Red Letter Day for Local Community Enterprise Group

Castleblayney Community Enterprise which is a Community group presently comprising of a board of 13 voluntary members began its journey in 1987 when under the Chairperson of the late Patrick McNally acquired the then derelict former Boys National School and converted it in to one of the first Enterprise Centre buildings of its kind in the Country and the first such building in County Monaghan.

The group which has as its main aim to investigate the viability of ideas, proposals and suggestions for creating employment and to promote such initiatives have now a strong record of achievement, which included further extensions to their Enterprise Centre building in 2000 and 2004.

The Enterprise Centre provides workspaces and offices for new and expanding enterprises and businesses start-ups. Other services in the Centre which form part of the groups own income generating activities include the hire of the computer suite and meeting rooms, a costume and fancy dress hire business and a secretarial service.  In addition to this the Centre also provides training for local SME’s, private individuals and those distant from the labour market. Further educational training is also provided to young people through various art related workshops and environmental and cultural diversity Programmes. The group also provide the management and administration backup to the voluntary committee who stage the town’s highly successful annual Muckno Mania summer festival each July. Castleblayney Community Enterprise CLG has expanded over the years, firstly, taking over the day to day management of the former Scouts Hall building, which became vacant.  The hall is now used as a community facility and is extensively used by a variety of local voluntary and community groups.

The Enterprise Centre building on the Dublin road is now at full occupancy and the group since 2016 have been proactively pursuing opportunities to expand their good work and to take advantage of the economic upturn and the availability of funding which is being directed towards economic development.

In 2016 the group through their then Chairperson Marese Heavin began to explore avenues of progression and further development and they then later engaged the professional services of MCA Consultants to carry out a Feasibility Study to determine whether the development of Enterprise/Innovation space in Castleblayney would be feasible to the area and its environs.

The study which was also supported by Monaghan County Council and Monaghan County Enterprise Fund was an extensive one which engaged with a wide spectrum of stakeholders.

Included in this engagement was the use of ‘Survey Monkey’ in which questionnaires were distributed to existing and potential businesses, tenants, funding agencies, government departments, business organisations and local businesses.  Further surveys were carried out with local commuters who travel on a daily basis to larger towns and cities to ascertain their potential use of the building.  In addition auctioneers and estate agents were also contacted to assess demand from their perspective.

Site Appraisals

The study also incorporated an appraisal of seven potential sites in the town and its environs to identify a location for any proposed development of additional enterprise space.  The sites included the reuse of the town’s vacant Supermarket space, the Market House building, the County Council yard on Upper Commons, two back-land sites on the Bog Road, a site on the town’s by-pass and a back-lands site on McGrath Road.

The independent appraisal carried out by Allen McAdam and Patrick Ruxton in association with MCA Consultants used a scoring matrix for site selection, which included availability, location, affordability and capital costs, suitability for purpose complementarity and sustainability.  This scoring criteria was applied to each identified location and in also taking in to consideration the opportunity now available to receive funding under the Rural Regeneration Fund the back-lands site on McGrath road was put forward by the consultants as the best possible option.

The inclusion of the Market House in the site appraisal was hugely endorsed by the Board of Castleblayney Community Enterprise who had as far back as 2002 worked closely with Monaghan County Council in order to try and drawdown external funding to refurbish the building, however their efforts were thwarted by the huge capital costs involved and the subsequent economic crash.  In terms of the use of the building to be now used for enterprise space and to avail of funding under the Rural Regeneration and Development Fund the building fared very poorly in the independent study, while scoring highly on its complementarity it scored poorly on suitability for purpose, affordability, capital costs and sustainability.  Other difficulties included obtaining planning on time for the application due date and the lack of car parking spaces available.  While this was an unfortunate outcome given the Boards previous interest and work with the building these factors had to be accepted by the group, which would not make their proposal viable.

That said Chairperson Gary Ogle confirmed the groups willingness to work with the building owners Monaghan County Council and to assist as a conduit in any future potential opportunities which would draw down the necessary funding to refurbish the building.

Some of the other sites also fared poorly in the scoring primarily due to availability, location and development costs.  The findings of the study in addition to site identification made the following conclusions:-

  • There was a demand within the area from existing businesses wishing to expand their operations.
  • There was a demand from other local identities seeking space for new business and there was demand from identities outside the area wishing to locate to the border region.
  • There was a requirement for hot desk facilities and small office accommodation to cater for commuters and single person service suppliers.
  • Finally Brexit had also created a demand from Northern Ireland and the UK for office space as they seek to counteract impending trade deals and custom arrangements.

