1 Contact: Kevin Doherty, Chairman, Sliabh Sneacht Centre, Drumfries, Clonmany, Co Donegal.
2 Territory: Larger catchment – Innishowen peninsula; Sliabh Snacht (678m) / 3700 hectres of commonage.
3 Founded: 1996 original local development company; Centre opened in 2014 [Note: The Centre is situated on the site of St Patrick’s National School built in 1838 (prior to this there was a hedge school on the same site) and was one of the first school’s to be built in Inishowen following the abolition of the Penal Laws. The ethos and community memory remains of it being a place of learning.]
4 Genesis: Broad economic development and environmental management through sustainable recreational tourism on Sliabh Sneacht and surrounds.
5 Vision: To generate a practical response to the real threat to the very fabric of the community from emigration, de-population of the upland areas and lack of employment coupled with the opportunity to match the unspoilt natural beauty of the uplands with a growing recreational market and the local social need for a shared space.
6 Objectives: To deliver a readily accessible resource for everyone in the community; To remain totally guided by the local community … no external influences; Any revenue generated remains in the local economy and; To recognise the environmental sensitivities of the area which we have protected for generations and ensure this continues bearing in mind changing agricultural practices.
7 Structure & Staffing: A company limited by guarantee who have applied for charitable status. There is an annually elected Management Committee of seven directors out of a pool of twenty. There is a staff complement of seven (mix PT/FT) including a manager and administration.
8 Operational Management: There are monthly Management Committee meetings plus an AGM with on average five out of the seven directors in attendance. Early stage Code of Governance training has proved invaluable as being an employer and managing public funding carries new responsibilities. In excess of forty local volunteers could be mobilised at short notice.
9 Annual Core Budget: 90k (2016) [Pobal 65%; Self Generation 20%; RDP/LEADER 15%]
10 Sample Programming: The Sliabh Sneacht Centre is one of the most impressive public buildings on Innishowen peninsula. It was build largely through “sweat equity” from local people who contributed over 200k in kind contribution over a two and a half year period. The community embraced the Chuck Feeney concept of ‘giving while living’. The current chairman project managed the whole construction phase. The total cost was 640k (with 385k coming from RDP/LEADER). The Centre is insured for 900k and is debt free from the day of opening. The degree of ‘community pride’ in this achievement should not be underestimated. An on-going set of ambitious training programmes are being delivered by the Centre to ensure footfall / generate income; these are especially designed for the farming community they include ‘IT for Farmers’ and ‘The Internet of Things’. Currently designing programmes on Controlled Burning and Guide & Environmental Training. In addition the local ETB run rolling courses in the Centre and it also hosts a part-time HSE clinic. It is home to the peninsula wide Athletics Club and to the eighty strong North Pole Cycling Club. There is currently a significant programme for farming and the environment being designed. Prior to building the Centre the group focused on refurbishing 6km of mountain bog roads originally build during the second world war, these trails from the Centre are ‘safe, traffic free environments for families’ to get them into the mountains. Recently the group helped part facilitate a large Rail to Trail scoping study of the old Londonderry Lough Swilly Railway – Derry to Carndonagh Line which passes immediately behind the Centre. The group has been awarded the Tipp O’Neill Irish Diaspora Award for their work reaching out to Innishowen natives overseas, the Centre hosts the only dedicated exhibition space in the country to Tipp O’Neill. This community work in an upland area was acknowledged recently with a ‘Pride of Place’ national final nomination.
11 Some Practical Problems Encountered: Volunteers want to ‘do things’ not go to meetings or be directors of the company; Engaging effectively with agencies and public bodies; Parochialism and; extremely poor broadband infrastructure, slow speed making it difficult to conduct business.
12 Some Unresolved Issues: Up-scaling the ‘professionalism’ of the Management Committee to manage staff and commercially sustain the operation; upland environmental and habitat management issues; local renewable energy solutions and; assisting in the preservation of the upland farming culture, traditions and practice.
13 Lessons Learned: Do it ourselves … a team of 6/7 like minded people can move mountains!; Employ proper channels to get things done, don’t use or depend on local politicians; Design a balanced work programme so that some of the more commercial activities can subsidise the more desirable and important but less commercial initiatives; Don’t underestimate the corrosive power of sub parish / inter-parish rivalry; Have a clear vision to communicate to the whole community and; Of critical importance is a good leader with the ability to get things done.
14 Work Profile: Community Engagement 50%; Communications 15%; Route Development & Special Projects 20%; Administration & Fund Raising 10% and; Property Management 5%