30 groups from Mayo, Tipperary and Limerick upskilled during two-year ‘Co-operating to Succeed’ initiative

By Caoimhe Lalor

IT’S not usual for businesses in Mayo to call businesses in Tipperary or Limerick for advice, and vice-versa, but in the world of social enterprise surprising things are possible.

Over the past two years, three local development companies – there are 49 across the country – linked up 30 social enterprises in these counties for training and development. It culminated in a day of discussion in Newcastle West, Co. Limerick, on Thursday, October 20.

The questions asked covered the future of social enterprise in Ireland and how national programmes such as LEADER and the Social Inclusion and Community Activation Programme (SICAP) can be better attuned to support them. Who better to ask than staff and volunteers involved in heritage projects, community cafes, arts centres, carers’ groups and local tourism outfits?

They included Roots Community Café in Co. Limerick, the Michael Davitt Museum in Co. Mayo and Burncourt Community Council in Co. Tipperary. (Full list of social enterprises below).

They came together due to work in support of their semi-commercial ventures led by three LDCs – West Limerick Resources, South Tipperary Development and South West Mayo Development. The LDCs couldn’t have done it on their own, but knew where to go for funding and support.

Overall, the ‘Co-operating to Succeed’ (C2S) initiative covered 11 areas through 22 workshops over the two years.

Yvonne Corcoran Loftus, a museum curator from Mayo, said it helped her staff to upskill in areas such as marketing. 

“The training has had a direct influence on the things we achieved,” she said.

Social enterprise

So what sets a social enterprise apart from a regular business? Social enterprises work primarily to improve the lives of people, with profits from their business activities reinvested in pursuit of social objectives. They are more often than not unable to operate fully commercially, but have a key business element to their operation.

Training was one part of the C2S initiative. What made it different was that bespoke training was also provided on-site to each of the 30 social enterprises. The aim was to make them highly effective operators and for them to connect with and learn from each other.

West Limerick Resources 

Katie Murray, rural development officer with West Limerick Resources, explained: “Over two years ago, we sought to work with partners in the same position as us on a co-operation project. That is how we have South Tipperary Development and Southwest Mayo Development working with us. 

“We were all similar but different. The social enterprises in West Limerick generally would be new and wouldn’t have associated with calling themselves social enterprises. We also had longer established ones. They needed supports that were different to what we had normally been rolling out. 

Katie Murray of West Limerick Resources

 “We wanted a bespoke programme tailored for each of the social enterprises, which was similar what Mayo and Tipperary wanted as well. 

“We came together and submitted a form for LEADER funding, which was successful. Caroline Egan of Cramden Tech secured the contract and we worked with Caroline to develop a programme of supports. 

“This was planned just as Covid was kicking off and we then had to take into consideration the restrictions. We would have liked more frequent physical meetings like today, but we had to hold meetings online. The programme still met the objectives that it was supposed to meet and the three development companies worked very well. 

“We have made connections between three counties. We have supported 30 social enterprises – ten in West Limerick, ten in South Tipperary and ten in Mayo. They have all made informal connections among themselves.

“We as development agents also learnt from each other,” she said.

Training and mentoring 

The development companies saw that social enterprises had some common training and mentoring needs. Sara Bourke, rural development project officer with South Tipperary Development, recalled how everyone came together on Zoom. 

Over the two years, 119 participants learned about governance, cyber security, communicating impact, accessibility in buildings, secure trading online, human resources and much more.

Trainers also called to each enterprise and stayed up to a week to help with “areas of difficulty”.

“Depending on what each one needed, trainers went into each enterprise for up to seven days. They had a hands-on approach. That was the strength of the programme: There was the coming together, but there was also the individualised training,” said Sara. 

Sara Bourke, South Tipperary Development

The three lead organisations knew where to go for support.

“All three of us work under the LEADER programme and we brought in colleagues from our SICAP programme because they also have a social enterprise remit and that was how it was born. 

“Now the programme is coming to a close, a report will be produced that outlines its benefits. This will give us signposts to what enterprises need going forward. It will help us to inform the agenda of the next Rural Development Programme (RDP) and the next SICAP programme,” she added.

The value of networking 

Norita Cleshem, LEADER project officer with South West Mayo Development, recalled the first networking event which was held in Mayo.

“The theme was the environment. So we had different enterprises involved such as the Edible Landscape (a project in Westport) with nature activist Mary Reynolds as a key speaker. That was the first event we did post pandemic. 

Norita Clesham, South-West Mayo Development

“Then we had the one in Tipperary and the theme there was social inclusion. We had speakers and enterprises there talking about their experience. 

“The theme today was looking at the wider concept of enterprise and the future. We had very inspiring speeches and very good engagement. 

“It showed us the value of networking. Even though the enterprises are different and geographically apart, there are a lot of similarities. You could see the learning in terms of challenges, vision and growth. 

“Rather than enterprises developing and making the same mistakes, they can make new mistakes and they can learn from each other. We have set up relationships now and they can collaborate. 

“Through the programme we introduced themed elements – heritage, community centres and community facilities. We married those so when the programme is over they can talk to each other. That was the ethos of the whole thing as this was a co-operation project. We have seen huge benefit in running it this way,” she said.