Castleblayney Community Enterprise received a timely boost to their endeavours when scarcely had the ink dried on the publishing of the results of their Feasibility Study when the Government announced details of Project Ireland 2040, which set out a comprehensive framework for the future development of Ireland.  As part of Project Ireland 2040 the Government committed to providing an additional €1 billion for a new Rural Regeneration and Development Fund over the period 2019 to 2027.  This fund primarily targets projects from towns and villages with a population of less than 10,000.  The fund which is administered by the Department of Rural and Community Development strives to encourage economic led projects, which are designed to make a significant and sustainable impact on rural communities such as Castleblayney

In July 2018 the first call for proposals were made under the fund which had a closing date of 12 noon on the 27th of September 2018.  The Board of Castleblayney Community Enterprise which had now installed local accountant Gary Ogle as their new Chairperson had now a very welcome opportunity to try and progress their proposal for the creation of additional innovation and business space.

The Rural Regeneration Development Fund which was promoted under the remit of the Department of Rural and Community Development could offer grant aid of 75%, but where projects involved communities and community groups a maximum of 80% funding could be considered.  Applications to the Fund could come under two categories, Category 1: “Ready-to-Go” proposals or initial phases of projects which can be commenced in 2019, which have the necessary consents (e.g. planning) in place and are at an advanced stage or design.  Category 2: invited proposals that have clear potential and quantifiable objectives but require further development and could be category 1 projects in subsequent funding calls.  Castleblayney Community Enterprise with the guidance of Allen McAdam, MCA Consultants decided to explore the possibility of funding under the National Programme and then initiated discussions with both the executives and Boards of Monaghan County Council and Monaghan County Enterprise Fund.

Both entities seeing the potential of the project were extremely supportive and anxious that it would become a project under category 1.  Under the direction of Paul Clifford, Director of Services of Monaghan County Council along with Paul Shortt, Chairman of Monaghan County Enterprise Fund and Tommy McGuire the Manager of Castleblayney Community Enterprise they began to progress the application where Monaghan County Council would act as the lead partner.  Furthermore Monaghan County Council agreed to make available the site on the back-lands at McGrath road for the project.  The coming together of the three identities Monaghan County Council, Monaghan County Enterprise Fund and Castleblayney Community Enterprise, who each committed to the contribution of finances to meet the required 20% match funding now led to the establishment of a collaborate steering group comprising of public, private and community, which also added to the strength of any proposed application.

In the short timescale that was available until the close of applications in November 2018 the applicants through the services of Ruxton Architectural Services Ltd. Who had already been engaged in the completion of the Feasibility study by MCA Consultants worked hard to submit a planning application to Monaghan County Council, which would secure the necessary planning approval and therefore be eligible as a Category 1 Project (Ready-to-Go)

Following the input from a quantity surveyor the final application with the required planning permission was submitted just in time for the November 28th deadline.  The total costings of the project estimated to be circa 2.6 million with a request for 80% grant aid.

Competitive Process

Following the close of applications Castleblayney Community Enterprise learned that over 220 projects had been received nationally and that they would all be now subject to full scrutiny and a competitive adjudication process.  Hopeful but not entirely optimistic it was a long wait for the social enterprise group from November 2018 until the announcement on Thursday last.  The success of this application is certainly down to the quality of the proposal, its ability to prove its sustainability and feasibility long term and furthermore the track record and experience of the three partners to the project namely Castleblayney Community Enterprise, Monaghan County Council and Monaghan County Enterprise Fund.

However the success is also attributed to the foresight and vision of the present Board of Castleblayney Community Enterprise who as voluntary members of the Community have the tenacity and determination to continue to deliver the good work that the founders of the group began in 1987.  There have been many people involved with Castleblayney Community Enterprise over the span of the last 32 year and sadly to, many Board members who helped to grow and strengthen the group have since gone to their eternal reward.  It’s heartening to know that their legacy is being carried and the present Board of Directors are still giving of their time voluntarily and unselfishly to improve the economic, social and educational fabric of the town.  Praise too for the groups devoted and committed staff who ensure that the many worthwhile activities and services that the Enterprise Centre and the group deliver.

The present Day Board members include:- Gary Ogle (Chairperson), Jacqui Hanratty (Secretary), Pete McMahon (Treasurer), Peter Cairns, Aidan Campbell, Lis Christy, Frankie Gorman, Marese Heavin, Janet Hill, Sean McDonald, Una McGuinness, Maire McQuillan, Paul Shortt, Padraig Watters.

The Board of Castleblayney Community Enterprise would like to acknowledge the support and assistance they received with this application and particularly acknowledge the following:- Paul Clifford, Gareth McMahon and the planning section of Monaghan County Council, Paul Shortt, John McEntegart and Finbar Daly Monaghan County Enterprise Fund, Allen McAdam, MCA Consultants, Patrick Ruxton Architectural Services, Alan Clarke and Associates and FJD Surveyors Limited.  They further acknowledge the support from Minister Heather Humphreys TD and the members of Monaghan County Council and the letters of support received from Cavan/Monaghan ETB, Monaghan Integrated Development and Castleblayney Regeneration Committee.

Finally Castleblayney Community Enterprise extends thanks to all those who assisted and contributed to the preparation of the Feasibility Study, which helped form the basis of this successful application these included, local businesses, local organisations and local commuters to other towns and cities.

The group now look forward to the completion of the project which will further strengthen the economic fabric of the town and provide an enhanced economic boost to the community.