Moving away from being an area suffering from the impact of conflict over many years, Swanlinbar is developing into a thriving cross-border community with a sense of hope for regeneration in the area.
Swanlinbar Development Association (SDA) in County Cavan was set up back in 1994 to promote the development of the village and surrounding areas and to help groups, young and old, to develop mutual respect, tolerance and understanding.
The area was badly impacted by the conflict over many decades and now threats from Brexit have left people feeling anxious, community coordinator Sharon Howe explains.
“People are very unsettled,” she said.
“We have lots of cross-border workers and businesses that straddle the border so there is the fear of the unknown. But the work of our group continues to improve the lives of others come what may.”
Sharon runs the ‘Finding our Way’ project in SDA’s Trivia House, a beautiful, big, old Georgian building transformed into an area of neutrality so very close neighbours feel they can come for courses and events not attributed to any one side of the community.
It has emerged as a base and neutral community space used for a range of activities over the past year. The IFI funding has also strengthened the group’s confidence and capacity to develop a social enterprise culminating in their recently opened coffee shop.
“IFI funding has been huge for the area as previously there were few opportunities for integration with neighbours,” Sharon said.
“Work to build relationships with the Florencecourt area of Fermanagh, a predominantly Protestant, Unionist area, has been challenging, but slowly we have managed to engage participants”.
An increase in the number of people from across the bordering towns in Fermanagh feeling part of Trivia House is one area where SDA is succeeding.
Sharon says: “People never met before because they didn’t have the chance to. Now friendships that have grown from similar interests such as in crafting and upcycling or attending community events are being maintained.
“People are saying they are comfortable about being here. In many ways in the past there just wasn’t that opportunity. People were a mile or two apart but didn’t know each other.”
Engagement between Florencecourt Primary School and Scoil Mhuire National School has seen natural friendships develop. Children that have never had an opportunity to swim or ride a bike together have had their lives transformed. They have been learning skills such as map reading, problem solving, triathlon as well as a focus on personal health and wellbeing.
Seeing friendships develop is rewarding for Sharon and everyone in the house, so the opportunity funding brings to build on that can only be a positive.
“We are managing IFI funding and striving to bring other providers on board to try to ensure there is sustainability long-term.”
The confidence of the committee has grown over the last year and they have big plans for the future. The coffee shop and solar panel projects have all been boosts, which have seen increased pride and interest in SDA.
Feasibility plans are being developed to turn the house into a hostel, making use of an area of natural beauty to provide employment and tourists into the area.
“We are in the geo-park area, a fabulous area of Cavan, we are on the doorstep of the Stairway to Heaven.
“The long-term vision is to retain visitors.”
Such activities are seen as a way to promote economic opportunity in the area and in turn see a return of people to live there.
The project is an investment in a border community trying to rebuild and tackle feelings among those who feel forgotten, disillusioned and disheartened.
“We now have a really good sense of community and genuine relationships. Encouraging people to come to the area gives locals on both sides of the border genuine hope about regeneration.”
For further information about our funding programmes, or for information on how to apply for funding, please contact the person(s) or organisation(s) identifed at the end of the relevant programme summary in the areas of activity section.
International Fund for Ireland
28-32 Alfred St.
+44 (0)28 9031 2884