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A fond farewell from Sian O’Neill

  • Walking into the office of the Community Foundation of Northern Ireland in July 2015 was nerve wracking enough but made worse with the knowledge that this was no ordinary first day. After the usual flurry of names that come with the first day in any new job, I was being sent off to the airport and a flight to London to meet the staff in our London Localgiving HQ. From there, it feels like it has been a whirlwind ever since!

    In my first week of working for Localgiving, the very first group that signed up was the Aisling Centre, a counselling charity in Enniskillen, Co. Fermanagh. Supporters of the centre were engaging in a poignant and bittersweet fundraising campaign in memory of a young man from the town. I am not sure if it was because it was my first campaign to work on, or whether it was the passion and love behind the cause, but the name and memory of the young man will always be with me. It was very quickly apparent that this was a job like no other! The group has gone on to raise over £13,000 through Localgiving, which is fantastic!

    I have relished getting out and meeting our groups, getting to know their work and figuring out how we can support them in their fundraising activities. No day was ever the same and no group had the same needs. I have loved it. From the community transport organisations helping elderly ladies get their weekly shopping done; children’s charities offering teenagers a safe space to find themselves; music and art centres who open their doors and make art accessible to all; women’s centres who literally save lives to sports groups who thrive at the centre of communities. Each one has been different and yet all facing the uncertainties that come with the vulnerable community and voluntary sector, especially here in Northern Ireland.

    I discovered that although Northern Ireland has one of the most experienced and relied upon charitable sectors in the UK, many groups are heavily reliant on grants and aid from government bodies. This has posed a massive threat on a number of the organisations we worked with and unfortunately, a number were forced to close despite even the most valiant fundraising efforts. One of which was the Carrick Women’s Centre. I had been working alongside their volunteers for over a year and the work they engaged in was so vital and had such an impact that I even sent my mother down to them to volunteer as their reflexologist. I will always be so disappointed that they had to close their doors due to funding pressures.

    In the middle of my time with Localgiving, some will know I went off and had a baby, a little boy called Alfie. The first Localgiving baby as far as I have been told. It meant that I came back and was able to see the work of some of our parenting organisation members like Parenting NI and Parent Action in a whole new light. During my maternity leave, I was replaced by another wonderful Coordinator, Nicola Hanna. Nicola was just as passionate about the groups we work with as I was and she brought a whole new dimension to the role.

    In total the Localgiving project in Northern Ireland has helped so many organisations in the three years it has been piloted here. It has delivered dozens of training projects and hundreds of one-to-one help sessions.

    We have encouraged and supported the marathon runners, the people who jump out of planes, skate round rinks for hours, climb stairs over and over, walk for miles, stay quiet all day and even the amazing lady who swam the channel between Africa and Europe!

    I am forever grateful to our members who taught me so much about passion and commitment to a cause. I hope that those I have engaged with in my role have and will continue to see the benefit of the Localgiving platform. In my eyes, it is the only donations platform that has a heart for the work it’s raising money for.

    Thankfully, this doesn’t mean that groups in Northern Ireland who are currently members of Localgiving or future members will not receive support, fundraising help and access to match funding campaigns. Support will be provided by our brilliant helpdesk staff who can be reached on 0300 111 2340 or by email help@localgiving.org.

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