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are being delivered by volunteers and community champions behind local visitor experiences. When planning a weekend break in Donegal, don’t forget to consider some of the terrific clients that our team have helped over the past few years.

From sports activities to sight-seeing, there are many venues and activities located throughout the county whose core purpose is social impact as well as visitors’ enjoyment.

These venues and experiences are housed alongside beautiful beaches, traditional pubs and scenic landscape. Whether you experience a heatwave or a downpour, you are guaranteed a warm welcome and value for money. Get booking.

If you’re brave enough to storm the cold waters, then our first two suggestions will raise an eyebrow…

Kilcar Kayaking or Mullinasole Bay Water Sports Club is the perfect opportunity to explore whilst having fun. Mullinasole Bay is located in Mullinasole, south of Donegal Town whilst Kilcar Kayaking is located in Kilcar, east of Donegal Town. We recently supported both organisations to bridge a finance gap for a retrospective grant fund. It’s fulfilling to see these activity groups flourish and it’s worthwhile visiting for the scenery alone.

Mullinasole Bay Water Sports Club are an unincorporated club with a constitution and a committee who run the Club with a not for profit ethos. Mullinasole Bay Water Sports Club was set up formally in 2020 to promote and provide resources for children and adults to enable them to enhance their experience in salt water based activities such as swimming, kayaking, paddle boarding, windsurfing, Rowing, Sailing and boating. 

Whether health and fitness is a priority or bringing your family and friends together for an event is on your to do list, Finn Valley AC is one of many great facilities.

With one of the best sports facilities on the island of Ireland, Finn Valley AC offers a wide range of facilities. From athletics tracks, pitches to indoor facilities catering for events. Situated in Ballybofey, south of Letterkenny it truly is a modern clubhouse that caters for all and could be the perfect opportunity to hold an event or keep fit throughout your tenure in Donegal. With countless athletes charging out of the blocks representing Ireland, proving the level of commitment and professionalism that goes on behind the scenes here at Finn Valley AC.

Famously, the terrain of Donegal is known for its breath-taking views and there is no exception when mentioning Fort Dunree – which is definitely one for the road trip bucket list with a driving route worthy of an Instagram. Located on the North Coast of Donegal overlooking the North Atlantic Sea.

Fort Dunree was established to enhance the level of tourism on the Inishowen Peninsula in County Donegal. The centre underwent major refurbishments in 2000, and again in 2006, and now incorporates walks, a museum, and a café. In 2019 the organisation received a loan from Community Finance Ireland to bridge FLAG grant aid and cash flow being used towards capital upgrades. 

“Its stunning natural beauty and abundant wildlife are drawing increasing numbers of visitors to one of Inishowen’s most beautiful and peaceful locations. It is a must see for every visitor to the Inishowen peninsula.” – Fort Dunree.

We first helped support Fort Dunree in 2007 so it’s great to see the impact it’s had on tourism over a decade later.

On site, is a military museum with exhibitions, events and the ability to hire the venue for celebrations such as weddings, receptions and conferences would be a unique experience and one to remember. Fort Dunree in Irish means “Forth of the Heather”.

Why not take a trip into what life used to be like and experience the harsh reality of the famine era with a tour around the Dunfanaghy Workhouse.

Located in Dunfanaghy, which now houses a Heritage Centre, explores local history and culture. This beautiful historic building includes tourist information point for the area, as well as an exhibition centre, a coffee shop, art gallery, craft and book shop.

The Workhouse opened as a heritage centre in 1995, and was officially opened by the then President of Ireland, Mary Robinson.

Catering for all, admission is free into the Workhouse. Although, some exhibitions do charge giving an in-depth experience of the struggles throughout The Famine and what the Workhouse was used for – a worthwhile experience.

In summary, this is just a snapshot of the inspiring organisations that we are able to support and love to see the social impact added throughout the Island of Ireland, highlighting projects that continue to choose change reinforces our purpose and the true value of social finance. If you are ever in the region of Donegal and are looking for things to do, make sure to consider these wonderful sites.

With a total of 225 miles of track, formed the largest narrow gauge railway system in north-west Europe from Co. Donegal to Co. Derry and Lough Swilly Railway.

A blast from the past, allowing you to see what life was like back in 1889 with one of the first combustion engines in the world. The recently refurbished museum comprises of railway rolling stock, interesting artefacts, displays, a video presentation, audio presentations, model railways, a reference library, a shop, a coffee hut and much more. The star exhibit has returned to the museum, an original 1907 Donegal Railway steam engine, “Drumboe”, the first engine to return to the county in many decades.

Donegal Railway Heritage Centre have been in existence for over 20 years in Donegal Town attracting some 6,000 visitors per year. At Community Finance Ireland, we are proud to have supported this organisation in restructuring their existing loans to aid cash flow.

Spending your time and money in these venues helps deliver social impact and the endorsement that the local volunteers and committees’ efforts are valued.

