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Today (16 June 2022) Ulster Community Investment Trust Ltd t/a Community Finance Ireland held its all island AGM in person for the first time in three years. As part of the AGM the team officially launched its 2021 Annual Report.

The report published today highlights the following key takeaways:

Northern Ireland

  • £2m of loans into 14 local projects;
  • £7.2m to 354 charities via much needed grant payments in collaboration with Department of Communities NI and NICVA; and
  • £4.4m to 152 SME clients through the management of NISBLF Fund II since 2018.

Republic of Ireland

  • €2.2m of loans into 26 projects in the Leinster Region;
  • €1.2m of loans into 15 projects in the Munster Region;
  • €0.1m of loans into 4 projects in the Connacht Region; and
  • €1m of loan approvals into 17 projects in Ulster (excluding NI).

With a client portfolio, whose core assets are predominately its volunteers, the 76 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 another 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:

“Our team continue to ensure social impact is felt not just dreamt and 2021 was no different. Dreams were realised and progress was felt right across the island. Choose change is indeed the mantra of the sector and the volunteers who keep it vibrant. We are delighted to be part of that change, whilst recognising there is always more to do.”.

Donal Traynor, Group Chief Executive Community Finance Ireland

View the report in full here.

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Social finance is a unique form of funding. It helps communities and social enterprises make progress and build sustainable services whilst creating that elusive “social impact” footprint.

It can help projects move to the next exciting stage and many of our clients have done so by accessing both flexible term and bridging loans.

Here at Community Finance Ireland, our team have 21 years experience working with sports clubs (Kilcoo GAC, Co. Down), health/social care services (Foyle Women’s Aid. Co Derry), community halls (Billy’s Tea Rooms Co. Kilkenny) and digital hubs (Sneem Co. Kerry); all of whom have found that social finance enabled them to achieve social impact in their local communities.

A social enterprise, charity or community-led organisation may find themselves looking at their finance needs when assessing a project. While grants can play a role in supporting their objectives, there are those in the sector who also understand that a loan can be part of the solution and help build that new sports facility, re-roof the church, support additional employment or build office facilities in a remote village.

If your organisation is considering a new project, restructuring its finances or has an idea that will drive social impact then here are the Top 5 Tips that will make it easy for you to apply for a social finance loan:

Top 5 Tips for Success:

  • Tell us about yourself

Share what issues you are seeking to address, the facilities you wish to develop or the opportunity you see in your local communities.

  • Confirm Eligible Legal Status

Ensure appropriate governing documents are in place and the applicant organisation has the appropriate power to borrow. Outline the details of those responsible including the list of Directors and/or Trustee

  • Management Team

Highlight the positive attributes of the people behind the project, including: Commitment to improving their community, Track Record, Professional Experience and Skills. Also, evidence clear communications and insights along with sound financial management skills.

  • Financial Performance

Financial stability is a key way to show your organisation will be able to repay a  loan. Alongside financial stability, factor in the social and environmental impact too.  Your ability to repay is assessed by looking at past, present and future finances. These typically include:

  1. Access to previous projects results.
  2. A review of past audited accounts.
  3. Assess relative trends and fundraising capacity.
  4. Recent management accounts, loans held, bank statements and debtors/creditors listings.
  5. Future financial projections.
  • Demonstrate Social Impact

Typically our successful clients are driven by local job creation, local facility development, delivery of health & social care support plus the promotion of diversity and inclusion.

Our Clients Choose Us, as We Offer:

At Community Finance Ireland, We Speak Finance. But We Hear People.

In summary, social finance continues to grow in popularity as a route to helping change-makers deliver the change they want to see and be part of. Whatever you see and whatever it is that you dream of we are waiting to hear from you.

Get in touch here: https://communityfinanceireland.com/contact/

Ends.

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As an all-island brand, with a growing team, our colleagues live and work in Down, Antrim, Meath, Donegal, Waterford, Limerick, Cavan, and Louth. Whilst they also have the option to work at our dedicated office spaces located in Ardee, Co. Louth or in Belfast City Centre.

In light of both the NI and RoI governments’ decision to relax Covid restrictions our team are now working “the new norm”.  

With Northern Ireland’s growing confidence in an office versus home working environment and the Republic of Ireland creating a Bill to pass legislation protecting employees working from home (The Right to Request Remote Work Bill 2021) the traditional five days a week, office based working model is now clearly in transition.

Our team at CFI, have technically spent the best part of the last two years working from home (often at the kitchen table or in some cases a bedroom) and as we settle into our new norm, we asked our people what were the pros and cons they learnt from their experience and how will this experience support them in their day-to-day delivery of social finance solutions to grassroots community clients and projects.

Here’s what they had to say:

“With my home base at Strangford Lough, a hybrid working model allows me to maximise my use of time effectively as I can block out days for new client meetings and when at home, focus on administrative aspects.”

