“We have come along way in twenty years.”
1 Contact: Mary Mullen, Chair, Corlatt, Knockatallon Development Company Ltd, Knockatallon, Co Monaghan. Tel: +353 (0) 47 89014 / Email: firstname.lastname@example.org / www.knockatallon.com.
2 Territory: Sliabh Beagh (380m) straddles north Co Monaghan and counties Fermanagh and Tyrone in Northern Ireland. The upland area is marked by blanket bog and numerous lakes. Due to its geology and the peatland flora and fauna, part of the remote rolling moorland has been designated as a natural heritage area and an SAC. Sliabh Beagh Mountain covers over 3000ha and contains a number of internationally important habitats listed under the European Habitats Directive. The main recreational offering is a series of 36 interconnecting loop walks throughout Sliagh Beagh (also called Bragan locally) region which are way-marked and vary in length from 4km to 15km. The area lies 15km from Monaghan town. [Note: Sliabh Beagh Partnership is a wider cross border group made-up of 13 community organisations from Clones to Clougher who reside within or near the mountain.This PEACE 111 funded project has used the mountain as a ‘peace building tool’ including addressing the social, economic, cultural, environmental and the good relations needs of the area. See: www.sliabhbeagh.org.
3 Founded: 1996
4 Genesis: The area was severely disadvantaged as a result of the troubles. There was significant de-population, border road closures and image problems to address. There was no tourism or recreation tradition. It was calculated there were over 100 derelict houses in the area. The mountain divided communities. The Development Company were starting from a ‘zero base’ but with multiple ambitions. One of the groups first actions was to organise 6-8 site visits to firmly established community enterprises around the country, the idea of the ‘community hotel’ grew out of these fact finding visits. [Note: All the 100+ derelict houses have been replaced through the efforts of the community. There is today a vibrant two teacher school with 35 children.]
5 Vision: To regenerate the Knockatallon area economically and socially.
6 Key Objectives:– include tourism and recreational infrastructure development; protection and promotion of the unique uplands environment; improving local social services especially for the more vulnerable; creating employment; improving cross border relations; saving the local school and improving the virtually non-existent public transport service.
7 Structure: Knockatallon Development Company Ltd is a company limited by guarantee not having share capital. There are 13 voluntary directors responsible for generating new ideas and the strategic development of the company. The executive officers form a Staff Management Group who oversees the operations of the Centre and related activities with the day to day running of the Centre delegated to Manager and staff. There are a number of sub committees who report to the Board e.g. Women’s Group and Youth Group. The company is currently examining acquiring charitable status falling under the Type B organisations. There is a separate Knockatallon Community Development group who focus on organising festivals, events and fund raisers. The average age of this group is under 30yrs. The Development Company then will draws from this pool of younger people to replenish itself as its average age is over 50yrs. The group have access to 60 experienced volunteers. [Note: The Knockatallon Development Company Ltd have been the recipients of the Co. Monaghan People of the Year Award, National Rural Tourism Awards and Community Business Award Winners.]
8 Operational Management: The group are the second largest ’employer’ in the area with a Manager plus . These posts are supported through a variety of on-going Pobal managed employment support programmes such as RSS, TUS and the Community Services Programme (CSP). The administration of Knockatallon Development Company is based in the Sliabh Beagh Hotel and Tourism Centre. The group operate on 3 yearly Business Plans.
9 Annual Core Budget: 500k per annum [Note: From the beginning the whole enterprise has sustained itself on a ‘cocktail of funding’ from the HSE to LEADER, from PEACE to the local authority. However the two primary sources of income are from a) delivering of elements of the Community Services Programme and b) running functions, offering accommodation and catering for the needs of the community through the Sliabh Beagh Hotel & Tourism Centre. The local community have raised in the region of 600k in match funding over the years from a core of 160 families.]
10 Sample Programming: Knockatallon Walking Club – establishment and support for the 100+ strong club who organise walking festivals / weekly walks for all; The Centre provides accommodation, licensed restaurant, community functions, meeting and conference facilities and houses a once a week medical dispensory. The group have just opened a new state of the art astro turf facility adjacent to the Centre. Investment in Training – from the outset the company have invested in the on-going training of key officers including Cert in Community Development (UU) X 4, Degree in Business Enterprise + Community Development (AIT) X 1, Social Enterprise Diploma (UU) X 1 with a variety of other less demanding courses being completed from Trails Development to Social Media; Sliabh Beagh Way is a National Waymarked Way with all the accompanying signage, maps, guiding service largely masterminded out of the Centre.; Elderly Provision – The Centre runs a Services to the Elderly Programme with over 90 senior citizens on their register and currently provides between 60-65 subsidised meals on a weekly basis. They also host fortnightly social dances and weekly bowling sessions; Environment, Conservation and Education – the moorland is a significant home to the endangered Hen Harrier and Red Grouse and the group assisted with the creation of the cross borded Sliabh Beagh Conservation Management Plan (2011) which was launched in the Centre. The group produced the Hills, Heather & Hope – Wildlife on Sliabh Beagh book for use in local primary schools on both sides of the border which was Peace III funded; Communication – the design and management of www.knocktallon.com.
11 Some Practical Problems Encountered: Securing match funding at the outset and lack of available credit; Lack of experience in tourism and the hospitality industry; Changing peoples fixed negative perceptions of the area (both internally and externally); The local authority had previously said Knockatallon was ‘too high’ to build any community housing on … the community persisted and today 27 new houses are built that are all occupied and are helping in turn sustain the village; Recruiting and managing volunteers.
12 Some Unresolved Issues: It is so difficult to get good publicity especially from the national media; Broadband coverage and cost; Lack of public transport; Ensuring a steady predictable stream of public funding when required to dovetail with income generated and local fund raising.
13 Lessons Learned: Between the 2006 and 2011 Census the population of Knockatallon and hinterland increased by 18%; The Manager gets on with the job, he is not micro-managed … even through this is the only community owned hotel in Ireland (2* Star / FI Approved / 28 beds) it has to be run as a business; In the hotel the food bring in more revenue but the bar is more profitable; Be brave – the community took the risk to build the hotel because there was no conceivable way the private sector would step in; Not being charged rates by the local authority for the first few years was a great boost (currently 10k pa); The Development Company has always had an excellent working relationship with the CEO of the local authority; Good signage has been important for such a remote area which was supported by the local authority and funded through LEADER; Build up a good relationship with all your local media; There is an annual formal meeting with the local authority (senior executives + elected reps) where the agenda can include roads, hedge cutting, winter salt on roads, speed reductions, tidy town’s needs, tourism and festivals / events; After a certain time aim to get on the Boards of related projects / enterprises.
14 Work Profile: Provision of community services and facilities 40%; Community Engagement 25%; Administration and Fund raising 25%; Route Development 10%.