MAY 2020… The story so far
2007 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
2012 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.
2015 We started making preparations to apply for the next round of Leader funding, which opened in early 2017. In 2015 we appointed a consulting 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. A major 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 we 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.
2017 In November 2017 we first submitted our Leader funding application, and then worked closely with the Development Worker in Monaghan Integrated Development 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 by our committee, with our engineer providing the technical specification and a quantity surveyor providing a cost estimate and bill of quantities.
2018 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. Although we had 6 months to procure a contractor it was down to the wire to have all of our documentation submitted for Leader funding 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 or planned to spend. The overspend would have to be covered by the committee through fundraising. We also had engineers fees, bridging finance costs and miscellaneous costs to cover. Our overall financial liability on this project at this point was 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 well over €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 opportunity to deliver a project of this scale for our community.
We would need to continue fundraising for the next few years to meet our loan repayments and bolster our own cash, but were confident we could repay the loan over the next 7 – 10 years. We initiated some innovative annual fundraisers – a Lotto Syndicate and then a Prize Bond Syndicate – both were well supported by our community and were run in addition to our normal fundraising activities. Only for the continued support and generosity of our community we would have been hesitant to proceed with a project of this scale.
In late September 2018 we submitted all of our documentation for final Leader approval. It took several months for the project to receive approval, but we finally got a Letter of Offer for the maximum Leader funding of €500,000 in January 2019.
We also explored other options to secure any other applicable match funding to reduce the debt owed on the project, and worked closely with our Leader Development Worker to ensure we could avail of other opportunities. There was a large emphasis on sustainable and renewable energy in our project and we approached the Sustainable Energy Authority of Ireland to seek funding. We identified the Support Scheme for Renewable Energy (SSRH) as the most appropriate grant, and with their help secured funding of €13,422 toward the project – this assisted with the installation of the heat pump for the existing building refurbishment.
We were also able to identify works in the main sports hall that could be funded through the Sports Capital Programme, and set about making an application for it.
March 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. This was a formal contractual relationship, and a close eye had to be kept on the paperwork to ensure everything was eligible expenditure and that all papertrail and audit documents were retained. We received bridging finance and a term loan from Clann Credo. At times we had over €300,000 of debt as we paid monthly invoices and waited to drawdown our Leader funding (huge thanks to Jennifer in Clann Credo who was always calm and available to reassure us whenever we got worried about the huge amounts of debt we were accruing).
Local volunteers did site clearance as part of our voluntary labour contribution to the Leader project. Project photos of various stages of the project are available on our Doohamlet Community Centre Redevelopment Gallery page.
The project ran smoothly thanks to the co-operation and support of Adrian and Gavan in Doohamlet Construction Co. Ltd and our positive working relationship with Peter in Coyle Civil & Structural. Naturally there were some unforeseen extras and things that had been missed in the tender documents that introduced some extra costs – not for the faint hearted working on a community project where every penny counted, but thanks to the ongoing generosity of our local community we continued to fundraise and were able to maintain a manageable financial position.
During the works the existing building was stripped back to the bare walls, a new insulated concrete floor with underfloor heating installed, wall insulation and a new insulated roof were installed. State of the art renewable heating systems were installed by local company Eurotech Renewables. A new extension was built to provide a new entrance, foyer, meeting room, kitchen, toilets and circulation areas. The whole building would be accessible, warm and comfortable.
We also continued to apply for other funds. Other funding could not be used on our main project, but could be used to fund additional elements that would add value to the project. We received funding from Foras na Gaeilge for bilingual signage throughout the building. We also received SSE Airtricity funding for solar PV panels, installed by local Doohamlet company NRG panel – these will assist in lowering our running costs and will improve our green credentials. Several small community grants were received for various elements in the building from the annual Monaghan County Council community grants scheme.
November 2019 Coming toward the end of the Construction Works we were still unsure of our financial position and our ability to finish the project to the level we had hoped to, when we got the best news from Minister Heather Humphreys and the Department of Transport, Tourism and Sport – our Sports Capital Programme funding application was successful and we were awarded €41,056. What a relief! This meant we could complete works in the main sports hall in time for the planned opening in Spring 2020. We went through another round of public procurement and Doohamlet Construction Co. Ltd were the successful tenderer again and works could proceed as planned.
Local interior designer Ann Clarke gave us assistance with colourschemes, and Quality Stoves and Floors, another local business, were assisting us to source high quality and suitably spec’d floors. Project photos are available on our Doohamlet Community Centre Redevelopment Gallery page.
At this point we invited some of the key user groups into the unfinished building to get a feel for what the new centre would look like – people were surprised at the size of the new extension and the extent of the new facilities. This was a very important element of our project as word got out that this was a major project (perhaps some people thought we were just giving the old building a quick lick of paint?) and would be a great addition to our community. This allowed us to launch our new fundraiser – ‘Write on our Wall’ – an alternative to buy-a-brick (we don’t have any bricks!!), secure that the community would continue to support us.
March 2020 Works were reaching completion. We were dotting the i’s and crossing the t’s, happy that we had done things to a high specification and employed professionals to see us through the building certification, fire certificate and sign-off process. We were planning events and activities (including a certain committee member’s big birthday!) when disaster struck. Covid-19 emerged as a strong threat to our society and on Friday the 13th March 2020 we received our building control completion certificate – the same day Taoiseach Leo Varadkar asked society to shut down. Talk about bad timing!
Fundraising came to a standstill. Finishing off the last few jobs came to a standstill. Planning for the future came to a standstill. Everything came to a standstill…..
May 2020 Ireland is in the process of re-opening business and society, one careful step at a time. Our contractor is back to finish off a few bits and pieces. Our committee is trying to get a feel for what the new normal will be.
Although we don’t know what the future brings, the Centre is now finished and will be available for whatever our community needs next month, next year and for the next decades. There’s never a good time to do a project and we have no regrets. The new centre is a fantastic facility and we look froward to welcoming our local community with open arms as and when we can!
Hindsight is 2020 vision…. 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. When construction finally got underway there was an enormous sense of satisfaction that our small committee was delivering a major project for the local community. Now that the project is complete we are very proud and hope the building exceeds everyone’s expectations.
The committee heavily 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, including those outside of the Doohamlet Area, who have supported us and allowed us to make the project a reality.
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 accounts done every year, take the health and safety commitments of running the centre very seriously, and are more stringent about insurances and operating rules.
We have gained lots of experience, and would be delighted to offer our insights to other groups or organisations thinking about embarking on a project like this.
We have made 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.