Phelim Sharvin, Head of Community Finance N.I

“Hybrid working is great and allows all colleagues to work where most comfortable. For me, being in the office is important for setting my own boundaries between work and home-life.”

Peter Smyth , Client Relationship Manager N.I

“Working from home has really helped me flourish in my career. I thrive on quiet time where I can focus on strategic papers or analytics and have found zoom meetings suit my working style.”

Nicky McElhatton, Marketing and Social Media Executive

“I joined CFI during the pandemic. My role is Front of House and I really enjoy the office environment. With a newly designed office space in Belfast, I can continue to work safely alongside others.”

Nick Heath, Front Office Administrator

“Having a blend of working-from-home and the office breaks up the week. With a flexible working schedule, this has really helped give me an improved work-life balance.”

Stephanie Nicholl, Compliance Officer

“Working-from-home is something I have gotten used to. Although, I do miss the aspect of being in the company of my colleagues as work relationships are not always the same behind a screen.”

Sandra Cowan, Finance Officer

“My week is usually now 70% office based with 30% working-from-home. I have adapted well to this new rhythm and have also found that as a Manager of a team, the trust with my people has improved greatly.”

Barry Connolly, Group Chief Financial Officer

“The ability to work remotely has given me the chance to spend more time at home. With less distractions, my time spent working is more productive and I have my cats for company, all day.”

Emma Thompson, Finance Executive

“A blended approach allowed me to meet colleagues whom I would not of come into contact with as much whilst working remotely. I am able to create relationships were I can reach out to colleagues from different departments which is hugely beneficial as I start my career.“

Jack Lennon, Marketing Intern

“Hybrid working works excellently for me with a team based all over the country. It offers me the ability to work wherever I might be needed, for both my team and my clients. As long as my phone and laptop charger are optimized, I find the flexibility of different working locations can ensure I can be where I am needed at all times.”

Emmett O’Hara, Head of Community Finance RoI

“My role finds me on the road quite a bit, meeting clients. This regular travelling is balanced by my ability to work from my home on days where I am liasing with other team members and assisting clients from a remote location.”

Anne Graham, Client Relationship Manager Donegal and Connacht

“My role has always been remote and as such, the hybrid working model has little impact on that working style. But what has been welcome, is that many of my colleagues now also have the same working pattern.”

Barry Symes, Client Relationship Manager South East Leinster and Waterford

“I joined Community Finance Ireland just over six months ago and have found zoom meetings invaluable in helping me connect with my new work colleagues.”

Nora Keogh, Client Relationship Manager Munster

“Working from the office is a key benefit to me that helps with my part-time hours and the logistics of family life. Office based work continues to be my personal choice but it’s great to have the ability to work from my kitchen on occasion.”

Terri Martin, Office Manager and Micro-Finance Lead RoI

“Working remotely has never been a barrier to my ability to deliver great work or to engage my colleagues or agency partners on key projects. I have found that meeting in person is always welcome but that with excellent IT support working from home offers a flexibility that really suits my way of working. This new norm has shifted me from a ‘work – life balance’ view to a ‘life –work balance’ view and I love it.

Lita Notte, Head of Marketing and Communications

“A hybrid structure has worked well for me. With the flexible option of remote work or going to the office I have a genuine sense of work-life balance. Time not spent commuting has been redirected to time spent in my local community.”

Pauline Carolan, Office Administrator

“A hybrid working system has been great for everyone here at CFI. With a small team, it allows us to grow resources in all regions of the island and connect with all communities. We swiftly introduced technology and IT supports to help our people and give them the tools they needed to continue to liaise with clients and each other. For me personally, it is great to have a balance with a new Belfast office acting as a hub in more recent months.”

Donal Traynor, CEO Community Finance Ireland

In summary, much like the uniqueness of our people, hybrid working offers different things for everyone. But in essence flexible working practices (either office or home) is successful and our team are very much “fans” of the new norm.

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Last week Donal Traynor our CEO was on hand to help ‘Dress for Success’ expand its reach in Northern Ireland.

As the leading global non-profit employment resource for women our team were on hand to celebrate the initiatives expansion in Northern Ireland, with the opening of a second branch, situated at the Glengall Exchange, in Belfast City Centre, under a new tenancy from Community Finance Ireland.

Dress for Success Northern Ireland is managed by Foyle Women’s Aid and to date has supported over 200 women through its first branch which opened in 2018 in Ashleywood House, Derry/Londonderry. 

This is the only affiliate of the global Dress for Success brand operating in the island of Ireland, there are more than 140 affiliates operating in 20+ countries across the globe and marks an important achievement in the organisation’s growth and reach in Northern Ireland. 

Dress for Success empowers women into the workplace from positions of disadvantage by providing professional clothing and styling, skills and confidence, interview coaching and ongoing support once they re-join the workplace. 

