, Childcare and Health and Wellbeing services.” 

Kids Together was established in 2005 and delivers wide-ranging childcare, youth programmes and specialist care/therapy support for children and young adults with complex disabilities.  Service users are located across the Greater Belfast area and growing demand from Health Trusts and families created the need for a new property. 

Kids Together Belfast Community Finance Ireland
Photographed at the new Kids Together Springfield Road premises in Belfast Orlaith Bradley and Sharon McCloskey, Kids Together and Phelim Sharvin Head of Community Finance Ireland’s Northern Ireland business.

Mairead McCrea who founded the charity explains:

“The demand for our services has risen every year since 2005 and the acquisition of the new property, which includes a lift for service users, is a great opportunity for Kids Together to help secure our future and deliver key services on-site . The social finance support and advice from the team at Community Finance Ireland that allowed us to move forward with the of our new property, has been invaluable.  Phelim and the team really understand and encourage our plans for growth and development.  We couldn’t have made the new property purchase and therefore extend our services without their help and advice.”

If you and your community facility need advice, get in touch today or follow us on Twitter.  

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– £18 million social finance provided to Northern Ireland voluntary sector since 2016

Ballymoney-based, Compass Advocacy Network has purchased and developed a social farm which provides training and leisure opportunities for over 50 people with learning disabilities each weekday, with support from social finance providers, Community Finance Ireland.  A total loan value of £350,000 enabled the purchase of the 11-acre site and farmhouse outside Ballymoney, and the subsequent installation of phase-3 electricity and upgrade of the farm’s outbuildings.   

Since 2016, Community Finance Ireland has supported 166 social enterprises and organisations from across the community and voluntary sector in Northern Ireland, with a total of £18.1 million in social finance loans.

Peter Smyth, Client Relationship Manager at Community Finance Ireland said:

Each time we meet the team at Compass Advocacy Network, we are blown away by their innovation and ambition. At Community Finance Ireland we support a huge range of community and volunteer-led projects from sports projects to social enterprises to faith-based groups, but they all start with an ideas and a group of people who want to make it work.

The opportunities that Compass Advocacy Network provide for vulnerable adults from across multiple sites are incredible and we were delighted to support the purchase and development of Lislagan Farm.

We are proud to have made almost a third of our £18 million social finance available to organisations like Compass Advocacy Network, which deliver Community Services, Childcare, Health and Wellbeing and Education and Training.”

Compass Advocacy Network Peter Smyth Janet Schofield Community loans
Photographed at Compass Advocacy Network’s Lislagan Farm are Peter Smyth, Client Relationship Manager for Community Finance Ireland, Clint Langley, Compass Advocacy Service User and Janet Schofield, Chief Executive of Compass Advocacy Network.

The Compass Advocacy Group was established in 1997 to provide education, learning and employment opportunities to vulnerable adults. CAN’s bases provide social and leisure opportunities for over 50 people with learning disabilities per day, 5 days a week in Ballymoney, Ballymena and Coleraine.

Janet Schofield, Chief Executive at Compass Advocacy Network explained:

As a user-led organisation, the people we support are at the heart of our decision making. As well as social and leisure opportunities, our social enterprises which include recycling, upcycling and retail, give our users real work-based training towards employment.

The social finance support and advice from the team at Community Finance Ireland that allowed us to purchase and carry out improvement works at Lislagan Farm, has been invaluable. Peter and the team really understand and encourage our plans for growth and development. We couldn’t have made our plans for the farm a reality without them.”

If you and your community facility need advice, get in touch today or follow us on Twitter.  

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– Community Finance Ireland delivers €1.2million in support of Limerick communities

Newcastle West Tennis Club is ready to welcome new members for 2023 as newly resurfaced courts ensure all-weather access and state of the art facilities for players of all ages and experiences. The club has completed renovations with the support of Community Finance Ireland, an all-island social finance provider. 

Newcastle West Tennis Club, which was founded in 1927, had been closed for seven years when a group of volunteers were inspired to reopen the club during the first 2020 lockdown. The club now has 370 members on its books, aged between six and 70.  

Cllr Tom Ruddle, Chair of Newcastle West Tennis Club, said:

The courts were in a bad state of disrepair. In those first weeks, we put in a lot of hard work to clean the place up. We were determined to bring it up to scratch and received initial Council grants to install floodlights and make improvement to the grounds.”

With further funding needed to resurface the courts, Newcastle West Tennis Club was approved €42.5k in Sports Capital Grants but this presented the group of volunteers with a new challenge.  

