Ballintrillick Environmental Group Company Limited by Guarantee (BEG) opened The Benwiskin Centre in July 2000. The basic aim of the Centre was for it to run as a Community Centre in the wintertime with classes, functions, entertainment and a place for the local community to use for meetings and socials and operate as a Tourist Hostel for the summertime, which would be the main revenue generator for the building. In reality, over the past 15 years we have found that we actually have guests all year round. Depending on visitors staying, we also have community usage in the summertime too. It’s a fine balance trying to accommodate both!
Click here to view a short video about the work and activities in and around The Benwiskin Centre.
9 people formed BEG in March 1992 when concerns were raised about the high levels of illegal dumping in the scenic area of Ballintrillick, North Co Sligo. A clean up day was organised which mobilised local interest and support which became an annual event with the 25th annual clean up held this year, 2017.
The Group’s vision was and still is:-
To preserve and enhance the local community
To promote economic development within the area
To provide social amenities and activities
Preserve and enhance the local environment
To generate community goodwill, community spirit and to create economic development
In 1994 BEG decided to become a Limited Company with a board of 11 directors. At this time they approached Coilte in relation to developing the overgrown Barytes Mill site at the base of The Gleniff Horseshoe Drive in Ballintrillick. BEG purchased this site and, with the assistance of 2 FAS CE Schemes, cleared away the overgrowth, rebuilt the stables, reconstructed the water wheel, erected picnic tables and developed a woodland walk around the Barytes Mill site. The group have since produced a booklet about the site which is available online here or at The Benwiskin Centre.
In 1996 BEG participated in a FAS training programme. It was during this course that BEG identified and considered various opportunities for local development. One of their ideas that emerged was that of developing the old Vocational School in Ballintrillick.
The School had remained largely unused, was not maintained by a caretaker and had fallen into disrepair through neglect and vandalism. It was only used on an ad-hoc basis for meetings and some fundraising social events. BEG approached County Sligo VEC to obtain a long-term lease, which would be necessary for any major development work by BEG. This was achieved in June 1999, when a 20-year lease was approved.
Also in 1996, a feasibility study was carried out to assess the viability of a Hostel co-existing with a Community Centre. The positive results from this secured capital funding from Peace and Reconciliation, Sligo LEADER Partnership Board and the International Fund for Ireland. Further funding for equipping was acquired from Sligo County Enterprise Board, Social Welfare and The Ireland Funds. Finally a loan was obtained from the Sligo County Enterprise Fund and fundraising covered the shortfall. A further report was compiled by a member of BEG as part of the Diploma in Community Development Practice, which researched the viability of using the school as a dual purpose building, thus fulfilling conditions set out by Peace and Reconciliation. A marketing plan was also commissioned around this time.
In 1998 and 1999, BEG sponsored 2 successful FAS CE Schemes and they had 4 successful Student Summer Jobs Scheme placements, who held art workshops with local children.
Charitable Status was awarded to BEG in January 1999, which has been extremely important as they continue fundraising to cover their financial commitments.
In September 1999, BEG retained the services of Gerry Clancy as Contractor and construction and refurbishment work began on the Old Vocational School. The refurbished, renovated and extended building opened for business as The Benwiskin Centre in July 2000. The Centre has a large common room/community hall, a fully equipped kitchen, a dining room, a laundry, a drying room, male/female and disabled access toilets and showers, 6 en-suite bedrooms that can accommodate 28 people and a fully equipped office and reception.
All profits from The Centre are used to provide further developments by BEG in the Centre and Community.
Over the last couple of years, BEG have installed Solar Panels and a Wood Pellet Boiler at the Centre with the purpose of eventually eliminating their need for oil thereby using natural energy and easing their dependence on fossil fuels.
The solar panels have been jointly funded by County Sligo Leader Partnership Company under their National Rural Development Programme and BEG.
Arigna Leader together with the Swiss Company Energidalen installed the pellet boiler.
This project was funded by County Sligo Leader Partnership Company. The Benwiskin Centre is one of 3 pilot projects used to demonstrate the use of wood pellet boilers for heat generation in community run projects.
We continue to seek further funding to enable us to do even more work.
Grants have been received over the last few years from the following agencies for the projects listed:-
Dept. of Social Protection
Funding towards staff wages. Wages topped up by BEG
Sligo Co. Childcare Committee
Benwiskin Centre Parent and Toddler Group
Benwiskin Centre Summer Camps
Sligo Co. Council Led PEACE II Task Force
Sligo Co. Council - PEACE III funding
Dartry Youth Group, a new youth group in the area, participated in workshops based on team building, cultural diversity, prejudice, racism, stereotyping and confident building. Drumcliffe Youth Group were also involved in the project
Sligo Co. Council Arts Dept.
