Rural Laois community rebuild their local centre and community spirit

Michelle Hogan

Reporter:

Michelle Hogan

The community in Castletown, Co Laois is celebrating a surge in interest for the local community centre where a €120,000 refurbishment has recently been completed. 

An outpouring of support in the form of cash and voluntary work has meant that the community centre, which was originally built in the early 1990's, has now gained a new lease of life. 

An open night was held on Friday, July 6 to celebrate the work that was done to make the centre the heart of the community and for the locals in the rural area to have their say on what they would like to see happening in the centre. 

The Castletown Community Centre Committee received a grant to the tune of €96,000 under the Town and Village Renewal Scheme in 2017 and in order to receive the grant had to secure €12,000 in cash and voluntary labour to the value of €12,000. With the money, the centre has been spruced up with new paint, new bathrooms and showers including accessible bathrooms, a new kitchen, tarmac car park, ramps at entrances and foundation work. 

They reached their fundraising goals thanks to the generosity of the people in the community.

Mary Peelo is the Secretary of the committee.

"We sent out letters to all of the community asking if they would consider making donations. A lot of people responded very positively.  We ran a comedy night in the Abbeyleix Hotel and had the Half Door International Set Dancing Festival in May where we ran a raffle and that was really the quickest money we ever made, people were very good.

"We just about made it, it was a struggle, it was easier to get the voluntary labour because when you add all the hours of painting and the hours of cleaning. It was a real community effort, we thought outside the box, looked at it differently and planned accordingly.

"We consider this phase one we are hoping that the members of the community tell us what they want. 

"It first opened in the early 1990's. There was great interest and over the years I think people grow tired and things wound down and the children that it was built for grew up and maybe moved away, some of them are here today with their own children. The committee became defunct and that's when a group of us got together and tried to get back together.

"I don’t know if it is purely altruistic but for me it was such a fabulous facility that wasn't being used, I personally want to play soccer or basketball here not to be competitive but just to use it. We have our own ideas but we want people to tell us what their ideas are. What drives everybody else I think that seems to be the shared vision. There were a lot of people who worked very hard initially to make this what it was that we just felt such a shame to see it underutilised and in need of a bit of TLC," she said.

Mark Robertson is the Treasurer of the Castletown Community Centre Committee.

"A lot of us in the village we have seen the centre over the years not being used as well as it should be. We formed a committee and decided we were going to do this. We were lucky with the timing we came across grants, some very generous grants to do the first piece of work on the hall and we are delighted to have that up and running and opened tonight. Hopefully it is only the start we have big plans for the future we have got other expansions planned and we still want to decide what people want and that will direct it.

"The work we did it was work that had to be done. There were leaks, there was rain getting in, the toilets were always problematic, we have addressed that and now it is a much more pleasant place to be in so we let people in today to see what we have done and to let them tell us what they want to see in their own community centre," he said.

Cathaoirleach of Laois County Council John King attended the opening and said the work carried out by the small rural community in Castletown is admirable and a good example to others. 

"This community centre here in Castletown when you look at the project, there are lots of halls around rural towns and villages and I think if they came and seen the project that was done here it would encourage them rather than knock and build a new centre to avail of funding and enhance what you have already. Well done to all the people of Castletown," he said.

Scroll through the gallery above to see pictures taken on the open night by photographer Alf Harvey.