New era for Lifford/Clonleigh
Every few minutes on Friday afternoon someone would stop Brid McMenamin at the Lifford/Clonleigh Resource Centre to offer a hug or good wishes or both.
It was Brid's last day as co-ordinator of the centre after 13 years. She had spoken earlier to the crowd of people who came to celebrate the project and found it difficult to control the emotion in her voice.
"I did try to keep it together," Brid said. "But it was emotional.
"When you put your heart and soul into something it's more than just a job," she said.
Friday's afternoon gathering at the Croaghan Heights centre was a not just a celebration of the work the voluntary organisation has done over the last 20 years. It was also the marking of new start and a look ahead at its independent future.
The people who attended represented the centre's broad reach, from young children to pensioners. One of the rooms featured photographs from programmes run out of the centre, from scouts to cross-border groups, the Good Morning Donegal Service phone calls to older people, community education to community employment, a garden project and a history project. Above the reception desk a slide show flashed photographs of centre events and programmes, featuring people of all ages.
The voluntary board of management of Lifford/Clonleigh decided to opt out of the national programme for Community Development Projects because of concerns over the level of consultation with local groups as the national programme is reorganised. Lifford/Clonleigh was the first of Donegal's nine CDPs to announce its intention to go it alone.
Lifford/Clonleigh managers said the move to independence will ensure the project can continue to focus on needs identified by the community and a work plan that reflects area concerns. Last year Donegal's CDPs were among the 180 CDPs around the country expressing concerns over government plans to incorporate the projects into local development companies. Donegal CDPs maintained that their voluntary boards were key to their work, ensuring that the projects stayed firmly rooted in the community and addressed the needs identified there.
Brid and others said the services run from the centre will continue.
"Oh yes, it's continuing," said Brid, who explained that individual projects still have their respective managers. But her position, the central point of contact for agencies that run programmes through the centre, will be gone.
"The biggest impact will be that agencies will not really have that link for them to reach the people they need to reach," she said.
Members of Lifford/Clonleigh also took the opportunity on Friday to honour Catherine French, a founder member, with a plaque in the centre highlighting her 20 years' work on the project and naming her a lifetime honorary member of the resource centre.
"I was not expecting that," Catherine said. Catherine was one of a group of Croaghan Heights people who two decades ago received about 20,000 punts from the National Lottery and Donegal County Council to do something for the community, which then had an unemployment rate of a staggering 75 percent, she said.
A community worker and a health worker were hired through what was then the North Western Health Board, and the group bought a portacabin, which was placed behind Catherine's house. Six months later, the money was spent. That was typical of projects directed to Lifford, Catherine said.
"Everything that came to Lifford was just left," she said. "Nobody bothered." But the fledgling group was committed. Or as Catherine said, laughing, "pig-headed". They secured additional funding through the health board to keep the health worker and drew in other programmes. The volunteer managers kept the centre running even when there was no money coming in. And in the early to mid-1990s they received 150,000 punts from the government and secured a lease on land from the council to build the centre that has housed the project ever since.
"It was important to us as a community because there's never been anything in Lifford for youth or for the community," Catherine said. "Young people had nowhere to go."
Not that it was easy, she said. Catherine believed that some people who dealt with the committee at first did not take the women committee members seriously. She described the attitude this way: "They're only housewives - what do they know?"
"We were just ordinary people from an ordinary background," Catherine said. "We weren't experts."
But over the years the women and men on the volunteer management committee undertook management training and diploma courses to learn the skills they would need for their new roles as employers, managers and directors of a limited company.
"When I think back to what we started with, it's been a brilliant achievement," Catherine said.