Empowering Communities through Social Enterprise

‘Revitalising Rural Ireland – Empowering Communities through Social Enterprise’ was the theme of an EU Citizens’ Dialogue event staged at Dunhill Ecopark last week

RURAL Ireland and the opportunities presented by social enterprise were discussed at a special event in Dunhill last week. ‘Revitalising Rural Ireland: Empowering Communities through Social Enterprise’ was the title of an EU Citizens’ Dialogue event which took place in Dunhill Ecopark on Monday evening 13th May. Key players and experts at national and EU level gathered at this public meeting and were joined by members of the public to explore the potential of social enterprise in revitalising rural Ireland.

The audience pictured at the Citizen’s Dialogue event at Dunhill Ecopark last week. Photos: Tina Schley.

The audience pictured at the Citizen’s Dialogue event at Dunhill Ecopark last week. Photos: Tina Schley.

The event provided an opportunity to give feedback to the European Commission about the future of Europe with an emphasis on revitalising rural communities.All in attendance recognised the growing momentum and interest in social enterprise at all levels and the event gave social enterprise stakeholders the opportunity to learn about the supports available at EU level.Dunhill was a very appropriate location in which to stage such an event as the local community has set the bar for what can be achieved by a rural community.
In fact, one of the speakers at last week’s event hailed Dunhill as the “best example” of social enterprise in Ireland.

However, this did not happen by chance.The community was losing a significant percentage of its population in the late 1980s/early1990s.Many young people had moved to Dublin; the number of teachers at the national school had declined; and the local GAA club was finding it difficult to field full teams.As a response, members of the local community came together to establish a company aimed at addressing specific needs and set about seeking funding from various sources including the European Union.

DFBA (Dunhill, Fenor, Boatstrand & Annestown) Community Enterprises Ltd. was formed and has gone from strength to strength. The DFBA mission statement is to “develop our community socially, economically and culturally by harnessing the talents of our people and the resources available.”Dunhill Ecopark is a social enterprise established by members of the community to cultivate an entrepreneurial culture and facilitate job creation.It featured on RTÉ’s ‘Nationwide’ last week – an episode which is well worth checking out on RTÉ Player by anyone who missed it.

The programme showcased the remarkable achievements in this area where an entrepreneurial spirit has been cultivated and job creation has been facilitated.The Anne Valley Walk was showcased in all its glory as presenter Mary Kennedy took a stroll through the scenic area with Willie Moore who has carried out Trojan work in developing the amenity along with a team of dedicated volunteers. Phase 1 of the Anne Valley Walk opened in 2013 and proved a huge attraction.The recently completed Phase 2 stretches from Dunhill Castle to Annestown and has already proved to be a resounding success.

Plans are already afoot for Phase 3 and, when completed, this will certainly complement all of the other fantastic achievements in Dunhill. The motto of DFBA, which is that there is no limit to what can be achieved by a community working together, greatly impressed Mary Kennedy.
This concept was outlined to her by Senan Cooke, a name that is synonymous with the Dunhill Ecopark.He is passionate about ensuring sustainable jobs are created within the local area.
Senan has been the driving force behind Communities Creating Jobs (CCJ) which is defined as being a national voluntary community enterprise based organisation which has adopted a shared learning approach to job creation.

Dunhill Rural Enterprises Ltd. and Carbery Enterprise Group in Skibbereen decided to set up this voluntary national shared learning network where communities could learn from each other, find solutions to problems, replicate best practices, and engage in site visits or any other activities which could help their cause.Senan wrote ‘The Enterprising Community’ which was released last year.This impressive publication is being used by other communities as a blueprint for what can be achieved in areas similar to Dunhill.

At last week’s Citizens’ Dialogue event, the achievements of the local community in Dunhill were also used an example of the successes and benefits of social enterprise. A panel discussion took place and featured eminent speakers, including: Gerry Kiely, Head of the European Commission Representation in Ireland; Brendan Whelan, CEO of the Social Finance Foundation; Patrick Klein, Social Economy Team Leader at DG GROW, EU Commission; and Janet O’Toole, Community Development Manager, Connemara West Plc. The event was chaired by Damien Tiernan from WLR FM. Patrick Klein, who travelled from Brussels to address the event, said that rural regions in Europe are facing considerable challenges.
He believes social enterprises can be one solution to bring about positive change and stressed the importance of finding “local solutions to global problems”. “The European Commission acknowledges the huge potential of social enterprise as a growth area. However, the road to success can only be reached with appropriate policy and support measures,” he said.
Janet O’Toole outlined her own personal experiences of being involved in the development of Connemara West.She described the need for “rural communities to re-imagine their futures in an increasingly connected world and give voice to their vision”.

“The ideas must be locally generated and appropriately supported by flexible national and European programmes that build capabilities, opportunities and infrastructure in rural areas,” she said.“Connemara West is an excellent case study of how public support, extended in a timely and innovate way in partnership with a local community, can have an extraordinary impact on a locality”.Brendan Whelan, who chairs the Social Enterprise Task Force in Ireland, says the recent publication of a draft Policy on Social Enterprise in Ireland for consultation is an important step forward. “When finalised and adopted by Government, it will have the potential to develop the sector to its full potential,” he said.“To achieve this, the focus must now turn to implementing the policy effectively, a joint responsibility between the Department of Community and Rural Development and the social enterprise sector, working collaboratively together.” He spoke of the impressive track record of Dunhill which he said can be used when trying to convince others about the merits of social enterprise. “Dunhill truly is remarkable and a fantastic example of the power of communities, leadership within a community, having a vision for the future and the business model of social enterprise,” he said.
“This is the best example of social enterprise in Ireland and Senan and all of the people here deserve great credit.”

By learning from others, he hopes that communities can be saved from making unnecessary mistakes and can reduce the wastage of valuable resources including time, materials, equipment and funds.The Dunhill Citizens’ Dialogue event was one of over 1,600 similar public meetings that have been taking place across Europe. The dialogues have now become a widespread movement to listen to citizens, discuss issues that matter to them and share their views with decision makers all over Europe. This event was organised by Europe Direct Waterford in partnership with the European Commission Representation in Ireland along with DFBA Community Enterprises CLG and was chosen as one of the 2019 European Social Economy Regions Pilot (ESER) partner events. As we approach polling day for the European elections, and with Brexit looming, the role of the EU has certainly been under the microscope across Ireland.The Waterford Europe Direct Information Centre, based at Central Library, Lady Lane is a service which helps the public find answers to questions about the European Union.
It offers information on all sorts of subjects related to the EU including the rights and opportunities of EU citizens. Gerry Kiely, who said he was delighted to visit Waterford, said the European Commission appreciated the opportunity to engage in dialogue in Dunhill.

“I was delighted with the level of engagement with the audience,” he said.
“I look forward to making sure that participants’ voices are heard in Europe. We also need to remember that we should not leave it to others to express support for the European Union. Irish citizens have an opportunity to vote on 24 May for the European elections. EU decisions impact us all so it is crucial that people have the representation in Europe that they want and deserve. Everyone should get out to vote.”

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