Gerry Connolly Finn Valley Community Hero October 2016
Gerry Connolly was born in Clydebank in Scotland and at the age of 16 he moved with his family to Convoy in 1972. He met and married Rose McCallion a native of Ard Mac Cool in 1984 and the couple live in Admiran, Stranorlar where they raised their three sons, Simon who is now 30 and lives in Monaghan, Johnnie age 25 living in Wicklow, Matthew aged 11 a student at St. Mary’s Stranorlar. After being unemployed for some time Gerry has secured full time work as Commercial Account Manager with DM Waste which he enjoys immensely.
Gerry always had an interest in community and as a teenager and up until his early twenties he was involved with the Convoy Youth Club where he took part initially as a participant and eventually as a youth leader.
St. Vincent De Paul
He has been a member of the local chapter of the St Vincent De Paul for the past seven years. During this time the work and generosity of Joe Hegarty, a member of the local chapter in Stranorlar has been a great influence to Gerry and as a result he has taken on some of Joe’s roles since his retirement. This involves visitation to homes and overseeing the upkeep of the ten houses at St. Vincent’s Close as well as ensuring that the tenants are happy and dealing with any issues they might have from time to time. Like all community support groups who depend on the generosity of the public, fundraising and collections are an integral part of the work and to this end Gerry is also involved in organising collections and collectors to help out each week. At this time of year, the local chapter will be looking towards the coming winter and the St. Vincent De Paul Christmas Appeal which provides support to families locally.
As a member of the local Credit Union Gerry was invited to become a member of the Board of Directors where he served for four years. Throughout this time Gerry also served on various committees, in particular the promotions and investment committee as well as attending regular meetings of the Board of Directors. This time gave him a great insight into the important role that the Credit Union plays in the community and an insight into the world of finance and the strict financial guidelines, policies and procedures governing the Credit Union movement.
His role in the St. Vincent De Paul has highlighted the need for social housing and he is currently involved with a group of other interested parties in what is hoped will become a county wide social housing project. The initial aim is to get a Social Housing Group up and running which is currently in the early stages. The group have recently applied for acceptance to register as a social housing group. They are attempting to bring different areas together such as Carrigart, Muff, Ardara, with the hope that other areas will come on board. The group are planning to formally meet and form a committee and they hope to conduct a needs analysis to identify the current areas in need for social housing in conjunction with Donegal Co Council. They also hope that when they get a working committee formed they will be in a position to work with other groups and provide support to them as well as well as address social housing needs in the county.
Gerry has added to his community roles in the past year with the development of the Men’s Shed for the Twin Towns and alongside John White, he has been one of the key drivers in its establishment.
As an unemployed man at the time he had discussed the idea of a Men’s Shed with John and between them they recognised the need for something of that nature in the community, and due to the downturn many men in the locality found themselves in the same situation. As a coincidence a meeting was called as part of the Feel Good Fortnight which both Gerry and John attended where the first seeds were sown for the Men’s Shed idea and the impetus to get it up and running began. Keen to get the ball rolling they both met with Michael Rowan, a member of the community garden who was able to give the group an area to put up a shed. That was just over a year ago and at this point the group have now formed and have secured an area beside the Community Garden. After much searching they eventually secured a 30-year-old prefab in Co Tyrone which has now been re-located to the site at the Community Garden.
Due to the age of the structure there was a lot of repairs and remedial work required. The group have been working on these issues and at this point they have completed some of this work on the structure. It has been repaired, reinsulated, rewired and painted with the help of many local men who have engaged with the project and come on board bringing their valuable skills to bear. This engagement came about through the idea of a help night in which they invited men in the area to come along and help out. It is fair to say that this has been a great success and the site which was bare in April now has a structure that is at an advanced stage.
The group are planning to hold their first wood turning night for the Men’s Shed this month in their premises and they are delighted to have secured the skills of Mervin Gordon a qualified tutor to take the class as well as a support worker as part of the Finn Valley Men’s Forum with the help of the Lifford Clonleigh Resource Centre. The support worker’s role will be to provide general support such as advice on funding applications, securing of equipment and materials, and training on setting up a committee and the securing of grants.
The main aim of the Men’s Shed is to provide an outlet for men in the community who may feel they would like to get involved and where possible run classes for them as a way of fostering the current skills base and developing an opportunity for peer learning. They also hope to take on local projects and are looking for donations from the public of good working tools, good quality timber and good quality second hand furniture that they can restore and resell. They are also currently sourcing materials that would allow them to make work benches for the Shed. Such donations will be an invaluable help in supplementing the ongoing costs associated with running costs. As a community group their aim is to support other community groups by creating products to order for groups that they can then sell as a means to generate income for all.
At this advanced stage the group have a bit of work to tidy the place up and get small pieces of work finalised and as soon as they get workbenches sourced they will be ready to open. They are also willing to provide the use of the premises to other groups for a basic fee and they already have a local art group planning to hold their daytime art classes in the coming weeks.
The help night continues to take place every Monday night and they would encourage those who would like to help out by giving their time to get the place finished to come along. They hope to have the place open for men to drop in very soon and the idea is that the shed will be open to men during the day and evenings for members to work on their own projects or for men who would like to call in for a chat and a bit of company.
When I asked Gerry what his future plans are, he never mentioned anything about coming in from a day’s work and relaxing or doing something for himself. It is very obvious that this thought has not entered his head such is his dedication to the community he is a part of. Instead he answers that he would like to have the Men’s Shed going and available for the men and other groups, and he elaborates by saying that in the future he hopes the group can become self-sufficient and that there will be a demand for the Shed from men in the community. His vision is that the Men’s Shed as a group can take on some projects that will enhance the community.
Gerry is an inspiration in particular to all those who find themselves without work. He has turned what can be a very negative experience into a positive one by getting involved in community alongside John White and all those men who have given of their time and talents to create the much needed Men’s Shed in this area. It is his firm belief in the power of communities working together and the commitment that he has given in terms of time and effort that has led to him being awarded the Finn Valley Centre Community Hero for October and like all our heroes we feel that it is well deserved. Keep up the great work Gerry and know that your efforts are very much appreciated.