“We were delighted to be approved Sports Capital Grant funding, but to access that we had to undertake the works in order to then claim back the grant,” said Cllr Ruddle. “As volunteers we couldn’t take on that kind of financial responsibility from a traditional bank and go into debt for the sake of the club. Luckily, we were able to access a bridging loan from Community Finance Ireland to get started and unlock the grant. It was a fantastic solution.” 

As a social enterprise, Community Finance Ireland provides social finance loans to volunteer-led and community organisations that drive social impact.  

Photographed at Newcastle West Tennis Club are Chairperson Tom Ruddle, Nora Keogh, Community Finance Ireland Client Relationship Manager for Munster, and pupils from Courtenay Boys’ School and Killoughteen National School.

Nora Keogh, Client Relationship Manager for Munster, said:

Newcastle West Tennis Club has such a rich history and it’s an important facility for the town and the wider community. We were delighted to be able to help Tom and the team get their renovations underway and players can get back on the courts. At Community Finance Ireland, we have a wealth of experience working with community organisations and our supports are tailored for their needs- we don’t ask for personal guarantees and our loans are fast, fair and flexible.”

Ms Keogh has played a role in supporting 66 organisations in Munster to access a total of €7 million in social finance supports since 2016. She said: “We’ve worked with nine organisations in Limerick already but as far as I’m concerned, that’s just the tip of the iceberg. If there are more sports clubs, arts organisations, faith-based groups and social enterprises out there who want to make a change for their local community, I’m here to help them make that possible.” 

Cllr Ruddle says Community Finance Ireland is the only way to go for sports clubs:

It’s a no brainer. What struck me most was the level of trust and personal care from Nora and the Community Finance Ireland team. I’ve been involved in local clubs my whole life and I’d definitely be recommending them to other clubs and community groups in Limerick”

If you and your sporting facility need advice, get in touch today or follow us on Twitter.  

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Amanda Zahringer is the Board Chair of UCIT Ireland t/a Community Finance Ireland. She utilises her legal, financial and philanthropic expertise to ensure that Community Finance Ireland can create a world-class community finance system that works towards ensuring that positive social impact is felt – not just dreamt. This is her story…

“I was deliberately and intentionally exploring board roles a few years ago because I’m a huge believer in paying it forward. I received a scholarship at 16 which changed my trajectory and worldview, it gave me an entirely ‘new possible’ and ignited my drive and ambition. To quote a good friend, ‘when you have more than enough, extend the table, don’t build a bigger fence’. I am exceptionally fortunate to be surrounded by brilliant and passionate people who are continually extending and even creating new tables.

So, in search of a role where I could create powerful change at scale, I turned to the leaders around me who encouraged me to take on board roles. I contacted Boardmatch, and the journey began.

I gave them a list of extremely focused requirements. I told them I needed purpose, I wanted to leverage my unique skill set and it was critical that our values were aligned. And then I waited for the right role to come up. Eventually, the perfect match came about.

I truly believe there is a board role for everyone, from the neurodiversity advocate to the art teacher, the finance director, the fashion designer to the corporate lawyer. You just need to find something you’re truly passionate about. Then you do your due diligence, understand the commitment, and lean in knowing you’ll find the right one.

I found what some like to call, my ‘unicorn role’. I started my career as a corporate lawyer, led billion-dollar transactions across the world, had C-Suite roles and global roles, but my work as a board member and Chair has been my biggest challenge and biggest reward.

Sitting on the board of this social enterprise, I’m so fortunate because I am always surrounded by people who are continually extending that table, no matter what the challenges. I feel a great sense of responsibility, ensuring the right people are in place to create solutions to our world problems through our exceptional organisation and people. As a board member, I know I’m working to make sure that magic happens; that true, positive change is progressing.

This role is where I can empower others to be big, bold and brave with their moves. It’s kept me sharp, and it’s kept me humble. I have a huge sense of pride for the projects we work on, ensuring change-makers can continue paving the way. When you empower a community to lead progress and increase that prosperity circle for themselves, I don’t think there can be any greater thing in life.”

This piece resulted from Amanda Zahringer’s interview with We Act on 15th November 2022. Find out more about We Act here and to find out more about Community Finance Ireland visit our website or follow us on Twitter 

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– Community Finance Ireland delivers €1.6million in support for Donegal community organisations.

Ballyshannon-based GAA Club, Aodh Ruadh is celebrating an upgrade to its facilities, helping it maintain county ground status and attract new members, thanks to funding from Community Finance Ireland (CFI). 

Originally founded in 1909, Aodh Ruadh CLG is one of the foremost GAA Clubs in Co. Donegal, with around 400 members.  The Club consists of the main pitch, Father Tierney Park, which holds county ground status and hosts at least one National Football League fixture each year.  It also owns Pairc Aodh Ruadh (Mundy’s field) on an adjoining site, which consists of two sand-based playing fields and training facilities including a Fitness Trail and a Hurling Wall. Aodh Ruadh CLG has enjoyed significant success at County, Provincial & National level and offers both football & hurling to members.

