Community Development Project has lost €200,000 in funding since 2010
The Ballybeg Community Development Project (CDP), whose funding cuts were highlighted to six of our general election candidates during the WLRfm debate at Garter Lane, needs help, and it needs it urgently.
Speaking to The Munster Express on Wednesday last, four of the centre’s stalwarts, who have jumped through hoops – and then some – to champion the CDP and ensure its viability – detailed their genuine concerns for the project’s future.
Since last October, Ballybeg CDP has operated without a full-time manager following the departure of Liz Riches, along with Sarah Jane Duggan, a part-time development worker, due to “changes in job descriptions” under the terms of SICAP (Social Inclusion and Community Activation Programme) funding.
“In fairness to Waterford Area Partnership, they left a manager and part-time development worker here for five years but when their funding stream changed, which meant they had to cover a bigger area, and they hadn’t really much choice, and that left us losing out,” said Treasurer and Administrator Liz Rockett.
“And it’s now got to the stage that, to keep the building open, we need new funding – and a new manager.
“It’s now very hard to run the building the way our finances are…we actually had two development workers in addition to Liz and now we’re trying to get by without them due to the cut in our core funding; we’d had private funding, and that was pulled as well, so you’re talking about more than €175,000 of a cut.”
Said Sean O’Driscoll, who runs the CDP’s highly successful Horticulture programme: “Since I came here six years ago, there’s six workers gone out of here, and there’s none of them after being replaced since.”
Taking that into account, including the losses of a training co-ordinator and a part-time administrator, the accumulation of cuts totals at least €200,000 approximately, including five successive years in which education funding was cut by six per cent annually. “We barely have enough (funds) for an education worker, and only for they do fundraising and rely on volunteers, that just wouldn’t stay going either…
“Things are bleak. We’ve no funding at all at the moment for administration, and that’s a big problem for us; we have to keep things right.”
According to Leona Basquill, who runs Ballybeg CDP’s Key Project (working with the unemployed): “Right now, and since last October, we’ve had nobody to manage the building, and look after its maintenance, and that’s something which people may not necessarily see when they come into us. And while we do rent rooms, with the various businesses based here sharing the rent, because funding has been cut so much, there isn’t the funding to pay rent for the facility.”
Ms Basquill added: “The Community Employment Programme doesn’t pay rent anymore, but they do make a contribution towards utilities, so when it comes to big contingencies such as a new fire alarm, which cost about €7,000 and all the windows in the building – they’ve needed replacing for quite some time (and may not be for quite some time), along with additional insulation – and new heads on the lights outside – nobody would pay towards that, so it all adds up.”
Willie Moore, one of Ballybeg’s longest serving community activists, referenced a break-in at the CDP last year, in which between €300 and €400 was stolen, “but the damage done here came to between €6,000 and €7000”.
The portakabins on site, Sean O’Driscoll added, have been “broken into so many times we’ve lost count…and the horticulture area was only broken into again a few weeks ago”.
Leona Basquill interjected, adding: “The building urgently needs a manager, someone who can look after it, someone who can look at it and try to generate an income. Those of us still here really can’t do much more than we’re doing right now, and we need additional help, and that help costs money…our core staff is four; the third job is split between two part-time workers. We have 55 kids coming into us for the education programme; I have 30 on Community Employment, not counting the Key Project and the services it provides, while Sean has 20 full-time students and another 40 part-time students at least…
“And what people don’t see is if our doors closed here tomorrow, there would be a huge knock-on effect to a range of programmes we also help to facilitate here, be it Tús, Wave, Probation, the Prison Service, Shine, the National Rehabilitation Network – you’re talking about a lengthy list. Access IT, which is based here, they couldn’t manage the building on their own and there’s the Public Health Nurse who operates from here too.”
Via the Horticulture Project alone, from which the Ballybeg Greens brand has emerged, Sean estimates that “at least 760 people have been facilitated here over the past six years”.
He stated: “That wouldn’t include any groups who have come into the garden on tours to see what we do here, or the interaction we have with the primary school either…realistically, if we could spare someone, it’d be useful to have someone stand at the gate for a full day just to count how many people are coming into us, and that’d surely show how important the CDP and all its ancillary services are to both Ballybeg and the wider area.”
Leona added: “We’ve concentrated on doing our work and maintaining the service as best we can, and right now even if we wanted to quantify exactly how important the work done here every day is, we just can’t as we cannot afford to have someone do just that for us. We’re always fire fighting, in essence, just to keep things going…people don’t miss services until they’re gone, and I just hope that’s not going to apply to us here.”
“You’re talking about the heartbeat of the community.”
Liz Rockett put the CDP’s current situation plainly. “It’s a struggle. It really is,” before Willie Moore felt moved to re-enter our five-way conversation.
“The amount of volunteers that are in here every day of the week, you’d have to see it to understand how important this place is for a lot of very good reasons,” he said.
