Summer of success for NI sporting heroes fuels appetite for finance

Community Finance Ireland launches £5 million sports fund in anticipation of increased demand from Antrim sports clubs 

Following a summer where local sporting heroes made their mark at national and international level, Community Finance Ireland has launched a £5 million fund aimed at sports clubs throughout the island of Ireland.

Over the past five years, Community Finance Ireland have supported 302 organisations in Ulster to the tune of £18.6 million. This includes sports groups in Antrim such as Flight Gymnastics.

The new fund will make flexible loans of £10,000-£500,000 available to sports organisations seeking to make a change in their local community whether that is to renovate changing or training facilities for their players and participants, or to improve local infrastructure that makes their club grounds more accessible for the local community.

The fund was launched at an online event, ‘Financial As Well As Physical Fitness Is Key To Success’, with panellists including Sinead Reel, Chairperson of Armagh Ladies’ GAA County Board, sports journalist with the Irish Times Joanne O’Riordan, and Irish Olympian Brendan Boyce who trains at the Community Finance Ireland funded Finn Valley Athletics Club in Donegal.

Speaking ahead of the launch, Phelim Sharvin, Community Finance Ireland Client Relationship Manager, said: “Our athletes have been blazing a trail across tracks, pitches and pools, and inspiring our next generation of sporting heroes. While it’s been a summer to celebrate, it’s also challenged all of us to consider how much more we could achieve, how much more support we could provide our aspiring Olympians or All-Stars, with greater investment in grassroots facilities and clubs.

“Every community will be looking to their local pitch, climbing wall or tennis court to see where improvements can be made to upgrade equipment, develop more accessible and inclusive facilities, or perhaps to make the circuit around a pitch or track a safe public walkway for the community to keep active on those darker winter nights by installing floodlights.

“Wherever a club sees an opportunity to invest in their local community, we want to put the power to make that change into their hands with fast, flexible, fair loans that can be used to bridge gaps in their funding, unlock drawdown of government grants, or provide much-needed project finance.

“We work closely with sports clubs across the country, in fact they make up over a third of the organisations we work with, so we know what they need. We know that volunteers and board members aren’t in a position to provide personal guarantees, so we don’t ask for them; we know funding streams can be unpredictable, so we don’t change our interest rates or hand out penalties for early or lump-sum repayments”.

Andrew O’Hare from Flight Gymnastics said: “We’ve been working with Community Finance Ireland since 2017, accessing finance for working capital and the installation of a specialist heating system in our premises. The relationship we have with the team means they know our business and how we work and the fast decision-making process means that we can be as flexible as possible in responding to the changing needs of our members.  Due to a significant increase in our membership base we’re currently looking at expanding our premises and we know that Community Finance Ireland understands how important this facility will be, not only to us but to our members and their families.”

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