The example of Skerries Community Association shows one way of offering the residents of a town an opportunity to play an active role in shaping its future..
4 Key Takeaways:
- A community association (like the one in Skerries) is involved in trying to put together a response to a very diverse range of issues.
- This response needs to be one that reflects what is in the best interests of the town and its people.
- The task of formulating this, as well as being active in a number of other areas, falls on the shoulders of a relatively small number of volunteers.
- Articles in local publications and flyers preceding the AGM encourage people to help shape the future of our town together – will the community have responded?
About Michael McKenna:
MMichael McKenna has lived in Skerries since 2000. He joined Skerries Cycling Initiative and Skerries Guerrilla Gardeners around 2011. In 2014 he became a director of the SCA and served as company secretary from 2016-2018. He is chairperson since September 2018.
Contacting Michael McKenna:
You can connect with Michael on LinkedIn.
By Michael McKenna
WHETHER it is a mini roundabout, a children’s playground, the plans for a new ‘drive-thru’ fast food place, a road opening, a landfill opening, water supply problems and odours from the waste water treatment plant, lifts not working at the train station, it is likely that the Skerries Community Association (SCA) will be involved in trying to put together a response that reflects what is in the best interests of the town and its people. And then there is the work done by SCA groups like Skerries Tidy Towns (winners 2016).
Or other committees like Age Friendly Skerries (reducing isolation for older residents); Town Twinning (Gallic/Gaelic cultural and social exchange now in its 25th year); Sustainable Skerries (empowering people to be more sustainable since 2008); Skerries Cycling Initiative (fighting for the coastal cycle route and generally encouraging people to get on their bikes) etc. The excellent daily Newsflash keeps us in touch with what’s going on in the area. We have unfortunately lost several groups in recent times: Skerries CoderDojo is dormant, Soundwaves is in abeyance and as the Rás Tailteann couldn’t find a sponsor this year so we had no Rás Stage End Committee in 2019.
Our Community Centre, which first opened in 1982, is an engine room of community activity. Run by Manager Sharon Guinane and her team under the supervision of the Board of Management (all volunteers), the Centre is the physical manifestation of the SCA. Many of the sports and arts groups in the town depend on the SCA and the Community Centre for facilities to operate, and all are in need of additional space.
Apart from the professional manager of the Community Centre and her staff, everything the SCA does happens through voluntary effort. Skerries should be proud of what has been achieved by its volunteers. However (and there always is a “However,” isn’t there?) the volunteering effort needs to be continuously renewed, and we need to be adapting to changing circumstances to remain “fit for purpose” in meeting the challenges and to continue to make our great town even better.
The Directors of the SCA Board of Management play a crucial role here. Traditionally, most people who became directors of the Association were already members of one or more of the groups/ committees under the umbrella of the SCA. This was useful to the board for keeping abreast of what was happening at committee level, but it often meant that committee demands limited the time many directors could apply to dealing with company business per se. With the number of active committees under the SCA now reduced to a handful, there is now some space around the board table, so to speak, and this gives us an opportunity to recruit some new directors who are not connected to SCA committee/ groups.
They would be in a better position to respond to the issues and challenges that arise from time to time. I’m thinking of things like the Town Park Development Plan, liaising with new communities and residents’ associations, new road layouts, facilities and services for young people, transport and traffic management issues and creating a more inclusive community. Other directors would then be freed up to focus on the company governance “stuff” such as revising our constitution (Articles and Memorandum of Association), GDPR, Finances and Accounts, Insurance, Website and PR, and so on. With 16 director positions (currently 3 vacancies), the work can be spread fairly so that no director is overloaded.
“The Association is representative of all interests. So we want to involve all members of the community in making Skerries a better place –socially, environmentally, culturally, recreationally and so on. Hence identifying local needs and problems is important. Then we have to take initiative to solve them. This may be on our own as a community or in cooperation with the county council or other statutory agencies.” [Jim Quigley, Chairperson SCA in an interview in 1982].
After a year as Chairperson of the SCA, I now want to get a conversation going with the wider community about how best to move forward. I think Jim Quigley’s description in 1982 of the role of the SCA is as valid now as it was then, but what I’m convinced we need to change is the way we go about meeting the challenges.
At the time of writing this, we were inviting the wider community in Skerries to get involved in the conversation. A version of this article appeared in the local fortnightly magazine, Skerries News, and readers were asked to get in touch with me by email and let me have their thoughts. By the time we are in Cong, I will know what the uptake was on that.
We will also have had our 2019 AGM, on 5th September, to be precise, and for that, all local residents were invited (by a flyer delivered to each household in Skerries that also gives an overview of all the things we did over the last year) to come and join the debate – or just have a listen. As I put it in the article: “It’s our town – let’s help shape its future together!”