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Ireland has celebrated a summer of sporting success at national and international level, but when we look to the grassroots of our sporting heroes, we must see how much more we could achieve with investment in community facilities. That’s according to Community Finance Ireland, who today (23.09.21) launched a new €5 million fund offering social finance solutions to sports clubs across the island of Ireland.

The new fund will make flexible loans of €10,000-€500,000 available to sports organisations seeking to make a change in their local community whether that is to renovate changing or training facilities for their players and participants, or to improve local infrastructure that makes their club grounds more accessible for the local community.

The fund launched today at an online event, ‘Financial As Well As Physical Fitness Is Key To Success’, with panellists including Sinead Reel, Chairperson of Armagh Ladies’ GAA County Board, sports journalist with the Irish Times Joanne O’Riordan, and Irish Olympian Brendan Boyce who trains at the Community Finance Ireland funded Finn Valley Athletics Club in Donegal.

Speaking at the launch, Anne Graham, Community Finance Ireland Client Relationship Manager said:

“Our athletes have been blazing a trail across tracks, pitches and pools, and inspiring our next generation of sporting heroes. While it’s been a summer to celebrate, it’s also challenged all of us to consider how much more we could achieve, how much more support we could provide our aspiring Olympians or All-Stars, with greater investment in grassroots facilities and clubs.

Every community will be looking to their local pitch, climbing wall or tennis court to see where improvements can be made to upgrade equipment, develop more accessible and inclusive facilities, or perhaps to make the circuit around a pitch or track a safe public walkway for the community to keep active on those darker winter nights by installing floodlights.

Wherever a club sees an opportunity to invest in their local community, we want to put the power to make that change into their hands with fast, flexible, fair loans that can be used to bridge gaps in their funding, unlock drawdown of government grants, or provide much-needed project finance.

We work closely with sports clubs across the country, in fact they make up over a third of the organisations we work with, so we know what they need. We know that volunteers and board members aren’t in a position to provide personal guarantees, so we don’t ask for them; we know funding streams can be unpredictable, so we don’t change our interest rates or hand out penalties for early or lump-sum repayments”.

Anne Graham- Client Relationship Manager, Community Finance Ireland

Patsy McGonagle, Chairman of Finn Valley Athletics Club, worked with Community Finance Ireland to make essential improvements to their grounds in 2013.  He said:

“We’re providing a modern facility in an area where there’s very little opportunity. The mental impact that’s had on the community, the physical and social impact – it’s all positive. When there was a shortfall and we needed money, Community Finance Ireland’s welcome and their approach made it a win-win for us big time. They were very responsive, easy to work with. It was a great experience. The facility would not exist were we not to get that finance.”

Patsy McGonagle- Chairman, Finn Valley Athletics Club

Here’s What You Need to Know

1. What loan product types are available?

  • Short term bridging loans to facilitate retrospective drawing of grant support (interest only, plus grant upon redemption).
  • Longer term loans with bespoke repayment schedules.

2. What geography does the fund cover?

  • Northern Ireland, Ulster, Munster, Leinster and Connacht.

3. What is the loan range?

  • £10k – £500k (NI).
  • €10k – €500k (RoI).

4. What is the term range?

  • 1 month – 180 months.

5. What is the interest rate?

  • Maximum 6.25%*, calculated on a reducing balance.
  • *The lowest maximum rate across the island.

6. Is there an arrangement fee?

  • No*
  • *The only bridging product available across the entire island to do so.

7. What security is required?

  • None on bridging loans.
  • Most of our term loans are also unsecured.
  • No Personal Guarantees are required.

8. Is there an Early Repayment penalty?

  • No.

9. How long does a loan decision take?

  • 48 hours for any loan request of up to £/€200k once we have all of your final information.
  • Up to 4-6 weeks for loan request in excess of £/€200k.

10. How do I apply?

  • You can get started now by clicking here and completing an online application.
  • Or if you need to chat to us first click here and we will arrange a follow up call with either Phelim, Peter, Emmett, Barry, Nora or Anne depending on where you and your team are located.

