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

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

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


Anne Graham

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


What has been your own involvement in sports?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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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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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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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.

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.

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.

Covering mid-south Leinster, our next Change-Maker is Barry Symes, Client Executive from Waterford. Working with clients like Red Cross Glen of Imaal Mountain Rescue and Sensational Kids. Barry is passionate about growing Community Finance Ireland’s brand and impact in Leinster.  

Just two of Barry’s clients Sensational Kids (left), Irish Red Cross Glen of Imaal Mountain Rescue (Right)

What did your journey to Community Finance Ireland look like?

I joined Community Finance Ireland in 2017. Prior to that, I spent 17 years working for a private financial institution where I rose to Senior Managerial level. I am the founder and proprietor of SME Debt Solutions. In terms of my education, I completed a diploma in Financial Services from Waterford Institute of Technology and hold a certificate in Agriculture from Teagasc. I am also an Associate Member of the Institute of Banks.

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

I have a diverse range of clients with investments in most sectors. With mid-south Leinster being a largely rural area, Sport & Community make up a large portion of my clients. Community Finance Ireland has only been active in this area for the last four years so these two are where I see the most growth happening. However, as awareness grows of what we have to offer local communities I’d hope to see that growth in lots of other areas.

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

Thankfully, there are multiple of examples of where CFI’s investment has been a key element for positive impact. A recent one is Kiltegan GAA Club, who collaborated with their community, camogie club and stakeholders like the Local Authority, Local Development Company and CFI to bring about a transformational sporting & community project for their village. This has resulted in the village being nominated for a prestigious Pride of Place Award. A most deserving nomination.

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

A young family keeps one busy, as does my wide interest in sports, politics, motors, reading and other such interests.

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 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.

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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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