In a City Short of Community Spaces, Where Can Funding be Found for More?

Korean Kickboxing Cabra was supposed to be out of its clubhouse at the end of June.

“We don’t know how long we are going to be left in this place,” says Nicholas Duffy, the head coach. “It’s one of those things, we just have to keep biting our nails and wait and see.”

Earlier this month, An Bord Pleanála granted planning permission for the demolition of the building on Bannow Road.

The martial arts club, with 250 members, is exploring all options but just cannot find another suitable space in Cabra, says Duffy.

It’s one of a bunch of community groups across the city calling for space.

A recent survey of city residents also highlighted how many consider community facilities a key future concern.

Thirty-six percent of the 987 people who responded to a council survey in February said that community facilities were among the top issues facing the city over the coming six years.

But while those who live and work in the city have flagged the need for more community facilities – and those running groups have said they’re short on spaces – it’s unclear where the money could come from to meet the demand.

Need for Space

In December 2019, Dublin City Council Chief Executive Owen Keegan told councillors that they would need to sell council-owned land to fund community and cultural spaces in the city.

Projects to be funded or part-funded by land sales included community centres like the Rutland Street School in the north inner-city, as well as parks, artists’ workshops and the redevelopment of Dalymount Park.

“There is a difficulty with the cultural and recreation and amenity that the grants and what’s available from levies is insufficient,” said Keegan at the time.

Sinn Féin Councillor Séamas McGrattan says this is a problem, as councillors want to build housing on public land, but capital projects are reliant on sales.

For example, the redevelopment of Dalymount Park is reliant on the sale of Tolka Park, he says. “It’s a difficult one. We shouldn’t be selling off land in a housing crisis.”

And the more houses you build the more people there are that need community infrastructure too, he says.

How Much, Where?

Across the city, though, community groups have continued to press for spaces to meet and run clubs. It’s hard to say where needs them most.

McGrattan put forward a motion last year saying the council should carry out a needs analysis in Cabra, to figure out where community space is required, he says.

Cultural and community infrastructure should be allocated according to need and according to the population of the area, says People Before Profit Councillor Tina MacVeigh. But “it is done on an ad-hoc piecemeal basis”.

Neither the council nor the central government appears to audit the infrastructure to target resources where they are needed, she says. “There is no system.”

As part of planning applications for bigger developments, private developers do have to carry out audits themselves of “community infrastructure”.

Those, however, have been criticised as having starkly different levels of detail and not matching what residents and community groups say is needed.

For within new public housing developments, councillors have put forward one idea for how amenities and community facilities could be funded.

The council should engage with the Department of Housing to set up a central fund for that, said a recent paper on public housing issued by councillors.

That doesn’t deal, though, with neighbourhoods where there aren’t big new developments planned.

The state should make sure community, civic and cultural infrastructure is prioritised, says People Before Profit Councillor Tina MacVeigh.

“And if it doesn’t exist in an area, that resources are put in place to fill those gaps,” she says.

All Across the City

At Korean Kickboxing Cabra, around 60 professional fighters train and everyone is worried about the future of the club, says Duffy. “It’s a nightmare.”

There are hundreds of apartments being built in Cabra but “they are not putting facilities in them for kids, or parks”, he says.

But also, across the city on the southside, James Madigan a tour guide and member of the Liberties Cultural Association, said the Liberties used to have a library, a community centre, markets, the Tivoli Theatre and a public swimming pool.

These days it has no indoor community space at all. There is nowhere to put on a play or run a dance class or any other activity, he says. “That is the real problem.”

Northwards again, in the newer purpose-built suburb of Clongriffin, residents also complain about a lack of community space.

The town centre, designed in 2003, has space for a supermarket, medical centre, railway station, parks, pitches, homes, retail and office space.

In 2019, residents started a campaign for a community centre. Labour Councillor Alison Gilliland said there are small facilities that can be used by community groups but they need a larger community centre.

Earlier this year, a spokesperson Dublin City Council said that there are two spaces available in Clongriffin for community use and there are no plans to provide a purpose-built community centre.

MacVeigh, the People Before Profit councillor, says the council recently closed the community centre at St Michael’s Estate in Inchicore because of a planned council housing project.

But there are no immediate plans to start building the new homes and local people want to keep using the community centre, she says.

A senior citizens’ group used it alot, she says. “They have a stitch and bitch. They have a book club, they have a history and culture club,” says MacVeigh.

At first, they moved to Richmond Barracks, but then that was made into a vaccination centre, she says.

Residents followed all the Covid-19 restrictions and didn’t meet up for more than a year, says MacVeigh, and now they’ve nowhere to meet. “That is just wrong.”

What Are the Funding Streams?

McGrattan says that large capital projects, like building a new community centre, are usually delivered through the council’s capital budget, which is mostly put together by council managers.

The capital projects are generally spread out across the city, he says. But “can be slow to develop”, he says.

A spokesperson for Dublin City Council said that, “Generally capital funding for community facilities comes from government departments.” In other words, from grants from the central government to the local government.

A council spokesperson said that: “In most recent years such capital funding has not been readily available. Dublin City Council has always directed such funding when available to areas of deprivation in the city.”

Dublin City Council’s capital programme for 2021 to 2023 includes €173.6 million for “culture, recreation and amenity”, including leisure, sports, parks, and libraries. About a third of that (€59.6 million) is expected to come via grants from the central government.

And four big-ticket items together account for most (€103.7 million) of the planned spending: the Parnell Square Cultural Quarter, the redevelopment of Dalymount Stadium, the Bull Island Discovery Centre, and artists’ workshops.

Grants come via the Department of Housing, the Department of Rural and Community Development, and the Department of Tourism, Culture, Arts, Gaeltacht, Sports and Media.

Much of this money is directed via the council, to schemes that management have put forward. But there are some grants that outsiders can apply for.

For those, MacVeigh says that the process of awarding funding through grants process might mean allocations depend on “how well organised you are, what resources you have as a community to organise and mobilise and fight your corner”.

To get sports grant funding, for example, local organisations need to apply. Dublin City Council can assist with this process, a spokesperson said.

For a small community organisation, or even elected representatives, this system of funding can seem like an impenetrable labyrinth.

Which department funds the type of thing they are doing? Who there decides what gets funded? Is there any way for a member of the public to contact them and make a plea for money?

Duffy, the kick-boxing coach in Cabra, said he is in contact with council representatives and local councillors, but there doesn’t appear to be a settled process to apply to the council to get a space.

It doesn’t need to be super complicated, or expensive, to provide community space, says Madigan, of the Liberties Cultural Association

The council owns buildings that could be done up, he says. “Not everything needs to be brand new and shining.”

In the Liberties, Madigan just thinks the council should give them back their original community centre, he says.

In 2016, Dublin City Council turned Carman’s Hall, which had been a community centre, into emergency accommodation, he says.

Carman’s Hall was well used by residents and community groups. “That building was beautiful and it had all its original features,” says Madigan.

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