Benwiskin Centre Summer Camps
A living willow sculpture project in the grounds of the Centre
Sligo Co. Council - Heritage Dept.
Funding enabled us to produce a booklet about the Barytes Mill Site at the base of the Gleniff Horseshoe, a Walking and Cycling booklet and a Heritage booklet and information boards about the local flora and fauna
Local Agenda 21 Environmental Partnership Fund
Tuition fees for the Community Garden Project/Polytunnell/Rainwater harvesting project
Co. Sligo Leader Partnership Co. Ltd.
Pilot project for Pellet Boiler system
Upgrade of Millsite amenity area (part funded by Sligo Leader and BEG)
Well Women Wellbeing programme
Mayo, Sligo and Leitrim Education and Training Board
Assistance towards tuitions fees for adult art classes/Ipad classes/Tuitiion fees for workshops to include Basic Reflexology, Positive Mental Health and Wellbeing and Portfolio Preparation
Loan of suite of laptops to run computer/web design classes
HSE (Lottery funding)
Funding towards the purchase of flat screen TV, electrical work, signage, a projector, outdoor equipment, staff training
BT Community Connections
Awarded us a free laptop for community use and free internet access for community use
The Community Foundation for Ireland
Assistance under their Grassroots Grant Scheme towards tutors fees for our Active Elderly Group
BEG also do a number of fundraising activities at the Centre to include BEG's Summer Social and the Family Fun Day. Volunteers Pat McGowan and Johnny Duignan continue to run the very popular Bridge card game which has been running for many years here at the Centre from October to March. Proceeds from these games are donated to BEG.
2010 - 2017
In 2010, BEG celebrated the 10th Anniversary of the opening of The Benwiskin Centre. 3 days of activities were held which proved hugely successful.
During 2011/2012, 3 members of BEG together with the Manager of The Benwiskin Centre took part in the International Fund for Ireland's 'Community Leadership Programme' delivered by NICVA. The aim of this 1 year programme was to strengthen the leadership capacity of our group through training, facilitation, workshops and action learning projects.
In July 2012, The Benwiskin Centre was listed at number 1 in the ‘Top Five Green Hostels in Europe’ in an article written by Catherine Mack for the National Geographic’s Traveller Magazine.
Awards the Group have received in recent years:-
2010 - All-Island Co-operation Ireland Pride of Place Competition as 'Single Issue Winner in the Community Response to Unemployment' category. BEG came 2nd in their category
2012 - Sligo Leader Partnership - Achievement Award
2013 - Sligo Business Awards - Best Tourism Award - Finalist
2014 - Save Our Planet Awards Panel's Choice - Environmentally Responsible Business
2014, 2015 and 2016 - Booking.com Award of Excellence - based on customer's reviews
2016 - Sligo Business Awards - 'Best Community Enterprise' - Winner
2017 - Get Involved - Finalist (highly commended)
2017 - BEG are celebrating their 25th Anniversary as a community group. Several events will take place throughout the year to mark this very special occasion.
Present day - 2017
The group currently employs 3 full time and 2 part-time staff - A Manager, Office Assistant/Housekeeper, 2 Housekeepers and a Caretaker/Maintenance person. Along with this, BEG gives ad-hoc employment to around 13 tutors a year. There is also reliance on voluntary help at times from members of BEG and members of the community.
Services offered at the Centre include:-
Self catering accommodation
Free use of laptop and wi fi access for community members and guests
Community laundry service
Chiropody clinic (by appointment)
Mobile library service (every 3 weeks)
Bicycle hire service (for guests availing of accommodation)
Advertising in the Ballintrillick Bulletin
Classes/activities available at the Centre:-
Circuit training, Yoga, Tai Chi, Pilates, Salsa, Art, Basket Making etc.
Scouts groups (local Scouts group meet weekly at the Centre Sept - June)
Community Garden Project (Mar - Oct)
Parents and Toddlers Group (Sept - June)
Summer Camps (July/Aug)
Base for North Sligo Community Walking Group
Present Board Directors / members
We offer services to a community that has in recent years lost its Post Office, shop/pub, Co-Operative store and is also in danger of losing its church too which is partially closed as there is now only 1 priest covering the whole Parish. The Centre is a lifeline to all the different people and families around us who would have to travel a distance to find similar services. The Benwiskin Centre is a hub of activity in a quiet rural area. In the absence of any alternative, The Benwiskin Centre is an essential community resource.
Thank you to all those who have supported us over the years and we hope to have many more to come!