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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.

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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.

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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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We are doing everything possible to support community organisations in coming to terms with the unprecedented challenges now faced by all.

We want to assure you, that we are behind you and will help and support in any way we can. 

To all our clients:

  • Your local client executive continues to be available to you.
  • Flexibility and Fairness is our customer experience. This remains. Our team are working remotely, in line with public policy. 
  • Collaboration with our capital providers continues and we are working, with them, right across the island of Ireland, in the best interests of the sector.

To the Sector in general:

  • We have always understood the importance of collaboration.
  • We remain open to listening to you and your ideas.
  • We remain committed to supporting communities and those who need our assistance.

Please ensure you keep yourself updated with the relevant expertise.

Northern Ireland www.health-ni.gov.uk/

Republic of Ireland www2.hse.ie/coronavirus

Wash your hands. Practice Social Distancing. Stay Safe.

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The European Federation of Ethical and Alternative Banks and Financiers (FEBEA) held a board meeting for the first time on the island of Ireland. The federation, which represents 28 European social finance institutions with assets totaling €30bn, was invited by Community Finance Ireland (formerly UCIT), its only UK and Irish member.

In addition to learning more about Community Finance Ireland’s business model the FEBEA Board also visited a customer who received Community Finance Ireland (formerly UCIT) funding to support projects including the Enler Complex in Ballybeen and Bryson Street Surgery.

FEBEA Chairman, Pedro Manuel Sasia Santos, said: 

“Northern Ireland has a vibrant social enterprise sector and UCIT has an exceptionally strong community focus in areas such as sport and faith-based initiatives which many of our members are interested in replicating.”

Pedro Manuel Sasia Santos, FEBEA Chairman

Pictured with Mr Santos are Wlodzimierz Grudzinski, FEBEA’s Vice Chairman and Harry McDaid, UCIT Group’s Chief Executive.

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A unique social enterprise in Derry is offering art and wellbeing programmes for people with severe physical, sensory and learning disabilities in order to enable them to develop holistically and to provide them with essential job skills. Each week over 200 people are benefitting from daycare and multisensory programmes at Artspace.
 

Artspace opened in April 2012 and has now received a £30,000 loan from our Building Better Futures Fund. The additional funding has allowed Artspace to redevelop new facilities in Campsie industrial estate.
 

The £1m Building Better Futures fund was launched in 2017 and is a unique collaboration between Community Finance Ireland (formerly UCIT), Belfast Charitable Society, and Building Change Trust. The fund, which provides support in the way of a loan, is aimed at community-based groups seeking to make a positive difference to society across Northern Ireland.


Artspace currently provides employment for 13 staff. Martina Bell is the founder and Managing Director of the business. Following 20 years working in mental health care, Martina took voluntary redundancy in 2011 and established the social enterprise to help support the local community.

Martina said:

“Our art and wellbeing programmes stimulate and develop participant’s self-esteem. Participants learn to engage with other people and build job skills that could help them secure future employment.  Each person gets a tailored programme and we’ve partnered with the Northern Regional College to offer yoga and IT skill classes.   

“We recently moved to a 20,000 sq. ft. premises and the Building Better Futures Fund has allowed us to further develop our facility so that we can cater for a greater number of people. Our goal is to have the largest multisensory room on the island of Ireland. We also want to create an immersive suite and install a gym facility.”

Martina Bell, Managing Director Artspace

Damian McAteer, Vice Chair of Community Finance Ireland (formerly UCIT) said:

“Artspace is a unique social enterprise that is providing an essential service to the local community. At a time when budget cuts to our health service are well-documented, Martina has identified a growing need for additional support to people who are being excluded from day opportunities as a result of their disability.

“This new facility will ensure Artspace has the resources necessary to continue its upward growth and we’re delighted to support an organisation that demonstrates such a clear positive social impact.” 

Damian McAteer, Vice Chair Community Finance Ireland
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