This story begins in 1931 when the then Select Vestry of Drumnakilly Parish Church, handed over control of their Church School to Tyrone Education Committee. They had the foresight to include a condition, if the building ceased to be a school, it would be returned to the control of our Select Vestry. In 1980 it did close and Rev Minchin oversaw the legal requirements for the handover of the property.
In August 2001 Rev Cousland gathered together a group of parishioners to investigate the possibility of setting up a community group in Drumnakilly. He knew the primary school, originally opened in the late 1800’s, was vacant and represented an opportunity for regeneration. After a series of discussions we decided, not only did a need exist, but also the willingness of local people to support the venture, was apparent. From these humble beginnings Drumnakilly School Group evolved. We penned the slogan ‘At the crossroads of the Community’
A small seeding grant was given by Omagh District Council and we set about the process of electing a committee, adopting a constitution and 100 other bits of administration necessary to proceed. Over the years the committee have become proficient at producing driving licences, passports, utility bills and all the other means of formally proving identities. We had little experience, no equipment, no facilities, but lots of enthusiasm.
After taking advice from support organisations it was decided to complete an audit. In March 2003 Drumnakilly School Group asked our members to put forward their views on a range of topics in addition to gathering a factual account of our present position. It would have cost £2000 to have it prepared professionally – we didn’t have the money so we undertook it ourselves on a completely voluntary basis. A questionnaire was issued to 200 adults. Hazel, Audrey and Eddie compiled the analysis, drew the graphs and wrote the conclusions. This gave us a unique perspective on the issues and challenges facing rural dwellers today, providing evidence from the community. It also identified 84 child and young people under 17 years old. We still refer to it today for funding applications.
It was in June 2003 we issued our first monthly newsletter, advertising a BBQ in Seskinore Forest Park in July. Either Church warden, Cuthbert Managh or Eddie Giboney can supply you with a ticket. During 2003 we also congratulated Gary Dickson on becoming 18 and Valerie and Trevor Ross on their marriage in September.
Rev Cousland had retired due to ill health and it is our regret he passed away before witnessing the fruits of the labour he set in motion. We had no history of accessing funding nor did we know how to make applications. Our neighbour from Killycurragh, Eileen Frazer, helped write the first application to Awards for All asking for funding towards a photocopier. We had established a monthly newsletter the previous year to keep people informed about parish life and generate support for the project. Next year our newsletter which goes into 75 households will celebrate the 10th anniversary of production. By now we had started to work with Maureen McKeague, a Consultant specializing in funding. She wrote an application to the office of First Minister and Deputy First Minister, asking for a Capital grant. Although unsuccessful both these ladies gave us an insight into the wording and evidence needed to draw down money. Maureen also wrote an executive summary for our Audit.
Our intention at all times was to be realistic in what we could achieve but we were aware that the process had heightened expectations. Fundraising began with quiz sheets, treasure hunts, auctions, keep fit, etc. We had a loyal band of workers and more importantly a loyal band of supporters. Next followed the summer BBQ, the Seniors Xmas party, Bring & Buy sale and the Irish Stew nights. About £2000 pounds had been raised in the early 80’s towards repairs to the school and this was our starting point. Money from events was divided between both the Church and the Building fund.
After discussion with the Select Vestry we established the legal status of the school site and importantly how we might utilise the property. Initial meetings with funders suggested we should renovate the old school at a costing of around £50/60k. We even visited a project at Cooneen, Fivemiletown to view a similar project. This was short lived as a report from the architect showed the roof, floor and 3 walls of the school needed to be demolished.
We applied to the Church of Ireland Priorities fund and they awarded £2000 to allow plans to be drawn and planning permission obtained. We explored the option of building behind the church but this proved unsuccessful. In July 2007 we applied for planning permission, through Mr David Porter, Mountjoy, who has yet to submit a bill for his work, and on the 12th November 2007, permission for a new building was granted. This was followed by Building Control approval in November 2009. At the same time we negotiated a Wayleave agreement with the owners of Kyle’s property next door, to allow a connection for NIE. The Windyridge Group, from Portadown who had bought the property gave it to us free of charge. We also opened dialogue with HM Revenue & Customs regarding VAT. We discovered if we became a charity one of the side benefits would be a village hall or similar facility provided for a local community could be zero rated for VAT. A flurry of activity followed to achieve charitable status and this ultimately saved us about £40k on the final bill.
The management committee met faithfully each month and year to plan events, explore funding opportunities, raise funds, attend training courses, reverse out of blind alleys with dignity, and always keep the vision alive. From humble beginnings we have become quite proficient at running events; 4 weeks of training by ODC on event management was not completely without merit. The building fund grew. We have been humbled by the generosity this project evoked. Rev. Andy spoke about giving during the harvest thanksgiving services. We can vouch for the wholehearted support we have received. A neighbour, who does not formally belong to our church, sold some property and after checking we were serious about providing a building donated £10k. Many members of the congregation have given 4 figure sums. A former resident of Drumnakilly, now resident in Dundalk, saw the photograph, cutting the first sod in the newspaper. He left a telephone message which resulted in a generous donation from someone who is a stranger to most of us. All sections of our church gave willingly. We would like to pay particular thanks to members of the Sunday School. We hope in years to come they will feel an ownership of the building and enjoy the fruits of their labour with events and other usage, starting with the Night Light party at the end of the month.
A major frustration by now was the perception we should start building. We had learned no funding would be made available if we did anything prior to formal approval – letters of offer – and we did not want to jeopardise such letters. Rev Elaine had arrived and the process moved on. The estimate for the building was £160,000. We had about £35,000, nowhere near enough to go alone. We were confident an application to ODC Capital Grants, of around £20,000, would stand a good chance of success. The challenge however was that once offered we only had 2 years to spend the money or it would be withdrawn.
