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Community co-op celebrates 22 years

THE East Clare Community Co-op celebrates 22 years this year, having grown from the Coleen Bridge School to a large-scale operation, involving a number of community services and initiatives. The co-operative first began with the launch of Coleen Bridge School, which was a Steiner school but after the school became independent, the co-op developed and began to look at providing green initiatives and businesses in the East Clare area.
Secretary of the co-op management committee, Suzanne Hammond, moved to Caher a year and a half ago from Wicklow, looking for a change in lifestyle to get away from a busier life on the East coast. Joining the co-op almost a year ago, she is now heavily involved in both providing her own service as well as actively volunteering in the running of the co-op.
Suzanne had been studying homeopathy in the West of Ireland for four years prior to her ultimate decision to uproot. “I prefer the friendlier lifestyle, it doesn’t feel as much like the rat race. For me, there’s no comparison, I prefer the atmosphere over here. People are not in a hurry. I found out about the co-op through Joe’s Café. It is really a central point in the community that you go to and you meet people in there. A lot of networking goes on there and you get to meet a lot of creative and proactive people from the community. I got interested from that point of view.
“Initially I got involved with the community garden because I felt t there was a need for people to start to learn to grow their own food, with food costs rising and from there, I ended up on the committee. In my heart, I’ve a great belief in community and community support and I believe it’s the way forward. I also really liked that the East Clare Community Co-op is socially inclusive and involves people from all backgrounds,” she outlined.
As it grew from its humble beginnings in 1987, the East Clare Community Co-op provided a space for community development and cultural initiatives with the Clare Woman’s Network, the Dandelion Puppet Company, East Clare Telecottage, The Grainey and Heritage Art having all had their start in the East Clare Co-op.
Currently, the co-op houses a community coffee shop, Joe’s Café, CELT (The Centre for Environmental Living and Training), Fishbowl Youth, Citizen’s Information Office, the Alfa project (Active Learning For Adolescents), the Meitheal community room, Scariff Community Garden and Who’s for Seconds – a second-hand clothes and goods store. It also hosts a counselling service and service users of the Brothers of Charity also partake in events in the co-op.
The co-op is run by a voluntary management committee and has four part-time CSP (Community Services Programme) employees. It is funded through Pobal and local fundraising initiatives, as well as being supported through renting of its facilities. 
Recently, the co-op closed down the coffee shop for 18 months for extensive renovations to make it wheelchair accessible and it now complies with fire health and safety and has reopened. A reception area has also been added. This area also takes in second-hand books for resale, with the money going towards the family support agency.
The co-op itself is about supporting community-based groups or individuals with small businesses and it operates a series of rooms that people providing community-based services can rent at a low cost.
Among the initiatives and services on offer, there currently is the Scariff Community Garden, which runs on Tuesday mornings. It began last winter and currently involves 12 or 13 people. It is also a space for other groups who run gardening courses and it is used in this way as a space to learn and teach.
The co-op also has a space known as the Ralahine room, which is set up for healing and alternative therapies. Yoga, cranio-sacral therapy and a drop-in homeopathy clinic operate from this room.
In addition, Fishbowl Youth, a group for young adults and CELT run their operations through the co-op. The Meitheal room is also available for anyone interested in giving workshops. Woodcarving, mosaic and willow weaving workshops have been held there to date.
“One of the aspirations of the co-op is to include all people in the community, so children, the elderly and people with disabilities and learning disabilities are all included and encouraged to get involved. Most of services provided within the co-op are voluntary. There are four people employed in the overall running, which includes an administrator, receptionist, caretaker and gardener, while the management committee is made up of volunteers,” Suzanne explained.
In the run-up to Christmas, a number of activities are planned by the co-op and among these will see the unveiling of a new canoe club.
The East Clare Community Canoe Club will hold its first meeting to welcome new members and will formally establish itself on Tuesday at 7.30pm at Joe’s Café and all are welcome to attend this event.
Boat-building workshops with Pete Brown and the launch of a Share-Holders Skills Register and Job Club will also kick off in the near future.
Ongoing activities such as children’s and adults’ yoga, the singing group, senior citizens drop in morning, weekly Thursday night music session, paper sculpture, community garden, who’s for seconds, homeopathy and cranio-sacral clinics all continue as normal. To find out more about what’s going on in the co-op, contact Fionnuala in reception on 061 921 536.
A confidential counselling service is also available and for more information about this service call or text 086 2332913.

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