3 Years ChangeX Burren – The power of ideas and passionate people driving them

This week marks 3 years since the launch of ChangeX Burren so we thought it would be a good time to reflect on what’s happened since then.

How it all began..

It began as an experiment to see if we could improve wellbeing for people in the Burren by launching a number of ideas that already worked elsewhere, in towns and villages across the region.

Since then, ChangeX has expanded across Ireland and to the US, but the Burren remains its spiritual home as we continue to experiment and try new things, all with the goal of making our communities even better places to live.

I joined the team as a volunteer a couple of years ago, to help activate ideas in the Burren, together with Brendan Dunford. We’re both driven by the belief that good ideas combined with passionate people can produce magical results.

Here are some of the highlights:

Some of the early adopters focused on the Burren’s next generation with Coder Dojo, a free programming class for kids, and Playworks, a programme that turns break time into a more valuable time for pupils and teachers, first to get going in a couple of locations across the Burren.

A lot more has happened since. Now a total of 8 of the original ChangeX ideas are up and running, with many home-grown community initiatives growing and complementing the ChangeX ideas.

Older Burren residents are the ones who’ve probably benefitted most from a range of projects so far.

121digital sessions have been running successfully in Gort Community School where teens teach older people how to use their technology, like mobile phones or tablets. The impact of this simple idea that’s rather easy to start compared to some others is surprisingly big. As technology plays such an important role now in day-to-day communications, these classes help older people to connect more with their families and can add new quality to their lives.

The Way We Were is another idea that connects different generations to learn from each other. Founder of Third Age Ireland, Mary Nally, brought 12 of her older volunteers down from Meath for our Winterage Weekend. They set up an exhibition with artefacts from their childhood to share with local national school children, telling stories about how they used these items. The exchanges were rich as you can see in the photographs!

The Way we Were Burren

A new Men’s Shed also recently got up and running in Kinvara, providing a place where local men can come together.

Fáilte Isteach has been running very successfully in Ballyvaughan. I got the ball rolling but a wonderful team of volunteers have been keeping the classes going and it provides a fantastic way for people of all backgrounds to connect and to breakdown the language and cultural barriers that are so difficult for anyone settling into a new place.

This programme may also continue in Ennistymon over the coming months to help recently arrived Syrian refugees learn English, settle in and integrate themselves into the community.

Street Feast is a particularly popular event and of course we will be joining in again this year on June 11th, hosting a community party in Ballyvaughan. Local business woman Pauline Burke has taken the project under her wing with a group of friends and makes sure that it’s a memorable afternoon for all. The only thing she can’t guarantee is the sun!

Fighting Words, the creative writing classes for kids founded by Roddy Doyle, started earlier this year in Clarinbridge under the leadership of Anna Downes and friends. The work of the children there even recently featured in The Irish Times! Here are some of their stories.

But it’s not just about the ideas on ChangeX. We always knew that there were many home-grown, innovative ideas from the Burren and ChangeX Burren has, in its 3 years, empowered many ordinary citizens to come together and create initiatives to enhance their lives in the Burren communities. Everything from ‘Neighbourhood Watch’, in Ballyvaughan, helping to keep the village a bit safer for us all to the wildly successful ‘Go for Life’ fitness classes. There are now over 300 people taking part each week and feeling the benefits of keeping active and getting the opportunity to make new friends.

Other local champions include John Connole, who wanted Irish conversation classes so he organised them himself and every Friday evening through the winter, 8 others joined him with a ‘teacher’. Denise Casserly has motivated about 100 local, mainly women, to run ‘couch to 5k’.

Tom Connolly runs ‘The Gathering’ in Ballyvaughan for older folks to come together on a weekly basis for mass, bingo and food. He does this on an entirely voluntary basis and when asked what’s motivated him to continue for so many years, Tom says he hopes that when he’s an old man, people will treat him with kindness and help keep him connected to his community. These are our unsung heros and it is these and many more volunteers that keep our rural communities alive!

Ideas that originate here in The Burren are also being spread to new communities through ChangeX. “Local Explorers” and “Eco Beo”, both ideas initiated by the Burren Beo Trust, provide a way for all of us to reconnect with our local environment. The more we know and understand about our heritage, the trees and hills surrounding us, the better we’ll take care of it into the future.

As we like to say here in the Burren “It’s better to light a candle than to curse the dark” and so many have shown how they live that ethos every day over the last 3 years. We hope we can continue to do that together and make this region a place that is great to grow up, to raise children and to enjoy life as you grow old.

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