As an equal opportunities company, as well as a registered social enterprise and charity ourselves, our team is delighted to support Dress for Success and aid their ambitions to help women going back to work.

We feel privileged to be able to host the Dress for Success Northern Ireland team, as well as its future service users at our premises, and wish them every success in this new chapter of their history.”

Donal Traynor, Group Chief Executive Officer (Community Finance Ireland)

To find out more about Dress for Success or to refer to its services please contact Sarah Quinn, Programme Manager, 0771 963 681 or email sarah.quinn@foylewomensaid.org.

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Today CFI’s impact was in evidence as Nora Keogh Client Relationship Manager for the Munster region, provided support to social enterprise Recruit Refugees Ireland based in Cork.

Nora had this to say:

“We are delighted to help support Recruit Refugees Ireland and its ambitions to break down barriers to meaningful employment for refugees – the work they do really is delivering impact in the Cork region”

Nora Keogh, Client Relationship Manager (Community Finance Ireland)

CEO Roos Demol outlined to Nora how her team are committed to an inclusive and diverse Ireland and in supporting career aspirations for those who are now living in Ireland.

Community Finance Ireland delivers social finance solutions that support local communities and drive social impact through sports, community projects, faith-based groups, and social enterprises. 

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

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

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Our all island team are very aware that every small step can help the enormous challenges that climate change and sustainable choices can make to our everyday lives and the planet at large.

We moved “house” in 2021 and had almost 15 years of paperwork stored in boxes that needed to find a home too. Step up Shred Bank, who shredded those old files, helped recycle it and helped us save five trees.

Our client Western Forestry Co- Operative, based in Sligo town have often told us that “trees are the lungs of the earth” and their passionate CEO Marina Conway is a key change-maker herself in the preservation and love of trees.

Marina featured in one of our first Change-maker podcasts and you can hear her views on sustainable forestry here:

Social Impact is in all our hands.

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This time last year we all had hopes that the Pandemic would be done and dusted. We are all aware this didn’t happen and, as we close off another year we will continue to live with its effects for a while yet.

Whilst we acknowledge Covid continued to affect us during the past 12 months, we can confidently say that we supported both our clients and key stakeholders to achieve progress and ensured that, whilst we were often asked to stay apart, we came together in ways that helped our clients deliver health, happiness and hope.

  • We took the opportunity to grow our local footprint and welcomed new team members Emmett, Anne, Pauline, Nora, Nick, Stephanie and Jack.
  • In Belfast our new head office was finally able to open its doors and support our new norm that is a hybrid working model.
  • We helped deploy £7.1m to 354 charities on behalf of Department for Communities via the Covid- 19 Charities Grant Fund.
  • We collaborated with Conor McGale at Rural Community Network and Larry O’Neill CEO Dublin South Co Partnership on the launch of our All Island Recovery Loan
  • We collaborated with Joanne O ‘Riordan of The Irish Times, Brendan Boyce Olympian Athlete and Patsy McGonigle of Finn Valley AC on the launch of our All Island Sports Fund
  • We continued to work with key stakeholders such as Invest NI, Enterprise NI and Department for Communities in Northern Ireland, as well as Social Finance Foundation, Rethink Ireland and DCU in the Republic.
  • We listened to and worked with 91 enquiries.
  • We welcomed an additional 62% increase in followers across our social media channels

All of the above are indications that despite hurdles the sector continues to seek support, insights and social finance.

Donal Traynor, Group Chief Executive, said the following:

“Whilst the Pandemic continues to challenge all communities we have seen greater solidarity across the whole island of Ireland. Clients are responding with innovative fundraising initiatives as-well as migrating to an online service (an investment we ourselves undertook in 2020) to help make the provision of services easier and sustainable.

The sector itself is not immune to trends. We expect to see hybrid events and campaigns plus sustainable, remote working facilities, as well as questions around how we play our part in supporting climate change targets.

All of the above offer the opportunity for us to continue to work with clients who want to ensure social impact is felt not just dreamt – we are here listening all the time and committed to finding solutions that support that ethos”.

Donal Traynor, Group Chief Executive

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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.


Emmett O'Hara Sports

Our next Change-Maker is Emmett O’Hara, Head of Community Finance RoI, from Bettystown. Working with clients like Father Manning Gaels, Hercules Club and Athlone Town AFC in Longford, Dublin and Westmeath, Emmett is passionate about all sports.


What has been your own involvement in sports?

I played rugby and hurling in my younger years.  I now coach my son Matthew’s under 9 soccer team (Donacarney Celtic). My daughter Lily also plays GAA for St. Colmcille’s in Bettystown, where my wife Miriam is also involved on the coaching side.

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

I admire our client the Hercules Club which is based in the North Inner City Dublin. The club has been in operation since 1935 and despite a number of moves has built a strong legacy with generations of weightlifters and boxers involved.

We also have a number of GAA clubs who make such an impact in their local area at every level – sporting, social and also community. Ones that come to mind include Kiltegan GAA, Lough Lene Gaels and Mount Nugent GAA.

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

Kenny Dalglish would be a long term hero of mine, not only because he was such a great player and manager but also because of the efforts that he made in the aftermath of the Hillsborough tragedy by attending every funeral to help those families who had lost loved ones, with their grief.

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

Sport is a huge part of the local community in Bettystown. There is a very diverse range of sports available to play including GAA, soccer, athletics and given the sea side location – swimming, paddle boarding, kite surfing and also recently beach volleyball.

Sport brings people together and I think this has been illustrated over the span of the pandemic when we have needed those networks more than ever, and volunteers have stepped up with new and innovative ways to develop clubs and build communities.

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

The kids are a lot fitter than I am, I’m happy enough to cheer from the sidelines.


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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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.


Donal Traynor Sports

Our next Change-Maker is Donal Traynor, Group CEO from Meath. Working with clients like Craughwell AC, Illies Golden Gloves Boxing Club and Dublin Cliffhangers nationally, Donal is passionate about Gaelic football.


What has been your own involvement in sports?

I’ve been involved in Gaelic football at many levels including; Club Senior Championship (Killinkere), Ulster Colleges MacRory Cup (St. Patrick’s College Cavan); and UCD Football League. More recently though this has reduced to Dads ‘n’ Lads (over 40s) Gaelic football (Navan O’Mahony’s GAC) and tag rugby (Navan RFC).

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

Craughwell AC are just one example of many clubs with great vision and a committed team to dream big. A calculated phased approach to development, underpinned by solid local crowd funding has witnessed not just the emergence of improved facilities, but also substantial membership growth, with regional and national successes to show for it all each year.

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

Katie Taylor. She imagined winning an Olympic gold medal in a sport that didn’t even exist at that level. Like Community Finance Ireland, she was keen to ensure this was felt rather than simply dreamt, and led the way for that dream to become a reality.

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

Sport has had a profound impact on me personally. Important life lessons that sport has taught me over the years include: the importance of team work and knowing that you are only ever as strong as the weakest among you. Realising you will never win them all, but the victories when they come, are to be truly appreciated. You learn more from losing than can ever be gained from victory. Realising that the local club will always be like an extended family, a unit both you and your family can always rely on in times of trouble.

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

3, it’s good at the minute, but that can always change…


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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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.


Lita Notte Sports

Our next Change-Maker is Lita Notte, Head of Marketing and Communications from Cork City and living in the idyllic Carlingford.


What has been your own involvement in sports?

As a young child/teenager I got involved in sport as it was the only real way to have some time and chats with my Dad – who played football until he was actually 48 and his legs failed. I spent many cold dark evenings running behind him as he was a key volunteer for the local Togher Athletics Club.

Athletics and basketball were my sports of choice. I won some medals and captained my secondary school basketball team in Cork City. Tuesday and Thursday nights were training and Saturday was usually a game or a run somewhere – all of which was organised by parents and local teachers. I guess I didn’t realise then that they ultimately were the volunteering community who helped us all have fun and find friends whilst staying happy and safe.

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

Our client Finn Valley FC in Donegal is a wonder to me. With my background in athletics I understood first-hand how that type of facility would help all the athletics around the hinterland feel like they could run at any speed and at any length. It was a stark contrast to the training facilities available to us in Cork back in our day. The team here focus on fostering opportunity and that is also to be admired. Opportunities exist for all their members to strive for excellence and compete to their personal best. They really have built a world class sporting facility that you would expect in a capital city – not a rural location in Ireland.

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

Martina Navratilova tennis champion extraordinaire. She helped put female tennis on a level playing field. Both on the court and off it she was a trailblazer. It’s thanks to athletes like her that pay differences were addressed and that physical strength not just prettiness was the new norm. Her story off court was just as exemplary – her quiet but effective method of promoting differences and protecting athletes’ private lives from intrusion, were ahead of her time. Sport and sometimes our communities need role models that push us to accept who we are is really all we need to be. Nowadays when watching Wimbledon on TV I’m thrilled to see her front and centre in the BBC commentary panel. She was and is a voice for all independent and confident women.

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

Although I don’t compete anymore or even play sport much these days (sea swimming is my new fix) I remember how sport helped us a family have fun and be together. It definitely helped me understand the importance of teamwork. My family continue to connect across sporting events (recent Olympics was a great Whatsapp driver) and when I see local cars pulling kids up outside local pitches or clubs I’m reminded that both memories and adults are being made right there.

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

I think I can only be honest and give myself a 2+ at this stage. But it means I have something to strive for – and as any sporting enthusiast will tell you having something to strive for is the best situation to be in.


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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