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Today (16 September 2021) Ulster Community Investment Trust Ltd t/a Community Finance Ireland held its all island AGM and officially launched its 2020 Annual Report.

The report published today highlights the following key takeaways:

Northern Ireland

  • £3.1 m of loan approvals into 37 local projects;
  • £9.1m to 315 social enterprises via much needed grant payments in collaboration with Department of Communities NI and SENI; and
  • £ 4.1m to 140 SME clients through the management of NISBLF Fund II.

Republic of Ireland

  • £2.6m/ €2.7m of loan approvals into 37 projects in the Leinster Region;
  • £1.4m./ €1.67m of loan approvals into 32 projects in the Munster Region;
  • £0.6m./ €0.5m of loan approvals into 25 projects in the Connaught Region; and
  • £4.4m/€4.6m of loan approvals into 72 projects in Ulster (including NI).

With a client portfolio, whose core assets are predominately its volunteers, the 169 projects saw their own belief mirrored back to them and secured term or bridging loans which supported them in:

  • Keeping their doors open;
  • Pivoting their business;
  • Ensuring their viability when their services were needed more than ever; and
  • Ensuring their sustainability as the island transitions to a new normal.

In what was an extraordinary year for the history the organisation and for the communities and citizens on the island of Ireland Donal Traynor Group Chief Executive said the following:

“The combined market conditions of Brexit and Covid left us all a little shaken in 2020. Yet it also stirred in us a reminder of the importance of access to social finance and the resilience of communities across our shared island.

Our partners in NI: Invest NI and Enterprise NI and Department for Communities, and in ROI SFF, Rethink Ireland and DCU also stepped up and showed their support to the ongoing sustainability and viability of the NFP sector.

It was a year like no other and yet we can confidently say that we supported both our clients and key stakeholders achieve great things and ensured that, when we were asked to stay apart we came together in ways that we could have only imagined.

As a result, we have much to admire and be proud of as our ongoing promise to ensure social impact is felt not simply dreamt continues”.

Donal Traynor, Group Chief Executive Community Finance Ireland

View the report in full here.

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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.

This week’s Change-Maker is Phelim Sharvin, Client Executive from Strangford, County Down. Working with clients like Forkhill Childcare and Aghavea Parish Church in Northern Ireland, Phelim is passionate about local area regeneration and all matters relating to community development.

Just two of Phelim’s clients: Forkhill Pre-School (Left) and Aghavea Parish Church (Right)

What did your journey to Community Finance Ireland look like?

I joined the team at Community Finance Ireland in 2002, before that I worked in the private sector. I studied European Regional Development, Economics and Business Management at degree and master’s level. In the last few years, I’ve supplemented this with Charter Banker accreditation and a Professional Diploma in Banking. My time working in Community Finance Ireland has given me an extensive knowledge of the Social Finance sector, in particular, Credit, Risk and Portfolio Management. I’ve been responsible for the CFI Northern Ireland portfolio since 2007 and have worked on developing loan products and funds in the areas of local sports, childcare, green energy and start-up social enterprise.

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

Our clients in Northern Ireland represent a broad mix of sectors ranging from sports clubs and faith-based organisations to training providers, green energy schemes and health & social care providers, and are spread across virtually all rural & urban communities in Northern Ireland.  

Sports, Social Enterprise, Faith and Workspace are the largest sectors represented, with some clients being long-established and others are more recently formed. Due to the pandemic and other changes in society I can see health & social care growing in the future.

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

For me, it would have to be Artspace CIC. It’s a specialist facility that currently caters for up to 40 people with complex support needs. A placement fee is paid to Artspace by WHSCT for providing bespoke support to individuals with challenging physical and mental disabilities. CFI have provided finance on three separate occasions to Artspace and helped it grow and deliver its essential service to its user group.

How do you switch off from work? What are your hobbies and interests?

I am interested in Sport, local history and Community Development. I have long history of being involved in a range of voluntary management committees including prominent positions in my local GAA Club, local Community Association and Festival Committee. And in my spare time I have coached GAA and Soccer across a range of age groups from U8 to Senior level.

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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Put aside 15 minutes and you might win our €250 thank you voucher.

The launch of a collaborative project that sees the best social minds in Ireland get the support of European funding and thinking, is currently Live.

Our team are working with @DCU, @Irish Social Enterprise Network and @Rethink Ireland in helping to establish what type of financial models are missing for the sector, what models are working elsewhere across Europe, and what might a vibrant future finance model look like.

At a recent sold out event to launch this exciting, 2 year, research initiative our CEO Donal Traynor shared his thoughts:

“Community Finance Ireland speaks finance but hears people and this collaborative project is very much about this ethos. Our team are delighted to work on behalf of the sector to ensure that today’s, and tomorrow’s, social enterprises have sustainable and innovative supports and solutions that can deliver results for everyone”

With the next phase of listening now open – the project team are asking all social enterprises to give their views and help shape solutions that will support the sustainability and success of this sector, today and into the future.