Help with expansion

Lorraine Higgins is the manager of West Limerick Sports Complex in Newcastle West. 

“Our business has been running for 23 years and we changed to a social enterprise model in 2017. It seeks to help people with improve both their physical and mental health,” she said.

“We have a health and leisure facility offering a swimming pool, sauna, exercise studio, gym and coffee dock. We are trying to take the barriers away from exercising, to open up our facilities to people that might not be able to afford or access a facility.”

Lorraine Higgins of West Limerick Sports Complex

“We run an inclusive facility for everybody – no matter your age, fitness level or ability. We probably doubled our numbers in the last four years. 

“We are expanding rapidly. We wanted to get involved in this programme because we needed professional guidance on how to expand, how to scale up and how to strategically plan for the next five years so we are able to tackle anything. 

“Our board is made up of voluntary members and now we have a roadmap of where we were going and developing smaller steps on how to get there. We want to expand the centre on the two acres next door and we are planning for that,” she said. 

A skilled workforce 

Yvonne Corcoran Loftus, the curator of the Michael Davitt museum, is equally passionate about her project.  

Yvonne Corcoran Loftus, curator of the Michael Davitt Museum in Straide, Co. Mayo

 “Embarking on the ‘Co-operating to Succeed’ programme gave a chance to staff to upskill; in areas such as marketing, which is of huge benefit to the museum. The training has had a direct influence on the things we achieved. We have a more skilled workforce, more efficient work practices and a fantastic digital footprint. Our Facebook has grown from just over a thousand people to 4,500 followers now. It is because of the improved content – we have some fantastic content.”

The bespoke training on-site was “fantastic”. 

“He really interacted with the staff. Ideas were emerging from the staff and he just discussed it with them. He helped them develop their ideas and put them into action,” Yvonne revealed.

She thanked the trainers “for what we achieved with this”. 

“I would like to also thank Norita Cleeshem from South West Mayo, people from the LEADER project and everyone involved.” 

“It was a fantastic networking opportunity. You got to know other enterprises. You can touch base with them. You can question and promote each other. 

“Enterprises do so much. I think it is fantastic that social good that is happening around the country,” she added.

Shaping future policy

The development workers involved believe the initiative will shape future policy.

Katie said, “The enterprises learnt and we as development agents have learnt hugely from each other”.

Sara said, “All three of us work under the LEADER programme and we brought in colleagues from our SICAP programme because they also have a social enterprise remit and that was how it was born. 

“Now that the programme is coming to a close there will be a report produced that outlines the benefits of the programme and the benefits of the cooperation. This will give us signposts to what enterprises need going forward. It will help us to inform the agenda of the next Rural Development Programme (RDP) and the next SICAP programme”.

An effective initiative 

Shay Riordan, CEO of West Limerick Resources which hosted the final event, commented: “We work with a lot of enterprises around West Limerick and we know who is in our area.”

“We have a really good working relationship with South Tipperary and South-West Mayo. We saw there would be real value in taking groups out of their local space to see what’s happening elsewhere, to put a training programme in place, as well as direct assistance. 

“That would help those groups in a meaningful way, rather than just training. That was the backdrop to ‘Cooperating to Succeed’ and Katie ran with the idea,” Shay continued. 

He said they were “delighted” that people saw the benefit from it.

“I think you just heard it today from the participants’ engagement around the tables. People got real value from this. 

“Caroline at Cramden Tech was excellent in terms of their delivery and for committing their time and expertise. 

He said it was clear the initiative was “very effective and everyone involved benefited from the experience”.

The final report will influence the next Rural Development Programme and SICAP programmes in the future. 

What is a social enterprise?

“Social enterprises are businesses that work primarily to improve the lives of people. Their core objective is to achieve a social, societal, or environmental impact. They frequently work to support disadvantaged groups such as the long-term unemployed, people with disabilities, travellers, etc., or to address issues such as food poverty, social housing, or environmental matters.

“Like other businesses, social enterprises pursue their objectives by trading in goods and services on an ongoing basis. However, any surpluses generated by social enterprises are reinvested into achieving social objectives, rather than maximising profit for their owners.”

For a fuller definition, see: https://www.gov.ie/en/publication/624c74-social-enterprise/


West Limerick Resources, South West Mayo Development Company and South Tipperary Development led the ‘Co-operating to Succeed Social Enterprise Development Initiative’. 

It also received support from the Department of Rural and Community Development through programmes such as the Social Inclusion and Community Activation Programme and LEADER. The initiative also had support from local authorities and local community development committees in each county, the European Agricultural Fund for Rural Development, and partners Local Enterprise Office Mayo. 

The Limerick social enterprises were: 

  • Clonshire Equestrian Centre 


Now established as one of the most successful horse riding and training centre’s in the country, Clonshire Equestrian Centre in Adare, Co. Limerick, is set on 120 acres of rolling parkland in the heart of the Golden Vale. 

  • Coolcappa Community Centre

See Facebook page for more information.

A central hub for people living in the Coolcappa area to come together to socialise, enjoy recreational activities and access multi-functional meeting and community hall spaces. 

