Wexford Local Development was delighted to be joined by community representatives from throughout Co. Wexford for their annual Community Conference in the Riverbank House Hotel, Wexford on Saturday last, April 8th.
The theme of the event, “Who’s Listening?”, focused on how to increase participation at all levels in communities around the county and workshops on the day looked at ways to strengthen the voice of the community at decision making level, both locally and nationally. It also looked at positive ways to be inclusive and engage with all those living in our local areas in an era where disengagement and apathy are often symptoms of a changing society.
Brian Kehoe, Chief Executive Officer of WLD welcomed attendees with a brief overview of the services provided by the company to community organisations; ranging from developing the skills of committees and volunteers, grant aid for local projects and the allocation of workers on placement schemes. He also highlighted the opportunities provided to individuals through education, training, enterprise supports and job seeking assistance.
The Chairman of WLD’s board of directors, Michael Wall, spoke about the fundamental importance of having strong communities in an era of global and local change. He highlighted the difference that can be made by communities working together to make a difference and bring about positive change in Irish society.
The key note address was delivered by Minister of State for Communities and the National Drug Strategy, Catherine Byrne, T.D. who recounted her background as a volunteer in her own local community and struck a chord with the audience in terms of her understanding of the challenges of voluntary work. She encouraged all those present to stay involved and to progress their causes through engagement with their elected representatives to articulate local needs. She acknowledged the work done in Ireland by the community sector and the vital importance of resourcing this work through both local and national government, with particular reference to her Department’s new Community Facilities Scheme of grant aid. She also spoke about communities where there has been a constant lack of opportunities for progress and how important it is for these areas and the people who live there, to be prioritised and included in developmental work, such as that done by Wexford Local Development.
The renowned social researcher Brian Harvey followed with a thought provoking overview of the community sector in Ireland, its origins in the 1890’s with the Congested District Boards; through a resurgence in the 1960’s to become Europe’s flagship by the turn of this century and then to the dramatic depletion of resources to the sector since 2002. He presented a stark statistical comparative analysis of the financial investment by the state during the current era of austerity; for instance sports funding has seen a reduction of -59%, support to voluntary housing bodies has been reduced by 25%, youth organisations have had a cut of -43% and Family Resource Centres/counselling resources are down 46%. In spite of the cuts, he spoke of the crucial importance of community representation and the values of communities in terms of informing decisions made which affect all of us.
Fred Karlsson, founder of DoneDeal, the success story born in Wexford, followed with an engaging and motivating presentation telling the story of how DoneDeal originated and grew to be Ireland’s premier online classifieds site. He highlighted the importance of having a clear vision, the importance of having a positive culture in any organisation and of how to get your message across in a succinct manner.
Following on in a similar upbeat manner, all participants joined in interactive workshops devising a set of messages to encourage participation and engagement within communities. The challenge was to compose one tweet, using the 140 character guideline, to reach out to people and to increase participation and engagement. Discussions were lively and concentrated on solutions to the issues that community groups are experiencing with examples of the messages including “Identify the problem. Propose the solution. Find the person. Negotiate the Answer. Success” and “If you want to be heard participate. Get involved in your community, make a difference and have fun!” Feedback from the workshops was tweeted live on the Wexford Local Development twitter feed, @WexfordLocalDev. The workshops also allowed for community activists to network with each other and to share their experiences, with phone numbers being exchanged at almost all workshop and lunch tables. The hashtag #MakeADifferenceTogether was used throughout the social media coverage and communities were encouraged to develop their own hashtags to identify their messages to both community members and to decision makers. This novel and real approach to communicating the feedback was enjoyed by young and old with some local elected representatives joining in the online discussion on the day.
Wexford Local Development was delighted to host this positive networking event. It offered an opportunity for volunteers from as far as Gorey in the north, to Rosslare at Wexford’s southernmost tip and everywhere in between, to meet, to discuss community development and to join together to make a difference in the communities who rely so heavily on voluntary action to improve the lives of countless people across Co. Wexford.
“We are proud to be part of the work of communities around the county and to provide support to help local people address the many challenges faced” said Clare Ryan, the Programmes Manager with WLD, during the final session. “We encourage all of you here to continue to have your voice heard, as bad decisions are often made in the absence of local knowledge and without consideration of the needs and views of local communities” she added. As part of the event WLD showcased a short video, telling the stories of some local communities from each of the four districts around the county. This footage will shortly be airing online so that other communities can be more informed of the supports and services offered and the benefits that working together can bring to all in the community and voluntary sector in Co. Wexford.
All presentations from the event are now available to download by clicking on the links below: