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A North Clare woman lauded for two decades of deep community work has decided to step down from her role within the Clare Local Development Company.

Hailing from a farming background and the same village as Michael Cusack, Gloria Callinan knew from a young age that her heart lay with rural communities and their development.

A key figure in the instrumental work performed by the LEADER programme over the last 30 years in Clare, the mother of two joined the team in 2002 after graduating from NUIG with a degree in Community Development and has since seen annual budgets grow exponentially, with community groups and enterprises in Clare reaping the rewards.

“I was steeped in rural development from the very beginning. Even from an early age, I remember my father asking me to ring up the LEADER office to see if there was any funding available for self-catering or to do up old cottages. There was such a small budget when I started. The last programme had a budget of €9m before Christmas. The availability of cash flow for Clare communities has been a huge part of LEADER,” the Carron native stated.

Funded by the EU and Irish Government, Gloria’s role as LEADER Co-ordinator revolved around funding, training, guidance to community groups and supports for rural business. The most interesting element of her work was liaising with groups on all sectors of society in areas such as social inclusion, small and large scale tourism, creating jobs and environmental initiatives with the SEAI where she mobilized geographical communities in a bid to live more sustainable through renewable energy generation.

Casting a retrospective eye over two decades work with over 50 parishes in Clare, when asked to select one of her proudest achievements she likens it to “picking out your favourite child.” One recent project that comes to mind is the work performed by Obair in Newmarket-On-Fergus where The Tradaree Arms was renovated and became a social food enterprise providing thousands of meals throughout South Clare. After failing to secure funding through the Rural Generation Fund (RGF), LEADER was able to contribute €500,000 to assist the project in coming to life.

Only now, since stepping down, has Gloria been able to truly assess the “breadth and wow factor” of the LEADER Programme. “Like everybody, COVID has played a huge role in life choices. Since working from home when the pandemic hit, we were much busier. We were no longer going from site to site in West Clare but traversing the country online via Zoom meetings. Due to this, I felt a small disconnect for the last 18 months and decided to take some time out to spend with my two boys who are busy with hurling and football.”

Unsure of what the path ahead may bring, one thing that Gloria is sure of is that Clare communities are in safe hands with a “fantastic LEADER team and programme.” She emphasised the creativity of Clare communities and their ability to reinvent themselves and make fit for purpose community facilities across the county. She highlighted that it’s fantastic to have a local development company to support them. Adamant that this isn’t the end of her community work, she is “excited to see what the next 20 years will bring.”

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