In 2018 many towns and villages will be able to avail of funds for local development. In 2017 I was delighted to facilitate the creation of some of these plans in villages such as Cootehall and Keadue in Roscommon.
Funding for local projects can come from a variety of sources, not just local authorities and LEADER but from a variety of agencies in tourism, health, waterways, woodland conservation and so on. In 2018 more and more sources of funding are open. So joined up community plans are an essential means to getting those funds across the threshold.
For me the art of creating really good village plans is one of getting as many people as possible turning up to public meetings and then holding a conversation with the entire room so that everyone gets to have a voice and no one leaves the room without feeling they said what they came to say.
As things progress the focus turns to priorities, to who will actually do the work. Is there sufficient community backing? The delicate part is where local people have to work out what to leave out as much as what to leave in and reach a consensus. My role often is that of holding that precious space where people can disagree, test the acceptance of a new idea, push boundaries and not fall out with their neighbours in the process.
My own work in local development goes back years when I started a community development project in North Leitrim at the height of the conflict in Northern Ireland. Some years later I found myself working with communities in North Nottinghamshire, UK which had been devastated and divided by mining closures and strikes. I was able to hold a space that allowed local people to work together and The Nottinghamshire project became known as the Diamond Partnership when about 70 projects, won a £17m in regeneration funds project to create jobs, improve infrastructure, build social housing, improve education, reduce crime and enhance the environment. Together we won the national Award for Urban Regeneration through Partnership from the Secretary of State for the Environment in 1995.
Communities across Ireland have many new opportunities in 2018 and I look forward to working with groups to discuss, plan and implement new futures.