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

Kilcreggan Homes, an independent charity that provides housing, day and employment opportunities for adults with a Learning Disability, Autistic Spectrum Condition or an acquired brain injury, is expanding its residential accommodation offering with £85k support from social finance providers, Community Finance Ireland.

The charity has received a total funding package of £240k from Community Finance Ireland in 2023. The package includes refinancing of existing accommodation loans, £85k towards the purchase of a property to support the rehabilitation of a client with complex needs and a £5k charitable donation to Kilcreggan Homes, towards developing its Mid Ulster Sanctuary site near Magherafelt.

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 team at Kilcreggan Homes is hugely ambitious and has worked hard to widen the organisation’s portfolio in the past year. Across multiple sites including an urban farm and supported living properties in Carrickfergus, the charity helps 160 clients every week and achieves a clear social impact through the delivery of a high quality essential care service. 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 Kilcreggan Homes, which delivers Community Services and Health and Wellbeing services.”

Kilcreggan Homes Community Finance IReland
L-R, Phelim Sharvin, Head of Community Finance Ireland, Northern Ireland, Damien Cassidy, Managing Director of Kilcreggan Homes and service users Lynn and Grace pictured at Kilcreggan Homes Garden Centre.

Damien Cassidy, Managing Director of Kilcreggan Homes said:

“The financial support from Community Finance Ireland allowed us to restructure existing debt and in turn to plan for the purchase of a property in Newtownabbey and develop our Mid Ulster site. As well as our urban farm, our café, garden centre and pop up Christmas shop welcome 15,000 visitors annually and provide service users with training, day opportunities and employment.. We have a resource centre where they can socialise and the purchase of the residential properties close by means we can now also offer further independent living opportunities to complex needs service users. We very much appreciate the advice from Phelim and his highly experienced team throughout the process, along with their enthusiasm for our vision.”

Read more stories from Community Finance Ireland’s clients here.

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– Community Finance Ireland delivers £5.1 million of support in Antrim since 2016 –

A Carrickfergus-based sport and leisurewear company, founded by two friends during the pandemic, is the latest Co Antrim company to be supported by the Northern Ireland Small Business Loan FundThe Hybrid Academy was established by best friends Rob McFall, an aeronautical engineer and John Magill, a sales professional and received funding of £30,000 working capital to purchase stock and improve their supply chain.

The Northern Ireland Small Business Loan Fund is managed by Ulster Community Finance Ltd (UCF) on behalf of Invest Northern Ireland and delivered in partnership with Enterprise Northern Ireland. UCF is a subsidiary of the social enterprise Community Finance Ireland. Small businesses, sole traders and partnerships keen to develop their business can avail of loans up to £100,000, while start-up businesses can obtain initial loans of up to £15,000.

Rob McFall who lived in Italy prior to the pandemic explains how The Hybrid Academy has grown:

“The name existed for years before we founded the company as a nickname for the group of friends we regularly train with.  Like many small businesses, ours was founded in lockdown when we took a chance on making something we’d talked about for years, into a reality.  The team at NISBLF really helped us to understand what we needed to keep up with customer demand and make the business grow and of course support us with the finance to improve our supply chain.”

Community Finance Ireland NI Small Business Loan Fund Hybrid Academy Carrickfergus
L to R: Nigel McKernan (Invest NI’s Director of Corporate Finance), Robert McFall and John Magill (Founders and Owners of Hybrid Academy) and Dónal Traynor (Ulster Community Finance Ltd’s Chief Executive) at Hybrid Academy in Carrickfergus, Co. Antrim. Photo Credit: Brian Morrison Photography

Ulster Community Finance Ltd Chief Executive, Dónal Traynor said:

“This ambitious young company is performing well in the crowded fitness apparel market and they are ready to take their business to the next level, keeping up with the demand created by their impressive digital marketing and athlete influencer engagement programme. The fast and flexible finance that the Northern Ireland Small Business Loan Fund offers, is perfectly suited to support the Hybrid Academy and we look forward to seeing how the business evolves.

Other sectors which have benefitted from the Fund to date include manufacturing and renewable energy. The Fund is open to organisations throughout Antrim who are interested in learning how financial support of up to £100,000 could further their business ambitions.”

Nigel McKernan, Invest NI’s Director of Corporate Finance, said:  

“The Small Business Loan Fund continues to assist businesses throughout Northern Ireland to fulfil their growth ambitions. The Hybrid Academy is another great example of an early-stage business which has used the fund to help it to grow. It is encouraging to see that Rob and John benefitted from not only financial support but the knowledge of experienced business advisors throughout the application process.”

The NI Small Business Loan Fund is part of Invest NI’s Access to Finance suite of loan and equity funds.