Patsy Kilgannon, committee member at Aodh Rua GAA, said that awareness of Community Finance Ireland’s experience in supporting GAA clubs was a key factor in their decision-making process.  He said: 

There was an awareness of Community Finance Ireland in the club, and we felt it was as convenient to go to Community Finance Ireland instead of traditional sources of finance. A great credit to Anne for making the process a positive experience all the way. The loan from Community Finance Ireland has been utilised to assist with our recent redevelopment costs, helping us to maintain county ground status and improve facilities for our members.”

Patsy Kilgannon, Committee Member, Aodh Ruadh GAA

Since 2016, Community Finance Ireland  has provided €1.6million in social finance loans to 21 projects based in Donegal.  Client Relationship Manager for Connacht and Donegal, Anne Graham, says there’s huge potential for others in Donegal to follow in Aodh Ruadh’s footsteps. 

Ms. Graham said:

“It’s fantastic to see GAA Clubs like Aodh Ruadh CLG investing in their facilities, which not alone helps them to maintain their county ground status, but no doubt plays a role in attracting and retaining members.  Like Aodh Ruadh CLG, Community Finance Ireland is focused on social improvement – all the repayments made on social finance loans go right back into supporting another community group either here in Donegal or across the country.”

Anne Graham, Client Relationship Manager for Connacht and Donegal, Community Finance Ireland

About Community Finance Ireland

Community Finance Ireland delivers social finance solutions that support local communities and drive social impact through sports, community projects, faith-based groups, Arts & Heritage, Childcare, Environment, Health & Wellbeing, Housing, Tourism and social enterprises.  It is the fastest growing dedicated social finance provider across the island of Ireland and the UK. 

Community Finance Ireland is part of the UCIT Group, established in Belfast in 1995 and now supports a diverse portfolio of clients across the island of Ireland from Bantry to Ballymoney, and from Dublin to Dingle.

Currently, Community Finance Ireland is the only Irish and UK member of FEBEA, the European Federation of Ethical and Alternative Banks. 

For further information, visit our website or follow us on Twitter.  

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– Community Finance Ireland delivers €1 million in support for Tipperary community organisations.

Boher Community Development Group is a shining example of what a community can achieve when they come together. Last year Community Finance Ireland supported Boher Community Development Group in the creation of a sensory garden and recreational amenity at the heart of Boher, Co Tipperary.

Nora Keogh, Client Relationship Manager at Community Finance Ireland recently returned to Boher to see the finished community sensory garden, which is wheelchair accessible and includes a geodome, biodiversity garden and a mud kitchen.

Ms. Keogh said:

“It is such a joy to come back to Boher to see this incredible project brought to life and being enjoyed by children and their families. At Community Finance Ireland we support a huge range of community and volunteer-led projects from sports projects to social enterprises to faith-based groups, but they all start with an idea and a group of people who want to make it work.

“Nicola and the team at Boher Community Development Group came to Community Finance Ireland with an idea and we were delighted to help them make it a reality. This group was established just before our first lockdown in 2020 and it goes to show, when you have a vision for your local community, and the drive to create that change, there’s no limit to what you can do.”

Nicola Welford, Chairperson at Boher Community Development Group, said:

“Nicola and the team at Boher Community Development Group came to Community Finance Ireland “We’re very proud of all we’ve achieved for the local community here in Boher. We’re a population of around 350 people and we felt it was so important that we create a space where everyone would feel welcome. It was important that this space was fully wheelchair accessible and inclusive to all.”

“As a small group, everything we achieve is done through the commitment of our volunteers and the support of our local community – so many people played a part in fundraising and in donating their time to create this. To have the social finance support from Community Finance Ireland to get us over the line was fantastic – Nora and the team understand the challenges which community organisations face and their services are tailored to support volunteer-led groups like ours. We couldn’t have made this a reality without them.”

About Community Finance Ireland

Community Finance Ireland delivers social finance solutions that support local communities and drive social impact through sports, community projects, faith-based groups, and social enterprises.  It is the fastest growing dedicated social finance provider across the island of Ireland and the UK. 

Community Finance Ireland is part of the UCIT Group, established in Belfast in 1995 and now supports a diverse portfolio of clients across the island of Ireland from Bantry to Ballymoney, and from Dublin to Dingle.

Currently, Community Finance Ireland is the only Irish and UK member of FEBEA, the European Federation of Ethical and Alternative Banks. 

For further information, visit www.communityfinanceireland.com or keep in touch on our teams latest news @ComFinanceIrl.  

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