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Following a summer where local sporting heroes made their mark at national and international level, Community Finance Ireland has launched a £5 million fund aimed at sports clubs throughout the island of Ireland. 

The new fund will make flexible loans of £10,000-£500,000 available to sports organisations seeking to make a change in their local community whether that is to renovate changing or training facilities for their players and participants, or to improve local infrastructure that makes their club grounds more accessible for the local community.

The fund launched today at an online event, ‘Financial As Well As Physical Fitness Is Key To Success’, with panellists including Sinead Reel, Chairperson of Armagh Ladies’ GAA County Board, sports journalist for the Irish Times Joanne O’Riordan, and Irish Olympian Brendan Boyce who trains at the Community Finance Ireland funded Finn Valley Athletics Club in Donegal.

Speaking at the event, Phelim Sharvin, Head of Community Finance (NI) at Community Finance Ireland said:

“The considerable appetite for finance from the sports sector shows no signs of slowing down, with almost a third of queries to our website coming through from sports clubs . 

The success of NI sports people this summer has meant that there’s increasing demands on clubs who are experiencing growing membership and interest in their offerings.  We know that the flexibility of the loan terms, alongside the speedy decision-making process makes this an attractive product for sports clubs. 

With just over a third of loan applications last year coming from the sports sector, this is an area Community Finance Ireland know really well.  In the period June 2020-June 2021, queries from sports organisations were higher than ever with roughly a quarter of these approaches coming from Northern Ireland. Interest from GAA and football clubs continues to be strong, however we’re starting to see engagement from less traditional disciplines like gymnastics and cricket where increasing membership requires additional space and therefore investment in facilities.” 

Phelim Sharvin- Head of Community Finance (NI), Community Finance Ireland

Flight Gymnastics in County Antrim, a client of Community Finance Ireland since 2017, has experienced a 300%+ increase in membership in the past 24 months. Andrew O’Hare and Judith Hindes attribute recent growth in part to the Olympics, but more so coming out of lockdown and the need younger people have to develop much needed fundamental movement and social interaction skills greatly affected over the last 18 months.  

Andrew O’Hare from Flight Gymnastics said:

“We’ve been working with Community Finance Ireland since 2017, accessing finance for working capital and the installation of a specialist heating system in our premises. The relationship we have with the team means they know our business and how we work and the fast decision-making process means that we can be as flexible as possible in responding to the changing needs of our members.  Due to a significant increase in our membership base we’re currently looking at expanding our premises and we know that Community Finance Ireland understands how important this facility will be, not only to us but to our members and their families.”

Andrew O’Hare, Flight Gymnastics

Here’s What You Need to Know

1. What loan product types are available?

  • Short term bridging loans to facilitate retrospective drawing of grant support (interest only, plus grant upon redemption).
  • Longer term loans with bespoke repayment schedules.

2. What geography does the fund cover?

  • Northern Ireland, Ulster, Munster, Leinster and Connacht.

3. What is the loan range?

  • £10k – £500k (NI).
  • €10k – €500k (RoI).

4. What is the term range?

  • 1 month – 180 months.

5. What is the interest rate?

  • Maximum 6.25%*, calculated on a reducing balance.
  • *The lowest maximum rate across the island.

6. Is there an arrangement fee?

  • No*
  • *The only bridging product available across the entire island to do so.

7. What security is required?

  • None on bridging loans.
  • Most of our term loans are also unsecured.
  • No Personal Guarantees are required.

8. Is there an Early Repayment penalty?

  • No.

9. How long does a loan decision take?

  • 48 hours for any loan request of up to £/€200k once we have all of your final information.
  • Up to 4-6 weeks for loan request in excess of £/€200k.

10. How do I apply?

  • You can get started now by clicking here and completing an online application.
  • Or if you need to chat to us first click here and we will arrange a follow up call with either Phelim, Peter, Emmett, Barry, Nora or Anne depending on where you and your team are located.