To find out more about the Northern Ireland Small Business Loan Fund and how it could help with the next stage of your business’s plan, visit their website.

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Community Finance Ireland’s Donal Traynor is the First Irish CEO appointed to the Board of European Finance Federation

Dónal Traynor, CEO of Community Finance Ireland (CFI), has been appointed as the first Irish board member of the European Federation of Ethical and Alternative Banks (FEBEA), an umbrella group of 33 financial institutions from 15 European countries which develop and promote ethical finance principles.

The appointment was announced following the FEBEA Annual Conference in Athens last month, where Mr. Traynor spoke to delegates about the impact of CFI’s work providing social finance solutions to voluntary-led and grassroots organisations on the island of Ireland.

Donal Traynor Community Finance Ireland first irish CEO appointed to FEBEA Board

Community Finance Ireland, which has been a member of FEBEA since 2016, offers social finance loans to community organisations which drive social impact through sport, faith-based groups, social enterprises and community projects.

CFI was established in Belfast in 1995, and has supported a wide variety of organisations across the island of Ireland to a value of €100million in social finance.

Speaking on his appointment, Mr. Traynor said,

“I’m delighted to join the board of this excellent European network. FEBEA’s mission to work for the development of a fairer, more sustainable and more inclusive society is directly aligned with our mission at Community Finance Ireland. We’re proud to offer tailored supports to organisations that are creating palpable social change in our local communities across Ireland. Just as our peers in FEBEA do in communities right across Europe. For CFI, for our clients, and for the wider Not-For-Profit sector in Ireland, this closer collaboration with our European partners is an important step. We know from working with volunteers on the ground in communities from Bantry to Ballymoney, Donegal to Dublin, we have much to share with our colleagues across Europe and we will have much to learn from them.”

Pedro M. Sasia, President of FEBEA said:

“For FEBEA, the participation of an organisation like Community Finance Ireland, deeply aligned with ethical finance values and the spirit of community, is of great importance. That’s why we’re beyond happy to see Donal Traynor stepping up and actively engaging in the network’s most vital body: the Board of Directors.”

Originally from Cavan, Mr. Traynor was appointed to CEO of Community Finance Ireland in 2020, having led their business in the Republic of Ireland since 2004. He is the youngest CEO in the organisation’s history and the first to come from a non-banking background.

For more information on FEBEA, visit their website here, and to learn more about Community Finance Ireland’, visit our home page’s story click here.

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On 9th October 2023, Sport NI opened a new £1million pound capital investment fund which seeks to reduce the environmental impact of sports clubs throughout Northern Ireland and contribute to a more sustainable sports club network.

Funded by The National Lottery, the Renewable Energy Fund will support sports clubs with infrastructure upgrades such as solar energy systems, air and ground source heating systems, sustainable water recycling solutions, and floodlight upgrades.

The Renewable Energy Fund will be delivered as a pilot programme in 2023/24, as Sport NI gathers information on which environmental interventions have the greatest impact within sports clubs. The fund was developed using feedback from sports clubs through Sport NI’s Environmental Sustainability Survey.

Investment will be spread across Northern Ireland with at least one club from each of the 11 council areas being selected to take part. To be eligible, clubs must have completed Sport NI’s Environmental Sustainability Survey.

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

“I welcome the announcement of this new initiative from Sport NI which will enable sports clubs across Northern Ireland to invest in infrastructure upgrades in line with renewable energy ambitions. Not only will the initiative have a positive impact on the environment but it will reduce clubs’ long term energy costs, allowing them to invest the savings into other areas of the clubs’ development.”

WHO CAN APPLY?

  • The Renewable Energy Fund Pilot Programme will only accept applications from sports organisations in Northern Ireland who either own or operate their own sports facilities.

WHAT TYPE OF PROJECTS CAN BE FUNDED?

  • Sport NI are interested in taking forward the following types of energy projects within sports clubs:
  • Solar Energy Systems (and ancillary equipment).
  • Air Source Heating Systems (and ancillary equipment).
  • Ground Source Heating Systems (and ancillary equipment).
  • Sustainable Water Recycling Systems.
  • Fixed Floodlight Upgrades (Specifically upgrades to LED Bulbs and Connection to Grid).
  • Sport NI may consider alternative interventions if recommended in your club energy audit, and if the benefits of that intervention have been clearly articulated.

If you are ready to apply to the Sport NI Renewable Energy Fund, click here for more details.

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Following the launch of our Social Value Analysis Research Report earlier in the year, Community Finance Ireland’s Chief Executive Donal Traynor discusses the findings, the impact of the multiplier effect for local communities and the importance of finding a common reporting metric across the Voluntary, Community and Social Enterprise Sector in his latest Leadership Insights blog piece.