Open the link below and get your thoughts across before 6th August 2021.

https://socialfinance.ie/survey/

If you would like more information on the Financing Social Enterprise in Ireland project – click here.

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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 third Change-Maker takes us to Northern Ireland and to Peter Smyth. Based in Moira, County Down. Peter covers clients across Northern Ireland, working closely with the likes of Forkhill Childcare and Aghavea Parish Church.

Just two of Peter’s clients: Forkhill Pre-School (Left) and Aghavea Parish Church (Right)

What did your journey to Community Finance Ireland look like?

I studied Economics and Accounting at Queens University Belfast and went on to train as an accountant. From there, I worked as a Company Accountant for a large haulage firm before moving into the private banking sector. I spent 28 years working for an international financial institution in various roles such as Head of Invoice Finance, Business Banking Manager, District Manager and Head of Risk & Operations, before joining the Community Finance Ireland team in 2017.

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

I have a very mixed and varied client base ranging from unincorporated organisations to charities and more sophisticated social enterprises. My clients include Local Enterprise Agencies, sports clubs, childcare organisations, community hubs, faith-based groups and mental health and wellbeing groups.

Coming out of the pandemic I would expect to see a growth in the number of organisations involved in addressing mental health and wellbeing issues.

How do you switch off from work? What are your hobbies and interests?

I am heavily involved in my local church as Church Treasurer and office bearer and also serve on the Board of 2 other faith-based charities.

I am a keen soccer fan and an avid follower of Leeds United and Glenavon. I serve on the Committee of Lurgan BBOB where my son is team captain and I spend every Saturday watching him play.

I walk a lot with my miniature dachshund and enjoy my annual fortnight’s holiday in Majorca each year. I also enjoy a number of weekend breaks with my wife. I also became a Granda in February 2020 and love spending time with my new granddaughter Annie Joy!

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.

Share this article:

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 next Change-Maker is Anne Graham, Client Executive from Drumfries, Co.Donegal. A new face in the Community Finance Ireland team, Anne is taking advantage of the easing of restrictions to get out and about in Connaught to meet with clients like Sensational Kids, Ballinasloe Town Hall Theatre and Alone.

Some of Anne’s clients from L to R: Sensational Kids, Ballinasloe Town Hall Theatre and Alone.

What did your journey to Community Finance Ireland look like?

I have worked in Financial Services throughout my whole career and wore many hats such as a Loan & Mortgage Advisor and Business Executive, these roles provided me with me valuable credit assessment skills which I bring to my new role at Community Finance Ireland.

Throughout my career, I gained invaluable and highly educational, practical experience but I felt I still needed a formal qualification to complement the skills I garnered over the years.  In 2017, I decided to undertake an MBA in Business Administration, through University of Ulster, which I completed in May 2020.  I thoroughly enjoyed this educational experience and believe the timing of this course was ideal as it allowed me to reflect, value and share my professional, practical and voluntary experience. 

Away from work, I have been a volunteer at our local community centreSliabh Sneacht CentreI began working with our committee as a treasurer and fundraiser and I now hold the position of chairperson.  This voluntary experience was instrumental in steering my latest career move to CFI as I fully understand the challenges, difficulties and rewarding experience that comes with working in a community setting and that sense of shared achievement when your dream becomes a reality.  I can’t wait to help and support ‘the dreamers’ and I believe I am ideally positioned to support ‘the change makers’ as I have walked their path before.

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

My current client base is broad and diverse and includes everything from tourism and sport, to housing associations and forestry groups. Out here in the west we have rich cultural heritage and strong community organisations so I work with a range of community centres, museums, arts centres, drama groups, church and faith-based groups. One day I’m talking to an angling group, the next is a counselling service, the next it’s a community playgroup.

As a result of Covid-19, I think we’ll see more organisations within those sectors growing and trying to meet the changing demands in their local communities. Covid-19 has also shown us the benefits of physical activity and outdoor spaces. Staycations will provide growth opportunities in tourism and outdoor pursuits. The pandemic has shown that we don’t necessarily need to be tied to a fixed office space and as a result, growth of remote working hubs has been fast tracked. Never has the concept of wellbeing and mental health ever been amplified more and its importance to every facet of our society, the need for connectedness and community has been magnified and immeasurable.

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

To me, there are a number of clients that really demonstrate the impact Community Finance Ireland can have.

Tourmakeady GAA Club in Mayo are exemplars in what can be achieved in a rural sports Club. It is much more than a sports club it is the community centre of this locality.

IRD Kiltimagh in Mayo who support directly and indirectly Enterprise, Tourism, Housing, Arts, any other community group that needs support.

How do you switch off from work? What are your hobbies and interests?

I switch off by spending time with family and friends. I’m kept busy during the week with my son and daughter’s sporting activities (football and GAA). Most nights there is training or match to attend. At the weekends I try to squeeze in a bit of jogging and sea swimming with friends and walking with family. I also enjoy cooking and trying out new recipes when time allows, and have recently joined a ladies’ book club so I’m looking forward to reading more.

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.

Share this article:

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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