  • Dromcollogher Respite Care Centre 


A community based, community driven, stand-alone facility where the older person can avail of temporary respite care, allowing their family/primary carers a break. 

  • Glórach Theatre, Abbeyfeale 


Glórach Theatre, Abbeyfeale is a nonprofit organisation whose aim is to entertain, spark cultural debate, and enrich local parishes by providing an excellent theatre experience. 

  • Kilmeedy Community Development Group CLG 


Roots Community Shop & Café is a social enterprise run by the community, for the community. 

  • Knockaderry Cloncagh Resource Centr

See Facebook page for more information.

A multi-purpose Resource Centre with seating capacity for 250. The facility also contains a Members Bar, office and meeting rooms. 

  • Local Link Limerick Clare 


TFI Local Link Limerick Clare is a company set up for the express purpose of providing transport to communities within Counties Limerick and Clare. 

  • St. Ita’s Voluntary Housing & Day Care Centre 


St. Ita’s provides quality housing, support for daily living, meals on wheels services and centre based social and entertainment activities. 

  • West Limerick 102 FM 


West Limerick 102FM is a community radio station covering the western half of Limerick County. 

  • West Limerick Sports Complex 


West Limerick Sports Complex is a not-for-profit Social Enterprise providing Leisure and Fitness Facilities for the whole community. 

The Mayo social enterprises were: 

  • Achill Experience – Aquarium & Visitor Centre 


The Achill Experience encapsulates many aspects of Island life both present and past. It is a place to explore and learn about many different species of sea creatures from around the waters of Achill Island and from the World beyond. 

  • Balla CRD 


Balla Community Resources Development (CRD) was established in 1996 to encourage community development and enable Community and Public Agencies, working together, to improve the quality of life and serve the community of Balla and surrounding areas. 

  • Ballina Costume Company 


Ballina Costume Company pride themselves in providing a unique service, with costumes designed and made in-house, many of which are original. 

  • Ballintubber Abbey Trust 


Ballintubber Abbey Trust seeks to preserve and promote the architectural heritage and history of Ballintubber Abbey and Tóchar Phádraig through the provision of a unique and nationally recognised visitor experience. 

  • Clár I.C.H. 


Clár ICH is an Approved Voluntary Housing Association. Activities include the management of social and sheltered housing schemes and the management of energy retrofitting upgrades. 

  • Edible Landscape Project 


The Edible Landscape Project encourages behavioural change in how and what we eat, by giving communities the power to make food consumption and purchasing choices that promote our own health, the health of our communities and the health of the planet. 

  • Kilmovee Community Housing & Centre 


Kilmovee Community Housing CLG is an approved voluntary housing body and Community Centre offering a range of community services and supports including office and meeting rooms, Meals on Wheels and laundry services. 

  • Linenhall Arts Centre 


The Linenhall Arts Centre provides an arts service for all in the community. The Linenhall Arts Centre programmes local, national and international arts events and workshops. It also supports artists who live and work in our region. 

  • Mayo Abbey Parish CDC 


Mayo Abbey Parish CDC works in partnership with government departments and agencies, community groups and voluntary agencies to provide a wide range of services that will benefit the wider community. 

  • Michael Davitt Museum 


The Michael Davitt Museum contains an extensive collection of historical artefacts including original documents, photos, Land Acts, letters, postcards, posters, rosary beads and other items connected with Michael Davitt’s life. 

The Tipperary social enterprises were: 

  • Burncourt Community Council 


Focuses on improving and developing Burncourt Village and environs. Manages Burncourt Community Hall and Mountain Lodge. 

  • Canon Hayes Recreation Centre 


The Canon Hayes Recreation Centre has been part of Tipperary town for the last 30 years offering great sporting and recreation facilities to all sectors of the community. 

  • Carrick on Suir Community Resource 


The Carrick on Suir Community Resource Centre is a modern, multi-purpose resource centre conveniently located at the heart of Carrick on Suir, Co. Tipperrary. 

  • Clonmel Applefest 


Clonmel Applefest is an annual festival that celebrates the food, heritage and natural environment of Clonmel through the prism of the Arts. 

  • Jobs for Family Carers 


Jobs For Family Carers finds employment opportunities for family carers around their caring commitments. 

  • Glen of Aherlow Failte Society 


The Fáilte Society objectives is to enhance the local economy while at the same time retaining the natural unspoilt environment and landscape that makes the Glen of Aherlow an attractive scenic visitor destination. 

  • Millennium Family Resource Centre 


Millennium Family Resource Centre provides a wide range of family support services and programmes to meet the needs of families, individuals and the wider community. 

  • Place4U 


Place4U provides offices, meeting rooms and other support facilities that are commonly needed by community and voluntary groups in South Tipperary. 

  • Property Marking Ireland 


Property Marking Ireland is a social enterprise which has been set up to roll out a property marking crime prevention programme throughout Ireland. 

  • Tipperary Excel Heritage 


Tipperary Excel Heritage offers the communities of Tipperary town and hinterland a place to meet, hold events, promote their work and to visit, enjoy and make contact with each other.