“The Centre has become the hub of the community …”
1 Contact: Rose Mary Ward, Manager, Bluestacks Centre, Drimarone, Co. Donegal. Tel: +353 74973 5564 / www. donegalbluestacks.ie / email@example.com 3
2 Territory: The Bluestack Mountains are in south Donegal and begin at the village of Pettigo on the Donegal/Fermanagh border. They then run northwards to Barnes Mór Gap and then westwards to Killybegs. The mountains act as a natural barrier between the southern and northern parts of the county. The highest peak in the range is Croaghgorm at 674 metres. Drimarone is located 8km from Donegal town (pop: 2607 / Census 2011). In relation to land form and cover the high mountainous upland hard rock area has an underlying geology of quartzite along the north, granite to the east and a schist band though the centre. Breccia, a composition unique to the area, underlies the southern area of the Bluestacks. Ecologically the Bluestacks are an important landscape containing 5,827ha of Natura 2000 sites (SAC & SPA) and 200.9ha of NHA sites. Part of the range is within the Gaeltacht. The Bluestacks are on the Wild Atlantic Way. [Note: The Bluestacks Way is a National Waymarked Trail (65km) with trailheads at Donegal town and Ardara on the west coast.]
3 Founded: 1964 – the community development association. [Note: The Bluestack Way opened in 1995 and the Drimarone Centre in 2004.]
4 Genesis: The initial motivation for the community coming together in the mid 1960’s was to ‘keep the local hall going’. In the 1970s the group formed an agricultural store and farmers co-op which was eventually leased out giving a steady income stream back to the community. The group helped secure a group water scheme in the 1970’s. Tourism and recreation potential to create local employment lead to the development of the Bluestacks Way in the 1990’s and a decade later the Drimarone Centre came full circle by incorporating a 28 bed hostel in the old hall. The group have also delivered on a variety of social programmes, an ambitious festivals programme and supporting infrastructure like creche, astroturf and community football field (Carnaween Pitch) home to local club Letterbarrow F.C.
5 Vision: To enhance the quality of life in our rural community whilst at the same time providing visitors to our area with quality facilities from which they can explore and enjoy the experience of this unspoilt natural wilderness that is ‘The Bluestack Mountains’.
6 Key Objectives:– To always be here for the community; To be commercially viable and progressive; To bring more visitors into the Bluestacks.
7 Structure: A company limited by guarantee (the company) and there is also the informal local grouping know as the association which tends to operatate more as the day to day overseer of activity. The company addresses planning, business and fund raising primarily. Between the two groupings there are meetings every two weeks with 18 people in total spread between the two groups. There are representatives informally from the community, farming / landowners, tourism interests and sporting clubs. Importantly the RRO for Donegal is located in the Centre and she has responsibility for the Bluestacks Way among other countywide projects.
8 Operational Management: A manager and three full time (Pobal supported) posts. There are also RSS X 1 and TUS X 3 posts currently. The group identified primary training needs as fund raising followed by marketing especially for the community hostel. [Note: Bluestacks Way – There are 57 farmers on the National Walks Scheme from Donegal to Ardara.]
9 Annual Core Budget: 140k per annum [Note: Funding through Pobal, RDP/LEADER and Self Generated Income including a Membership fee of 5e per annum.]
10 Sample Programming: Hostel Accommodation – Managing and promoting a dedicated community hostel in the Bluestacks with 28 beds; Supporting the local walking club – The Bluestack Ramblers founded in 1995 (see: www.http://bluestackramblers.com); Packaging – Developed the educational and tourism tool Walking Through Time which links the natural & cultural landscapes through a series of self guiding color coded information points supported by online and resource pack material; Bi-Annual Bluestacks Challenge – Up to 400 participants who walk 40km, they are serviced by 40 volunteers locally with the event starting and ending in the Drimarone Centre;
Training – the Centre organises on an on-going basis special training / classes for local people e.g social media (10wks X 3hrs); Providing Community Services – from cradle to senior age; Bluestacks Way – Facilitate, promote and service the Bluestacks Ways.
11 Some Practical Problems Encountered: Not enough visitors … it is difficult to sustain a hostel in such a remote location that is prone to be seasonal in nature; Poor broadband connectivity, must improve as business is being undermined; Getting new members to join the group; No public transport – have looked at private sector ‘model’ to respond to this need but its currently unsustainable; Constant need for fund raising e.g weekly bingo, concerts and dances throughout the year, private parties and catering, special events and festivals all take time, experience and human resources; We lost a lucrative tour operator contract because of inflexible regulation over ‘door space’.
12 Some Unresolved Issues: How best to capitalise on being the first European landfall for the International Appalachian Trail, from its origins in Georgia the 3500km trail eventually reaches land again at Slieve League and into the Bluestacks and onwards to the Ulster Way; Lack of Co-operation – we would be keen to co-operate with other community facilities in upland areas; Massive and corrosive de-population … currently there are only 16 occupied homesteads on the Bluestacks Way from Lough Eske (outside Donegal town) to Ardara, two generations ago there was 16 in one named hamlet. Local planning regulations currently make it extremely difficult to get planning for one off houses adjacent to the Bluestack Way which has caused some local disquiet.
13 Lessons Learned: Reach for the stars; Don’t take no for an answer; Make it clear, ‘when the meeting is over it is over’ … no disagreements are allowed to fester; Keep local elected representatives out as directors, only community reps should be allowed; Our rural location is both a bonus and a drawback; The Bluestacks Way is one of the most sustainable waymarked way in Ireland as it employs old roads and existing infrastructure; Local people don’t realise these facilities are not paid for by the government but by themselves; Strive to always have as balanced a group as is possible; We benefited publicity wise from taking part in the likes of RTE TV show ‘At Your Service’ (Feb, 2016); Environment – it could be said that with few visitors we experience little damage or erosion compared to some … our Recycle Day has proved very popular especially the free pick up of scrap around peoples houses; There is literally gold in the Bluestacks, something we are keen to develop as an attraction and window on to the past.
14 Work Profile: Administration and Fund raising 30%; Community engagement 25%; Communications and Events 25%; Property / Hostel Management 20%.