Obair Newmarket-on-Fergus – Steeped in Community Development

The late Dr Brendan O’Regan’s legacy to Co Clare lives on, not just through his connection with Shannon Airport and the Shannon Free Zone but in nearby Newmarket-on-Fergus, through Obair.

Immersed is so many aspects of community life in South Clare, this social enterprise was set up in 1993 when Dr O’Regan encouraged a group of like-minded local people to come together to take responsibility for the development of their locality.  And that is what they have just done and continue to do, adapting to and overcoming the many challenges they are faced with, none greater than COVID-19.

It would be impossible to cover every aspect of Obair’s work in a short article of this nature, that is best found at  www.obair.org but we spoke to community development officer and acting manager, Siobhan O’Connell. to glean a whistle-stop overview of Obair’s work.

“There are many aspects to our work, each very much focused on community development and working with people from the cradle to the grave. We are very focused on combating social exclusion and developing social enterprise in the area.” she states proudly.

“Our community crèche, which was very much our genesis and started out with a manager and an administrator, now involves 20 staff providing childcare services to between 80 and 120 children, ranging in age from babies to afterschool. The crèche is open Monday to Friday from 8am to 6pm offering many options to parents, from full day to part-time care services. It also offers an after-school club to supervise homework, which is following by play time and a hot dinner.”

Obair’s very popular Meals on Wheels service has increased fourfold since the onset of COVID-19, going from 50 meals a day, five days a week to now providing 250 means on average every day, 7 days a week.

“That required a lot of re-organising,” adds Siobhan.

“COVID had a huge impact on this part of our business. The elderly were so vulnerable at the outset of COVID-19 that we simply had to expand to ensure that everyone got a hot meal every day. We had to close our thriving coffee shop and move staff over to Meals on Wheels. We were indebted to the many chefs who volunteered to lend a hand at the outset and within two weeks we had everything running smoothly. However, we had to start taking orders and payments over the phone and leave food at our customers’ door but everyone adjusted.

“This prompted us to look at how we could improve our offering, to give people a meal choice. As we can’t talk to 250 people every day, we decided to develop an APP to allow people to choose what they want to eat. This APP is currently at development stage and while it is being supported by a philanthropist and Clare Local Development Company (CLDC), we have also entered it into the Ignite Social Enterprise Awards as we feel it is an APP that, once trialled here in Co Clare, that could be rolled out nationwide. We will also train the elderly in how to use the technology given that ninety-five percent of the over 65s are not digitally engaged. It’s a very exciting project and the future,” adds Siobhan.

Funding from many sources, the Town and Village Renewal Scheme from the Department of Arts, Heritage, Regional, Rural and Gaeltacht Affairs, the Tomar Trust and the LEADER programme, has breathed new life into Obair’s work and presence in Newmarket-on-Fergus enabling it to expand from its original premises to now also operate from the Tradaree Social Food Enterprise on Main Street.

An investment of €1.2 million into renovating this building, formerly the Tradaree Arms Pub and Restaurant, has resulted in it now housing 4 micro food development hubs for start-up food enterprises, a state-of-the-art training facility with 16 stations and a fully serviced kitchen to facilitate interactive training, a holistic hub to accommodate counselling services, meditation and yoga, addiction rehabilitation and a family resource centre, and a youth drop-in centre, overseen by a youth worker, which Obair is in the process of recruiting.

The building also has a modern food production kitchen which is now used for the South Clare Meals on Wheels service, a service that has expanded its reach to now include providing 45 meals to homeless accommodation, 80 meals to Newmarket-on-Fergus after schools and Ballycar school meals every day.

Obair’s achievements are nothing short of remarkable, delivered by a team dedicated to community and always striving for a new challenging goal. Its list of services is endless and, to deliver some, particularly its Meals on Wheels service, which now covers 7 routes a day, Obair welcomes the support of volunteers, particularly drivers. So, if you have spare time on your hands and are willing to volunteer and give back to the community, why not log onto www.obair.org/services/volunteer and download a volunteer application form.

Commenting on the value of Obair to the south Clare community, Shannon Chamber chief executive Helen Downes said: “The late Dr Brendan O’Regan’s dedication to community lives on in Newmarket-on-Fergus with the team at Obair proactively dedicated to creating a vibrant community working together in harmony for the benefit of all. It’s a case study of excellence in service to community with supports offered to so many people in very different ways.

“The work that has gone into the redevelopment of the Tradaree Social Food Enterprise building is quite extraordinary; it is most certainly future proofing the work Obair does to support the smaller food enterprise and culinary entrepreneurs.”

Obair’s new premises in Newmarket-on-Fergus.

Obair’s kitchens are always busy preparing Meals on Wheels.