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We are inviting you to attend our short Zoom Webinar event on Thursday 23 September from 12 noon to 12:45pm. You’ll hear from our Head of Community Finance NI Phelim Sharvin and our Client Relationship Manager for Connacht and Donegal Anne Graham as well as our sporting special guests Sinead Reel (Chairperson of Armagh Ladies’ GAA County Board), Brendan Boyce (Donegal Sports Star of the Year 2019 and Irish Olympian) and Joanne O’Riordan (Irish Times Sports Journalist).

With a current all island client portfolio that makes up 37% of our activity, our team have and continue to seek new ways in facilitating sporting excellence and enthusiasm across the island of Ireland. Our support remained during Covid-19 and we will be on hand again as each of us navigate new terrain and a new normal.

Our genuine commitment to sport runs very deep in our organisation. This is showcased again as we launch our first €/£5 m All Island Sports Loan Fund. Open to all those change-makers across the island of Ireland who may realise that despite Covid disruptions, the ability to gather, train, play and compete plays a key role in our personal and community connections.

The theme of this event is Financial as well as physical fitness is key to success. The panel will discuss the importance of financial and physical fitness and detail how our new £/€5 million All-Island Sports Loan Fund can support sports club’s activity.


Our Speakers

Phelim Sharvin | Head of Community Finance NI, Community Finance Ireland

Phelim is a Chartered Banker and holds a Masters degree in European Regional Development, Economics & Business Management. He joined Community Finance Ireland in 2002, bringing with him nearly 20 years’ experience in the Social Finance sector and Portfolio Management. He has helped develop tailored loan products and bespoke loan funds in the local Sports, Childcare, Green Energy and Start-Up Social Enterprise sectors. He is a sports enthusiast and is involved in his local GAA club.

Anne Graham | Client Relationship Manager, Community Finance Ireland

Anne joined Community Finance Ireland in April 2021 as our Client Relationship Manager for Connacht and her native Donegal. Anne has over 25 years’ experience working across financial services in business development, business lending, and financial advice and credit control roles. Anne holds an MBA from University of Ulster and a QFA Diploma from the Institute of Bankers. When not working with clients, Anne spends her time running and has recently taken up sea swimming on the beautiful shores of Lough Swilly. Family time is a priority at weekends and if not attending Football or GAA matches, Anne enjoys cooking and making the most of beautiful outdoors in Donegal

Joanne O’Riordan | Sports Journalist for the Irish Times and Activist

Joanne O’Riordan studied criminology in University College Cork (UCC) and is only one of seven people in the world living with a rare physical disability known as Total Amelia. Joanne is an activist for people with disabilities, a motivational speaker and a sports columnist with the Irish Times. Joanne has spoken before the UN and was named Young Person of the Year at the People of the Year awards in 2012. Joanne also appears in the 2013 documentary No Limbs No Limits. Joanne recently travelled to Japan in 2021 to cover the Tokyo Paralympic Games.

Brendan Boyce | Olympic Race Walker and Sports Ambassador

Brendan Boyce is an accomplished sportsman who has competed three times in the Olympics in the sport of race walking. Most recently he finished tenth in the 50km walk event in the Tokyo 2020 Olympics. A native of County Donegal, Brendan has benefitted from Community Finance Ireland’s investment in Finn Valley Athletics Club. Brendan now lives in Midleton and trains in Cork City. Brendan has been vocal on sporting issues that he feels are unjust, recently using his influence to speak out about the International Olympic Committee (IOC) giving itself power to remove sports from the Olympic program.

Sinead Reel | Chairperson Armagh Ladies’ GAA County Board

Sinead Reel is a lifelong GAA player and fan. For Sinead, Sport is very much a family affair with both her father and her brother also sharing her love for competing on the GAA pitch. Sinead made history by building the first and only dedicated female changing and playing pitch in Co. Armagh. Her dedication to sport in her local community has not only helped to develop new state of the art playing facilities but has also created employment opportunities and helped to advance opportunities for the next generation of players.

Register Now

To reserve your place, simply register with Eventbrite below:

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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 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.

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