Knockainey capped a period of great activity recently when crowned winners in Category 2 of the national Pride of Place awards. This award came as a result of the huge efforts undertaken by the community in recent years to improve the natural and built environment and the community structure itself.

Knockainey is renowned for its community spirit, and there is consistent support for fundraising and other activities by the different clubs and organisations. In recent years, there have been several new community initiatives, which have contributed significantly to the vibrancy of the area.

One of the most important of these has been the restoration of St John’s Church and Graveyard by Knockainey Historical and Conservation Society. Restoring this beautiful centrepiece of the village began the process of reclaiming the village area from years of poor maintenance and neglect. Ballyhoura Development was a key support for the Historical Society in the work carried out on St John’s and that support extended to provide community planning to envisage the future of Knockainey.

The community planning process was an unknown entity for the people of Knockainey when it began in late 2008. Ballyhoura was instrumental in helping the community plan the way forward, and it emp-owered the local people to take charge of that process, and to take charge of planning.

The absence of an umbrella community group was identified, and, after training and structured planning, a Community Council was established. This Community Council has been very active since its inception, and it has several significant achieve-ments to its credit.

However, it goes without saying that the support of Ballyhoura Development has been crucial in this community development process; the local develop-ment officers are both knowledgeable and helpful, with a deep understanding of issues on the ground, and the supported access to funding makes achieve-ment of planned actions realistic for the busy community volunteers who are trying their best in often limited spare time. Local development comp-anies like Ballyhoura offer guidance through the bureaucratic maze and make it easier for commun-ities to achieve. They are proactive rather than reactive, and their response is always to try to facilitate and help. This is why community development under their guidance is so successful, as evidenced in Knockainey and other places.

Knockainey Community Council was formed in 2009. Since then, various areas of need have been identified and structures put in place to tackle those. The first clear need was for a Tidy Towns group; this was formed as a sub-committee of the Comm-unity Council, and its success has been fantastic, gaining significantly in marks year on year in the national competition, and winning the Mid West Bio Diversity award in 2011 for the newly developed wildlife area.

The local pre-school was in private hands. Another sub-committee of the Com-munity Council has since taken over the running of the pre-school, and three people are now employed there. Community Alert was then established, and that group has installed fire alarms and personal alarms for more vulnerable com-munity members. The Community Centre has also become a sub-committee of the Comm-unity Council, and it is hoped to renovate and develop that facility in the future. A community office has been opened in the Sexton’s House at St. John’s Church, and this year there is one employee working there, on community related activities.

Other activities of the Community Council inc-lude a monthly newsletter, delivered to every house in the community. An annual community magazine is also published prior to Christmas, to help disseminate community information both in Knockainey and beyond. Three editions of that magazine have been issued. A further initiative has been the annual Festival weekend in late June, which brings the community together for a weekend of activities, and also invites our diaspora back to join with us in the fun.

And that fun was never more evident than on Thursday August 9th 2012, when two Pride of Place judges came to see what makes the community so proud of Knockainey. All 34 clubs had colourful displays in the Community Centre, and hundreds of people enjoyed breakfast in the outdoors, before attending a presentation in the centre. After that, the judges visited key places in Knockainey, before finishing at John MacNam-ara’s award winning farm. Obviously, they were well impressed, as Knockainey were judged the overall national winners of Category 2 in Thomond Park in Novemeber 2012.

One of the main contributory factors in demonstrating that community pride was the raising of over €60,000 in a seven month period for the school building fund. The school fundraising committee got together with the community, and this huge task was tackled and overcome. Now, a lovely new school extension stands testament to the community spirit and pride in the place.

So, all is well in Knock-ainey, and in communities like it all over the Ballyhoura region. The people have taken charge of their affairs, and are actively planning the way forward for their own places. However, this is not accidental. The secret of this success has been the local development com-pany and the incredible on-going support it gives.

Ballyhoura promotes a “can-do” attitude; it believes in communities, it supports them in a positive manner to improve them-selves. It knows people on the ground and works with these people and the effects of this policy are obvious and far-reaching across the region. Unsurprisingly, this model has been identified as that of best practice for local development in Europe. This form of local community support needs to be embraced and further developed. It is the key to sustained and sustainable rural communities into the future.