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Have you brought the cheque with you?

Have you brought the cheque with you?
Guest blog by Phelim Sharvin, UCIT

…well, if only I had a pound for each time those words were uttered to me over the past 18 years! When working for UCIT, I can confidently say that I never brought the cheque with me but, more often than not, we did invest in social change. We are committed to supporting communities and for many years I have had the privilege to see at first-hand how social finance has allowed some truly inspirational people transform their dreams into reality and bring about real lasting change. Our customers include a blend of committed staff and passionate volunteer’s intent on making a difference in their community – be that a ‘Community of Interest’ or ‘Community of Geography’ (not mutually exclusive I might add). They have unlimited passion and a plan – hopefully we have learned to listen to their plans and that we in many ways ‘speak finance but hear people’.

When I consider a ‘Community of Interest’ I think of the many examples of people who have sought to address what is missing in their respective communities, often helping those less fortunate. I am reminded of people such as Frank Dolaghan (Brain Injury Foundation) and Tina Bell (Artspace Creative Centre CIC) who both strive to deliver on their ambitious support plans for a particular community of need – in both of these cases the end beneficiaries are individuals suffering some form of physical or mental disability and their wider family. Both Frank and Tina may previously have been considered ‘dreamers’ but – in modern parlance – they are surely ‘change-makers’. The support facilities that they have developed are no longer a distant aspiration but very much a reality and a daily lifeline for all who visit The Brain Injury Foundation base in Camlough, near Newry or the Artspace Studio in Campsie, on the outskirts of Derry city.

A ‘Community of Geography’ is in many ways easier to define when I consider the social impact achieved at The Torrent Valley Initiative in Donaghmore or by Carntogher Community Association at the foot of the Sperrin Mountains. Each of these community-led bodies sought to address particular socio-economic problems they were both experiencing, in many ways they sought to create a local ecosystem that bucked the national trend. The Torrent Complex offers a modern mixed-use facility in the centre of Donaghmore village that fosters Business Incubation, Education & Training, Sports and a healthy dose of Arts & Drama. Meanwhile the resourceful folk in Carntogher are reversing rural depopulation by operating a community owned shop/post office, building tourist accommodation, renewable energy projects and converting the natural landscape into a biodiversity trail. I feel it is important to note that collaboration with local community groups has been a key ingredient in the success of each project.

What these four examples share is a clear ‘Why’ underpinned by a defined legal structure, competent management team and robust financial model. Succession planning will remain a challenge to each but nevertheless each have been able to promote a compelling funding proposal to UCIT. All of this despite having to contend with uncertain, often marginal revenue streams and stretched working capital cycles. When possible, they seek to diversify their revenues to mitigate any concentration risk yet focus on doing all that they can do for their community.

We all must strive to understand the challenges faced by our sector yet embrace the ambition of the people we meet. At the upcoming CO3 conference in March, we will share some key tips and insights into what makes a successful funding application whilst David Hunter (CEO – of Access Employment Ltd./Clearer Water & former Social Enterprise Leader of the year) will share his first-hand experience of securing loan support from UCIT. Why not come along and get some insights…and I won’t have a cheque with me!

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