During Covid, clients across the VCSE sector saw the demands for their services escalate. While much of the typical services we participated in were closed, the need for elderly care, meals on wheels, mental health services and a vast range of what we term the caring community network were operational and needed social finance to keep those services delivering.

Our need to evaluate the social impact of our clients has always been a question for Community Finance Ireland. How do we measure social impact? How do we measure a feeling? Following the sensational resilience of our client base during and post Covid challenges, we wondered again how might we measure the social impact of what was delivered during that historic period?
 
Our feeling was that with the “right partners” we might just be able to establish a benchmark multiplier effect demonstrating the ancillary benefits generated to the circular economy, and therefore have the ability to genuinely tell the story of the deep and lasting impact social finance can deliver for community groups. The “right partners” turned out to be Rose Regeneration and Rural Community Network.
 
The approach involved harvesting a range of data from investees, using the social value engine platform and working with clients who represented local sports clubs, faith groups, social enterprises plus special needs and rescue services, among many others.

Social Return on Investment Report brings lots to smile about (L to R): Conor McGale Rose Regeneration & Donal Traynor CEO Community Finance Ireland

Their collective contributions helped our social enterprise establish a multiplier effect of 3.42 times our initial investment. This is a figure that is reflective of a moment in time, but one that helps us establish a benchmark to understand the real value of social finance in action.
 
A figure that we hope will give our whole team a target on which to continue building upon.

Over the coming weeks, we will spotlight some of the clients who helped deliver this multiplier effect. Clients such as Walkinstown Greenhills Resource Centre CLG, Sensational Kids, Fort Dunree Military Museum, Carnaross GFC, Hillside Evangelical Church and Made in Mourne, saw immediate benefits in being able to keep their services running, but also helped achieve wider improvements in:

A figure that is reflective of a moment in time, but one that helps us establish a benchmark to understand the real value of social finance in action.

And one that we hope will give our whole team a target on which to continue building upon.

Over the next while, we will spotlight some of the clients who helped deliver this multiplier effect.  Clients such as Walkinstown Greenhills Resource Centre CLG, Sensational Kids, Fort Dunree, Carnaross GFC , Hillside Evangelical Church & Made in Mourne, saw immediate benefits in being able to keep their services running, but also helped achieve wider improvements in:

Local impact can be felt pretty quickly, but the wider benefits to supporting the Sustainable Development Goals, which every community across the world are working towards, are an important part of the local narrative.

Our membership with FEBEA (European Federation of Ethical and Alternatives Banks and Financiers) sees us engage in constructive conversations with wider communities across Spain, Belgium, Greece and further afield in understanding the multiplier effect across all types of social finance initiatives.

The importance of finding a common metric in reporting progress or impact continues to challenge all of us in this community. As we publish this, our first Social Value Report, my hope is to realise the streamlining of a common approach so that we can all collectively understand progress.

Two of our clients who took part in the research project. On the left Sensational Kids and on the right Fort Dunree Military Museum.

Whilst such a common approach may be some time away, here at Community Finance Ireland our team are now committed to investing resources into an annual Social Value Analysis, which will continue to spotlight the real value of social finance.

We are really looking forward to engaging with more clients next year and see what further benefits or improvements Community Finance Ireland can support with its service and offering.

You can read more about the importance of Social Value Analysis and the detail behind our first report here. In the meantime we continue to support and raise awareness of the value of the sector and the changemakers who work within it.
 
Regards

Donal Traynor Sports
Donal Traynor CEO Community Finance Ireland

Donal Traynor Chief Executive,

Community Finance Ireland

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– NI Small Business Loan Fund makes £2.3 million available to Co Tyrone businesses –

Cookstown-based go-kart and e-scooter retailer, Gorilla Karts, is one of 84 companies in Co Tyrone to be supported by the Northern Ireland Small Business Loan Fund since 2013, bringing the total allocated to businesses in the county to over £2 million.

The Fund is managed by Ulster Community Finance Ltd (UCF) on behalf of Invest Northern Ireland and delivered in partnership with Enterprise Northern Ireland. UCF is a subsidiary of the social enterprise organisation Community Finance Ireland (previously known as UCIT Ltd). Small businesses, sole traders and partnerships keen to develop their business can avail of loans up to £100,000, while start-up businesses can obtain initial loans of up to £15,000.

Gorilla Karts was founded in 2006 by Andrew Hamilton. From his premises just outside Cookstown, he sells a range of manual and electronic scooters, go-karts, hoverboards and accessories.  In 2022, Gorilla Karts secured £75,000 funding from NISBLF to meet growing customer demand for products and the company’s repair service. 