Two committee members attended an event hosted by Derry and Raphoe Action, an organisation set up to help protestant group access funding that heretofore had been monopolised by others. We learned of an organisation known as ARC northwest. They had money in the Rural Development Programme 2007 – 2013 from modulation on single farm payments – all farmers will know the government takes about 15% from payments to spend on rural communities. In true Government fashion they could not get their act together until 2010 to draw down money. We attended a workshop, held in Carrickmore, and started a process with ARC. Their initial response was to tell us not to apply as we did not fit the criteria. We persisted and they eventually relented after a challenge to their interpretation of the guidelines. We also learned it took months for them to make decisions and then we would have days to respond.
In September 2009 we discovered by chance, 1 week before the closing deadline, our application to ODC needed to be submitted. We completed the form and gathered estimates from 3 contractors and all the other inclusions. We asked for the maximum amount of £25,000. In October 2009 we completed the application form to ARC, asking for £50,000 and waited. We travelled to Belfast meeting an organisation called Ulster Community Investment Trust who specialised in lending money, to community groups, for building projects. We knew a bank loan was out of the question, however we needed to demonstrate we could fund the project. To our dismay ODC wrote a letter stating although we had scored highly they were deferring the application for 1 year. We were devastated assuming this was a foregone conclusion.
What we did not know at the time was the pedantic nature of ARC but ODC did. It took 1 year before ARC made a decision to allow us to proceed. We were given 4 weeks to submit evidence in support of our application and this folder is it. However, they had decided we should not be applying for the £50,000 we had asked for, but rather 75% of the estimated cost of £160,000. The race was on again.
In August 2010 ARC carried out a site visit and thereafter followed a mementos meeting with a lady called Katie Turnbull who informed us the threshold was set at 65 points and we had scored 69. She also advised 11 major changes we needed to put in place to fulfil their criteria. What she either did not know or did not tell was that it would take another year for them to produce the formal letter of offer, half way through which we received a letter advising they had allocated all their funds and we were 15th in the queue for any surplus. On a brighter note ODC had issued a letter of offer for £17,500. Our frustration at not being able to start building grew and I am sure many here despaired thinking we were doing little, but we worked tirelessly and waited patiently.
At this time Drumnakilly School Group joined up for meetings with the Select Vestry and together we agreed actions. We would like to pay tribute to the unequivocal support of the Select Vestry during this entire process. Without this commitment it is unlikely we could have proceeded. Unfortunately during this period Rev Elaine accepted a call to minister in Belfast and so also missed the opportunity to be present during the fulfilment of our vision. However every cloud has a silver lining and we were delighted to welcome Rev. Andy and Lynne Heber to our grouped parishes.
On the 25th July 2011, almost 2 years after our application, we received a formal letter of offer in the sum of £129,514.20 subject to conditions.
We advertised for expression of interest from contractors in the Belfast Newsletter and had 21 responses. This was narrowed down to 6 contractors who were invited to tender. When these were opened the cheapest, Lowry Bros was about £80,000 over budget. By now we were immune to obstacles and had faith that somehow after all we had overcome this was not the time to blink.
We had around £55,000 in the building fund. Neither ODC nor Arc were willing to pay monies up front but rather we had to submit paid invoices accompanied by photocopies of the cheque and a Bank statement showing it coming out of our account. Negotiations between the Architect and Lowry’s reduced the specification somewhat and a contract was signed in November 2011. It takes commitment to sign a contract for £202K, plus about £25,000 of professional fees, having been advised we would be sued for loss of profit if things went wrong. We had little confidence, in view of their previous behaviour, that ARC would deliver on time = but they have.
As you know building started in December 2011, 10 years from the initial concept was muted.
Sometimes contractors get a bad press but we have been truly fortunate. Alaistair Patterson who represented Lowry’s and Sam Sayers, the builder, have been easy to work with from the get go. Since then there has been monthly site meetings where issues were brought up and resolved. We never had a cross word during the entire construction stage. We even had an audit by EU inspectors and survived. Alastair Patterson re-negotiated the electrical and heating sub contracts and as a result, our money has stretched to 3 big additions to the original contract.
The front porch and paving; the wall and fence along the roadway; and the tarring of the car park. Sam Sayers donated the entrance gates which had been taken out of the initial contract to save us money. I think you will agree the standard of their workmanship is second to none.
Hazel kept a photographic record of the building progress, on a weekly basis and subsequently made the 3 scrapbooks and the notice board displayed today. For this we thank her.
Who would have suggested our building fund could raise the magnificent sum of approximately £70,000.
Who would have thought we could draw down about twice that from funders.
Who would have dreamed we would now be sitting in a building costing £230,000 with all bar the last £15,000 accounted for.
This is a tribute to you all. Your support, financial, physical and verbal made it happen.
During this entire process we can conclude
There is no’ I’ ‘You’ or ‘Me’ in teamwork. If you have a vision and purpose and are willing to work together everything is within your gasp.
Fear of Change is the greatest enemy we face.
Everybody has a role to play. Some plan ahead - some do the work - some encourage – some question. Each ability carries equal importance.
Lack of qualifications, knowledge or expertise can all be overcome with determination.
A photocopier is essential. In 3 years we have copied 35,000 pages.
If at first you don’t succeed, never take no for an answer, try it from another angle or ask for clarification of the rules. It’s surprising how often people gold plate information or rules adding little extras that do not exist.
In every instance, and with the benefit of hindsight, we can say that when an apparently insurmountable obstacle appeared, the person who could help us resolve or remove it crossed our path.
The decisions taken in 1931 by our forefathers impacted on us just as our decisions will have either a positive or negative influence on future generations.
The faith community is entitled to the same consideration and equality as other more vocal organisations.