In November 2019, Sune Stoustrup (IRS) and Holli Gruber (Otelo eGen) had the chance to spend one month with the Irish local development company Ballyhoura Development CLG. As a non-profit organisation, Ballyhoura Development supports communities, families, individuals and business Start-Ups across the Ballyhoura area in the rural Mid-West of Ireland. By supplying information, mentoring, training, research & development and capital support, the organisations enable local action groups to access public funding, build capacities and create bottom-up local development. Often they work in partnership with the community and voluntary sector, social partners, local government and statutory agencies, for their diverse community, business, tourism and environmental projects.
Through the month we were invited to participate in numerous trips and activities that Ballyhoura Development organised. We further visited many of the offices, community halls, and ongoing projects which are facilitated and supervised by Ballyhoura Development. To get an overview of the immense diversity of the projects the organisation manages, we took the possibility and went on several study trips throughout the Ballyhoura region. We visited a selection of best-practice examples in order to find inspiration for what could be done, and also especially understand the pitfalls that might appear when developing such projects.
Kilmeedy is a typical example for a village which works hard on becoming vibrant and attractive again. Besides the fear of demographic changes, the residents felt a lack of a public meeting facility as well as social housing. In collaboration with Ballyhoura Development, a local group had managed to develop a social housing project and a community garden. Currently they are setting up a community shop, a café in the former post office, besides working on a space for local entrepreneurs to use. However, bureaucratic hurdles to access funding and a dependence on both volunteers and skilled workers are often said to be major challenges for managing the projects successfully.
Another thriving community project is the café and shop “The Cottage” in Loughmore. Set up as a co-operative enterprise, The Cottage is a cozy café and lunch place, which also functions as the local post office and basic grocery store, offering local crafts products. We were impressed by the enthusiasm and passion with which the place is run. We learned how influential a place like The Cottage might be, is it the personal fulfilment of individuals, fighting social isolation of elderly people, providing a meeting and work place for locals, being a springboard for long-time unemployed, and even attracting families to move (back) to rural areas.
The Ecovillage in Cloughjordan stands as a pioneer project for modern environmental living – a communal, carbon-neutral and nearly self-sufficient village. A group of Dubliners had decided to move to the countryside to create a frame and base for a modern sustainable and communal lifestyle. The village has a community supported working farm and a bakery, the self designed houses are energy efficient, they attempt to fuel their district with green energy, and have ringfenced a large part of their area for fostering biodiversity. With co-working spaces and open entrepreneurial buildings, a community hall, a little amphitheatre and a rugby pitch, the Eco-village seems to provide an attractive array of work and leisure opportunities, besides their environmental focus. Interestingly, they aimed to integrate the Eco-village into an already existing village rather than creating an “exclusive” and even autark world for its own.
Holli and Sune
photo credit featured image: The Eco-Village in Cloughjordan, 2019. Photo by the authors