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The ambition of all within the Social Economy is to encourage sustainability and reduce levels of dependency, where possible, on the uncontrollable, whatever guise it might take.

The Community Voluntary & Social Enterprise (CVSE) sector owes a great deal to the availability of charitable support, as well as start-up and development grants from various quarters. Much of the Community & Voluntary subset will no doubt always be reliant on continued grant support to maintain the level of service provision. But what of the rest of the sector involved in growing the earned income side of their Social Enterprise?

Social Enterprise will usually need debt finance at some point, to draw down retrospective grant support, for capital acquisition, development, refinance personal debt, or manage existing unsustainable borrowings where immediate demands on repayment are a real threat.

The volunteer led ethos implies to the conventional debt system that there exists at least a reduced, if not total, absence of financial vested interest in the project.

The absence of collateral of any marketable value, often requires volunteers to sign personal guarantees in order to access this debt. A community manager pledging their home as security on a loan has been as bad as I have seen. That the voluntary board allowed the situation to arise is a whole other matter.

Social Finance is the incubator for the community sector on the road to achieving experience in borrowing, developing a credit score, but on terms and conditions appropriate to that market. It does not request personal guarantees off volunteers (or staff!). It normally does not charge arrangement fees. Its priorities are simple.

Presently in Ireland (2022), social finance up to a general limit of €500k is available to the CVSE sector absent arrangement fees and personal guarantees, yet recent survey findings would suggest that much of the sector remains unaware of the support, with over 50% financed by the conventional banking instruments such as overdrafts and secured borrowings.

IRD Kiltimagh in Co. Mayo are clients who understand the benefits of refinancing and are thriving as a result.

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This week marks a reduction in some of the Covid-19 restrictions on the island of Ireland. While there is still a long road to recovery ahead, we have weathered the storm together and Community Finance Ireland continue to support our clients and stakeholders. Integral to this support is our recent move to new, state of the art premises for our head office in Belfast.

Whilst we have remained open throughout the Pandemic, supported our clients across the island and helped our people work from home whilst delivering HR best practices and tech ability, we as a group welcome the signals of a refreshed and re-energised way of working and delivering the service our clients rely on.

A new office might seem like an old way of doing business but there is nothing old or typical about Community Finance Ireland’s new core headquarters located at Glengall Exchange on Glengall Street in the city of Belfast.

Almost 10 years in the making the team’s ambition has always been to continue to evolve our services both for our clients and our people. And the new space does just that. Working with Belfast based She Said Brand and Design team, the space offers a light, open plan, modern facility with fast speed Wi-Fi, break out areas, a compact kitchen and a canvas for our Choose Change brand identity. Our team has also grown over the past 18 months – we have 18 team members now (pre -Covid we were 14).

Our Group Chief Executive Donal Traynor has this to say on the announcement:

“Whilst we all acknowledge that anxiety might have run very high, as we learned about Covid and found ways of living with it, we have proven our resilience as a community and in our ability to embrace change. Our expanded team, along with this energising work space brings the best of what we had, what we have learnt and what we need to continue.

The location at the heart of Belfast city reminds us of our business’s starting point whilst also reflecting that change is a constant and necessary part of the human condition. Our offices are within five minutes of most of Belfast’s popular spots. The location is also a key area of development, with the proposed extension of the Belfast Glider service and the construction of a new Rapid Transport Hub at the current Europa Bus Centre site, just metres from our new office.

We are delighted with the space, with how it will support our people’s desire for hybrid working and how it embodies our Choose Change mantra.

Donal Traynor, Group Chief Executive Community Finance Ireland

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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.

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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Community Finance Ireland has today (24 June 2021) announced a £/€10 million All-Island Recovery Loan Fund, its first all-island loan scheme. The fund will offer flexible loans of £10,000-£250,000 (NI) and €10,000 to €500,000 (RoI) to community sector organisations including faith-based groups, sports clubs and social enterprises.

Commenting on the launch, Dónal Traynor, Chief Executive of Community Finance Ireland said:

“Throughout the pandemic we witnessed the incredible resilience of the community sector, with many pivoting their offerings and exploring new opportunities for development.  The All-Island Recovery Loan Fund is open to organisations who want to build on these new opportunities to recover, rebuild or reimagine what they can bring to their local community.

“Despite the challenges of Covid-19 and public health restrictions, our client portfolios performed well over the past year and at Community Finance Ireland, we have nothing but confidence in the sector and its ability to play a pivotal role in bringing our local communities back together and to create something new in response to the changes our communities have undergone during the past year.”

Mr Traynor continued:

“The flexible nature of the fund with the added value of a one-to-one relationship with a dedicated client manager who knows the sector and the local area, makes it a great option for communities exploring how they can become more attractive locations for people to live and work.

“The All-Island Recovery Loan Fund supports longer term loans plus shorter-term bridging loans.  There are no time restrictions around funding and we will respond to applications within 48 hours of receipt.”


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 – £250k (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 or Anne depending on where you and your team are located.
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