Future-proofing local communities Last Saturday, November 23rd, representatives from 45 communities gathered together at the Annual Ballyhoura Networking Forum in Knocklong Community Centre, Co. Limerick to celebrate the culmination of the Ballyhoura Development Community Planning Initiative. The 13 communities included in the participative and locally led planning process over the last 18 months were: Castleconnell, Oola, Pallasgreen, Bruff/Grange/Meanus, Doon, Kilmallock, Fedamore, Donoghmore/Roxboro/Ballyneety, Milford, Liscarroll, Mitchelstown, Kildorrery, and Charleville. Dermot Carroll of Knocklong Development Association opened up the morning session by reflecting on the community plan for Knocklong 5 years on. A piece of audio produced by Grey Heron Media was played to tell the story of the community, which resonated with the communities present on the morning. Dermot reaffirmed for all, that the “plan was not the beginning, by having a plan you have already begun” A key note address was given by Paul O’Raw and Dr Shane O’Sullivan, who facilitated the planning process for each community. They spoke about the commonalities which arose amongst the 13 communities with Well-being, Climate Change, Social Spaces and Sustainability being common themes across the Ballyhoura area. Over the coming years Ballyhoura Development, in partnership with stakeholders, will support groups to ensure their visions and future plans for their areas are implemented. The rural drivers, trends and anticipated impacts for 2040 were presented by David Meredith of Teagasc, David stated that “it is not that rural communities are dying, they are changing”. An open panel discussion led by questions from the communities was also held. Local agencies, community leaders and local government answered queries from groups and individuals on such issues as volunteer recruitment, funding opportunities, the decline of community facilities such as schools, pubs and post offices, social enterprise, as well as how communities can go about working with local authorities to support implementation of actions in their community plans. Panellist Brendan O' Keeffe of O Keeffe & Associates stated that: “...this excellent initiative by Ballyhoura Development and the local communities needs to be the normal, rather than the exception, when it comes to planning. Planning must be community-led, and agencies need to respectfully acknowledge and tap-into the expertise and knowledge in local communities.” Brendan continued: “It is vital that community and voluntary groups have access to community development officers and to the support services of local development companies, such as Ballyhoura Development. Such professional back-up helps sustain volunteerism, and promote participation, particularly among rural youth” The afternoon concluded with a vibrant networking lunch where over 120 community members, panel members, experts and Ballyhoura Development staff and Board members mingled to exchange experiences, ideas and contacts. Each community was presented with their final plans and executive summaries for dissemination amongst their respective communities. Ballyhoura Development would like to acknowledge the communities, stakeholder agencies, staff and Board members who participated in the Forum and looks forward to working together to achieve plan goals across 2020 and beyond. For further information, please contact your local Development Officer.