“If someone wants to go up to Sean in the garden, or into reception here to get help with a CV, the place is always open for them. And if this closes, you’d be taking the heartbeat of the community out of Ballybeg. It took long enough to get this place off the ground and to keep it running…
“And it’s not just Ballybeg that’s supported by this building,” said Leona; the working dynamic between the four readily evident given the way the conversation proceeded.
“There are an awful lot of people who come into us who are not from Ballybeg. It’s not as if we stop everyone coming in here and ask them where they’re from. That’s never been how we’ve operated.”
For example, Sean O’Driscoll has students from Carrick-on-Suir, Goresbridge, Portlaw and South Wexford, “and it’s always been that way…and it’s the only horticulture project in Waterford that we’ve never had to advertise for. We could fill it twice every year, which shows how popular it is”.
Referring to one horticulture student who had a mental health issue, Willie Moore added: “Only for what Sean could provide for him here, that chap would probably have been left in a room, but in his time here, he really came out of his shell. And when he got into the horticulture here, you could see a positive change in him, and he started having the craic with the rest of the lads here, did his Level Four and a good deal of his Level Five, you could see how much he benefited from the service provided here.
“And if that’s not here, and we had to shut the gates, then where would a chap like him go? Where would he end up? Seeing the tension go out of someone and seeing them growing in confidence: how do you put a price on that?”
Said Leona Basquill: “This is a very welcoming place. It’s always been like that. And anyone that comes in here on CE will tell you what a nice place it is to come into. It’s very friendly and that’s part of the charm of coming in here. This is a facility worth fighting for and I hope we can keep our doors open, and keep providing not only the levels of service we have now, but to expand and broaden what we can do here. But to that, we need additional resources.”
Operating under a 75-year lease from Waterford City & County Council, Liz Rockett said the CDP is due to meet with Council CEO Michael Walsh and members of the Executive in due course. Willie Moore said, if nothing else, gaining Council support for two separate funding applications made by the CDP, would surely prove useful.
Leona added: “We’ve made applications to Tusla, the Family Resource Centre, and one to the Community Services Programme, which is funded under the Department of Social Protection, and we’re hoping political representatives will support us on both. Verbally, they’ve said they will, so any help we can get would be appreciated.
“We actually met Enda Kenny when he was down here at the start of last week too, so it’s not for the lack of trying on our part when it comes to letting people who may be able to assist us that we need help – and that means funding. I think people who would genuinely like to help tend to the people who don’t have their hands on the levers of power, but that doesn’t mean any of us will stop trying to fly the flag for this facility.”
In the wake of this interview, this newspaper contacted three of Ireland South’s MEPS – Sinn Féin’s Liadh Ní Riada and Fine Gael’s Sean Kelly and Deirdre Clune – to see if there were any European funding streams which Ballybeg CDP could avail of.
Inside 24 hours, Ms Ní Riada had replied, pledging to “research what funds were available” for Ballybeg CDP to potentially apply for.
“Unfortunately there is nothing straight forward when it comes to accessing EU funds and many of them fall either within the Structural Funds or through Competitive Funding,” she stated in an email.
“I am a co-ordinator on the Budgets Committee and I initiated legislation regarding a particular fund called the EFSI, better known as the Juncker Plan. The legislation I was responsible for was to ensure that Social Enterprise and co-operatives could avail of these funds from the European Investment Bank – this is a fund which provides loans mainly for high risk private investors but as I said it is also open for co-operatives to avail of it.”
Ms Ní Riada continued: “Having worked on the ground as a community activist on many projects, I know only too well how hard it is to get funding and to keep projects vital to local communities going.”
Leona Basquill said that while the CDP’s voice on the funding cuts has remained consistently vocal, “we’ve just got on with our work,” to which Sean O’Driscoll added: “if anything, all of us are doing more work now with a great less because we’ve great feeling for the place and great pride in what we do”.
Liz Rockett said that €20,000 a year is needed just to keep the building itself alone open for business, “but we need more than that. We want to develop what we have here, and not just find ourselves constantly struggling to keep everything going. We’ve a Youth Café being built at the front at the moment; it took several years to get the funding together for it, but right now we don’t have the money to decorate it and dress it.”
Willie Moore added: “We know what will happen to a lot of those using our services if we can’t keep this place open. None of us want to admit it, but we know. And that should be a good enough reason for anyone responsible for budgets to see the value of what we’re doing here, and how important it is to keep our doors open.”
Knowing Willie, as so many of us in the city do, one knows he shall not stay silent on this matter, nor will Liz, Leona and Sean, whose passion and enthusiasm for the Ballybeg Community Development Project clearly merits both support and promotion.
“We’ve fought tooth and nail for this place,” said Willie. “Anything that we’ve done here we’ve done for the good of this community. And we’ll keep on fighting.”