In 2007 Doohamlet District Community Development Association (DDCDA) undertook a community audit to identify the needs of the community. Doohamlet was undergoing major change at that time, with a lot of new houses built and new people moving to the area. At the time there was no investment in additional infrastructure to support the increasing and changing needs of the population, and the existing community centre was dated and needed modernising. The 2007 community audit identified the refurbishment of the hall as a key priority for the population of the area, although it took a number of years before the community mobilised to address this need.
March 2018 – The community centre prior to redevelopment
In 2012 a redevelopment committee was set up. Our first step was to visit other community centres to get ideas of what could be achieved. We analysed the needs of the area, and looked at options to make the building more functional and attractive while maximising flexibility to increase the range of activities that could be delivered.
It was hoped to target leader funding straight away, but planning permission, land registry and match funding all had to be in place for this. The Leader fund closed in 2014 and we were not in a position to access any funding at that time.
We started making preparations to apply for the next round of Leader funding, which opened in early 2017. In 2015 we appointed an engineer and applied for planning permission for the redevelopment project, and we worked with the owners of the building (the Diocesan trust) to get the land registry irregularities ironed out and have a long-term lease drawn up and registered.
The redevelopment project proposed to build an extension, modernise and upgrade the existing building, develop a purpose built permanent stage area and to surface the carpark and install street lighting. Anticipating we would not getting funding to deliver all of the project in one go, the project was broken into 4 phases to allow us to apply for available funding. We had planned to apply for Leader funding of €200,000 for the 1st phase of development. In preparation for our Leader funding application, in 2017 we employed a quantity surveyor to prepare a cost estimate for the project and were shocked to find our first phase would cost over €400,000, and the overall redevelopment would cost over €750,000.
Feeling deflated, we had that moment where everyone on the committee looked blankly at each other and considered walking away. We even talked about scaling back the project and doing a quick refurbishment job rather than taking on the huge task of completely overhauling and extending the building, but thankfully with time we came to terms with the numbers and agreed a smaller project would not deliver the project that was needed to service our community into the future. Our redevelopment project was the only show in town!
We discussed the shortfall in funding with our Leader Development Officer, who advised that due to a recent rule change applying for funding in excess of €200,000 had been made simpler. He suggested we apply for more funding to allow us to deliver Phase 1 and 2 together. We decided to got for it, even though it meant we were taking on a much bigger project and had to raise more match funding. It also required a very comprehensive and robust funding application, which took a long time for our voluntary committee to prepare, however the benefit of being able to deliver 2 phases of the project at the same time was a huge bonus.
In November 2017 we first submitted our Leader funding application, and then worked closely with the Development Worker to address any omissions or provide clarifications. The funding application included a Needs Analysis, Marketing and Business Plan, Project Activation Strategy, and comprehensive details of everything that was proposed within the project. The application was prepared in-house, with our engineer providing the technical specification and a quantity surveyor providing a cost estimate and bill of quantities.
In March 2018 we got provisional approval for €485k. We spent the following 6 months tendering the work on Etenders using the Government Construction Contracts Committee (GCCC) contracts. We had a committee member with public procurement experience, and worked closely with our consulting engineer during this process, and although we had 6 months to procure a contractor it was down to the wire to have all of our documentation submitted to Leader within the 6 month time period.
The tendered lump sum significantly exceeded our estimates, and there was another moment of doubt within the committee as to whether we should proceed. We worked with Leader and our consulting engineer to identify some small cost savings that could be permitted within the programme rules, and we finally agreed on a contract price of €625k (inc VAT), almost €60k more than we originally estimated. The overspend will have to be covered by the committee through fundraising. We also have engineers fees, bridging finance costs and miscellaneous costs to cover. Our overall financial liability on this project is almost €190k. After many years of fundraising we had cash reserves of almost €70,000, but we will still needed to take out a loan of up to €100k to proceed with the project. There were a series of committee meetings where the finances were discussed before we finally and collectively agreed that despite taking on significant debt, we would not get another such opportunity to deliver a project of this scale for our community.
In late September 2018 we submitted all of our documentation for final Leader approval. It took several months for the project to receive final Leader approval, but we finally got a Letter of Offer in January 2019. Contracts were signed with the Most Economically Advantageous Tenderer, Doohamlet Construction Co. Ltd, in February 2019 and construction started on the 4th March 2019. Local volunteers did site clearance as part of our voluntary labour contribution.
March 2019 – The community centre immediately prior to construction works started
We will need to continue fundraising for the next few years to meet our loan repayments, but we are confident we can repay the local over the next 7 – 10 years. We are exploring all other options to secure any other applicable match funding to reduce the debt owed on the project.
If we had known when we started in 2012 how much work was involved we might not have started, but thankfully we still have a committed committee who are there to make things happen. Now that the project is underway there is an enormous sense of satisfaction that our small committee is delivering a major project for the local community. The committee also relies on other people who give support whenever needed, for example selling tickets, helping at events, fundraising, and we wish to thank everyone in our area, and outside of the Doohamlet Area who has supported us and allowed us to make the project a reality. We also wish to thank the owners of the building, St. Macartan’s Diocesan Trust, who have willingly helped us navigate the difficulties of lad registration, leases and insurance.
The application process has built our capacity as a community. Members from various committees have come together to maximise our funding potential and to deliver this project. We are more professional in how we approach things, and the Community Centre has formed a Company Limited by Guarantee. We now have audited accounts done every year and are more serious about insurances and operating rules.
We are making a huge investment into the centre, but the project will only be successful if the local community and wider community uses it. Our central location in Monaghan County makes us ideal to deliver activities and events to a much broader area than just Doohamlet village. We would love to see local groups planning for how they might make better use of the centre when it opens – please talk to us about any plans or ideas you might have. There might be activities, projects, events or funding the community centre and development association could partner with groups to deliver.