On the Rhode to recovery

THE community in Rhode is buzzing with activity and life. With a refurbished community centre, an energetic local development organisation and support from Offaly Local Development Company, the North Offaly locality is tackling these recessionary times head on.

THE community in Rhode is buzzing with activity and life. With a refurbished community centre, an energetic local development organisation and support from Offaly Local Development Company, the North Offaly locality is tackling these recessionary times head on.

New life for old parish hall

“YOU should have seen this place a year ago,” says Rhode community activist, Pat Swain, standing outside the newly refurbished Parish Hall, “windows were broken, doors were smashed and there was a big overgrown hedge out the back.”

A little over a year ago the hall was a derelict building that not only represented a loss of vital community facilities but the place was an eyesore in the otherwise picturesque village of Rhode.

Rhode Parish Enterprise Association Ltd took the building in hand and with funding of more that €110,000 from Offaly Local Development Company (OLDC) it led the restoration and refurbishment of the hall.

The building is now home to a sports hall, a conference centre and a fully fitted kitchen capable of catering for up to 100 people. The sports hall is used by the local sporting teams and the schools and, with the addition of a portable stage and PA system, it can be transformed it into a performance area or large meeting room.

A second room, known as the conference centre, is fitted with IT facilities including an overhead projector and has seating for 100 people. The kitchen is capable of catering for the same number and will be used to cater for visiting GAA teams among many others.

Mr Swain says the Enterprise Association is delighted with the end result and wants people from the community to utilise the facility “Once it is used we’ll be happy, we are encouraging all groups and clubs to use the facilities in the Parish Hall. Just contact Rhode Parish Enterprise Association Ltd, all groups are welcome.”

Local training initiative

MOST experts agree that education and training are key to our economic recovery. The excellent facilities available in Rhode meant that when OLDC were looking for a base for a Local Training Initiative in North Offaly, Rhode was the obvious choice.

‘Skills for Employment’ has 14 participants taking part on this 32-week FETAC level 3 training course which also combines a level 4 qualification in Healthcare. This course has a range of core subjects that includes maths, communications, basic computers and career preparation. Aside from the core elements the course is flexible and can be geared to respond to gaps in the local employment market.

Given that youth unemployment is a major issue nationally and internationally it is interesting to note that Rhode is no different and the majority of the participants of the Rhode course are under 25 years of age.

Course co-ordinator, Anne Carr, believes this initiative is a great stepping-stone for further education, “People who completed the course in the past come back to us for advice, one girl who started with us is now doing a degree.”

Anne added that some of the smaller things that happen around the course really help people “For instance, Learners take turns (in pairs) organising catering for the group,” she explains, “we all put money in a kitty for lunches, participants have to learn how to budget and make a euro go a long way. Life skills can be picked up here and brought to any form of employment.”

The provision of the group lunch was a lesson not lost on one of the Learners who is now in the process of setting up her own catering service, a service she has piloted with very positive results at some local events.

Offaly LDC sponsors the FAS funded Local Initiative, but also provides crucial support to the programme in other ways, according to Anne, “We are part of their network so if we need people to talk to the class on specialist topics OLDC can recommend people to us and through their networks they can also help us to set up work experience for participants.”

Anne goes on to say that this support means there is a consistency in the tutoring personnel, which makes it easier to build relationships between tutors and participants.

Information is power

IN these days information is power and people with poor access to information or access to poor information can find themselves quite disadvantaged.

An initiative focussed on ‘Linking People to Services’ developed by Offaly Local Development Company is designed to deliver necessary information to as many people as possible.

In an age when a large bulk of everyday information is available on the internet Breda Stewart, Programme Leader with OLDC explains why Linking People to Services is important, “Not everyone has access to computers and the internet, and many people, particularly in rural areas, don’t know where to go for help, so, this OLDC initiative helps people access basic first-step information locally. There are a range of excellent services available such as the Citizens Information Service and Money Advice and Budgeting Service, so we can refer people on to such agencies or just download the relevant forms for them. This is a link between local communities and mainstream services.”

Breda goes on to explain that the service was set up late last year and now there is a strong demand for it in Rhode. “We see an array of different people coming in, from young to old. Sometimes our job can be as simple as helping people look for a bus pass, we just guide them in the right direction.”

The information provided at these clinics is free of charge and completely confidential. The service operates every Tuesday from 9.30am to 12.30pm.

IT on the farm

ANY farmer will tell you that bureaucracy is one industry that’s thriving inside the farm gate. Farm IT (information technology) training is a course designed to engage the farming community with new technologies to enable them manage their enterprise more efficiently.

The programme, which was piloted last year in Birr, has since been rolled out to five other communities across Co Offaly and focuses on the specific requirements a farming family may have when using computers and the internet. It is planned to bring this unique programme to Rhode in the Autumn.

Theresa Hennebry, business and training consultant with OLDC explains, “This is a very practical course tailor-made for the agricultural sector. Participants leave the course with practical skills in information and communication technology.”

Along with using the internet for farming administration the course helps participants learn how to pay their road tax online, how to purchase goods and services on line and how to use internet banking. The course has sparked interest with people of all ages in Co Offaly.

Mixing fun and learning

OLDC is working with Rhode Youth Club to organize a summer camp for local young people attending secondary school for the first time in September.

Martina Nugent, OLDC Development Worker says “This camp will help young people adjust to the change from primary to secondary school in a fun way.”