L-R Andrew Hamilton, founder of go-kart and e-scooter retailer, Gorilla Karts, Nigel McKernan, Invest NI’s Director of Corporate Finance and Dónal Traynor, Ulster Community Finance Ltd Chief Executive on site at Gorilla Karts in Cookstown, Co Tyrone.

Ulster Community Finance Ltd Chief Executive, Dónal Traynor said:

“Andrew is a one man power house whose love of sporting products clearly makes this small business the success it is today. The ongoing demand for the suite of global products as well as their in-house repair service means it’s a one stop shop for those seeking to engage in sporting activities locally.

Other sectors which have benefitted from the Fund to date include manufacturing and renewable energy. The fund is open to organisations throughout Co Tyrone who are interested in learning how financial support of up to £100,000 could further their business ambitions.”

L-R Andrew Hamilton, founder of go-kart and e-scooter retailer, Gorilla Karts, Dónal Traynor, Ulster Community Finance Ltd Chief Executive and Nigel McKernan, Invest NI’s Director of Corporate Finance on site at Gorilla Karts in Cookstown, Co Tyrone.

Andrew Hamilton said:

“Growing public interest in e-scooters and hoverboards over the past two years, has resulted in a huge increase in sales. The funding Gorilla Karts received from the Northern Ireland Business Loan Fund has allowed us to purchase additional stock in time for the Christmas rush and to recruit technical repair staff. As well as our local customer base, we also sell online at eBay and Amazon so the funding and valuable advice provided by Ulster Community Finance meant we could maintain our stock levels to meet customer demand.”

The NI Small Business Loan Fund is part of Invest NI’s Access to Finance suite of loan and equity funds. Nigel McKernan, Invest NI’s Director of Corporate Finance, said:

“It is really encouraging to see so many businesses in Co Tyrone benefitting from the NI Small Business Loan Fund, with lending to businesses in the region now surpassing £2m. Gorilla Karts is a business “on the pulse” in terms of consumer demand and takes advantage of the global marketplace via its impressive website. It’s a great example of how the Fund can support a business to react to an increase in demand for its products.”

To find out more about the Northern Ireland Small Business Loan Fund and how it could help with the next stage of your business’s plan, visit their website.

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Community and volunteer-led organisations who choose social finance solutions could see a social return of investment of over 3.42 times the initial investment. That’s according to Community Finance Ireland (CFI), the most progressive social finance provider across the island.

Based on a social value analysis undertaken by Rose Regeneration and the Rural Community Network, CFI has established that for every €1/£1 spent in delivering projects on the island, local communities have seen a return of 3.42 times that investment, through wider social benefits such as improved community health and increased employment opportunities and skill levels.

Dónal Traynor, CEO of CFI, says the cumulative impact of such projects is boundless:

“We strive to create a lasting social impact in every community on the island of Ireland. As the first all island Social Value Report our team and clients can really see the multiplier effect played out in communities across the island every day. If a community development group were to invest in remote working spaces, for example, the ripple effect sees stronger social connections in that community, more money spent in local businesses, and a greater sense of belonging for individuals who might have previously worked in isolation at home or spent hours on a commute. You cannot underestimate the social impact of these changes, and the social value analysis carried out by Rose Regeneration and the Rural Community Network, via the Social Value Engine platform, demonstrates the return of investment which communities can expect.”

Community Finance Ireland Social Value Analysis Report
All smiles as the first all island social value analysis report finds a 3.42 times multiplier effect for the initial investment. (L to R): Conor McGale Evaluation and Impact Manager at Rose Regeneration & Donal Traynor CEO Community Finance Ireland discuss the stunning results achieved with clients during Covid restrictions.

Mr. Traynor added that social finance offers communities even greater social impact:

“Not only do we offer more tailored supports and knowledgeable advice for volunteer-led organisations, but communities also know they’re part of an all-island social impact network – in repaying their loan, a sports club in Ballymoney is supporting a social enterprise in Bantry. Any profit goes straight back to supporting other similar projects, it’s a circular social economy that is making real change happen in communities across the island.”

Conor McGale, Evaluation and Impact Manager at Rose Regeneration said:

“We were delighted to be approached by Community Finance Ireland to carry out this analysis, which clearly demonstrates its social impact in supporting organisations across the island of Ireland. This report focuses on the assistance that CFI provided to a wide range of groups, whose financing and fundraising options were seriously curtailed by the COVID-19 pandemic. Through the conversations that we had, it was clear that CFI played an essential role in ensuring many VCSE organisations were able to keep growing and developing, whilst continuing to provide essential services to their local communities.”

For more information you can view the report in full here.

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