St Munchins Community Centre Manager, Linda Ledger, is known for her kindness and incredible work ethic. Picture: Leon Ledger
A tribute to 15 years of St Munchins Community Centre
By I Love Limerick Correspondent Mary Doyle
This year marks the fifteenth anniversary of the establishment of St Munchins Community Centre, located in Kileely, Co. Limerick. This state-of-the-art community centre has had an active role in promoting community involvement and development in Limerick since opening in 2005, and has grown and expanded greatly over the last fifteen years as a result of the demand for its range of excellent facilities. St Munchins Community Centre is a hub of community activity, from age-friendly groups, education and dance classes, to their flower shop, beauticians and Meals on Wheels service, to name only a few.
Covid-19 unfortunately had a huge effect on the normal running of the centre over the past few months, with restrictions forcing its closure to the public, and a lack of funding posing a threat to the continuation of their services. But with the determination of Linda Ledger, Manager of St Munchins, and the support of its workers, volunteers and donations from the public, the centre is still thriving, helping hundreds of people every day, in spite of the complications posed by Covid-19.
Richard Lynch of I Love Limerick said, “I have volunteered my publicity services to the centre for over a decade and have loved every single minute. One of my favourite memories was in November 2015 when the centre celebrated its tenth anniversary with special guests JP and Noreen McManus and daughter Sue-Ann Foley as they turned the sod on the new day-care facility that was built on the grounds. Another incredible memory was the visit of President Michael D. Higgins in 2011. In recent times Linda and her crew have done stellar work with their Meals on Wheels service during the Covid19 pandemic. I am incredibly proud of centre manager Linda Ledger, her team and of everyone who has contributed to the success of the centre.”
We spoke to Linda Ledger, Manager of St Munchins Community Centre, about the last fifteen years, from the history of the centre and its development over the years, to its importance in the community and their plans for the future, along with everything in between.
Linda, could you share a bit about your background and where your passion for community and volunteering came from?
The community has always been a part of my life, it’s where I was born and bred and it’s where I continue to raise my family. I was working in Dunnes Stores for many years until I had a severe car crash which stopped me from being able to work. I then moved on to the National Learning Network which gave me the skills and confidence to put myself out there again, so I started in St. Munchins Community Enterprise Centre as a volunteer and after a few years applied for the manager’s role.
I really want to make a difference, I’m trying to implement services here that are at an affordable cost, so nothing is for free but everything is at a low-cost no-cost. So anything here is about holistically, how would I like to improve my own life and what I could bring to it.
Why was St Munchins Community Centre set up and how?
Years ago there were two handball allies here that were let go into disrepair. So between the Resident Association at the time, the chairperson Jim O’Neill, and the council, it was decided that we’d get a community centre as it was our land. At the back, there are ten affordable houses which helped with the money towards building here, and then as you drive in, there’s six family homes, two disability homes and ten sheltered accommodation for the elderly. The community centre is in the middle of all of that.
So it was really set up at the time to try and bring all the services together. It wasn’t the size that it is now, so at the time, in the beginning, we just got the money from the council and from the affordable houses. I was around at this time then but I was only a volunteer on the working committee.
How did you become the manager?
At the time I was a volunteer and after my car crash in 1997 I was actually 40% disabled, and now I’m 30% disabled. I physically don’t look it, but I feel it. My life changed after the car crash, and I’m still a very strong advocate for the National Learning Network because it is where people have a chance to rehabilitate themselves no matter what is wrong with them. That’s what brought me here. I was volunteering here when there was a job open for a twenty-hour manager. At the time I wasn’t in the best head-space, you wouldn’t be believing that you could do something like that, but everyone encouraged me to go for it, so I went for it and luckily I got it.
How is the centre funded and how can people help its future success?
We get about €60,000 to €90,000 from the council and that sounds like a lot of money but when you look at the running of the centre, that wouldn’t even cover your light, heat or anything. We are getting €25,000 from the HSE. But so far during the pandemic we’ve had to spend €119,000 alone on food, that’s not including packaging or wages. Meals on Wheels has always rendered a lot, we have two fully qualified chefs and it is top class restaurant food, there are no shortcuts. We’ve got four vans and a bus on the road, and at the minute now we also have two electric cars that were donated from Smithstown Light Engineering Shannon, and we have the Red Cross with ambulances because we have so much on the go at the minute.
There’s a big misconception, if you look at our office accounts, you’ll see that it’s over €1 million coming into us, but we are only a third party and we have to hand it out. So our turnover last year was over half a million but that’s money we use, with wages and everything, there’s never any of that left. What people mightn’t understand is that everything we do with all the businesses is that they are social enterprises there to try and create employment for local people and people that need jobs. Social enterprise means that all the money you make goes straight back into the community.
How has JP McManus contributed to the centre?
You couldn’t say enough about the man, he’s incredible. It’s so much more than funding, he’s there for us, he’s a brain to pick on. What I love about his foundation is that it’s very open and transparent, he doesn’t just give out money to the person who writes the best application. They go out and investigate it and they look at it and follow up with you all the time to see what you’re doing. He’s just fantastic. JP has always helped us when we’ve tried to extend, and when our backs are against the wall. Like when we wanted one of the new vans, the government wouldn’t give us the grant unless we had philanthropy backing. Even though we had the money ourselves, they need to see it coming in from a philanthropist. Just to know JP is always backing us all the time is amazing.
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St. Munchin’s Community Centre, Meals on Wheels, Limerick – we featured on RTE News at 1pm today. Our service is for anyone over the age of 55, we deliver to Limerick & surrounding areas. We operate 6 days a week, Monday to Saturday. Dinner & Dessert cost €5. All of our drivers are Garda vetted, friendly and will practice social distancing to keep everyone safe. Please contact us on (061) 596 011/ (061) 458 651 to order your dinner before 11am for same day delivery. If you see our van around your area and you are interested in our service give us a call. We’d be more than happy to explain our service to you for you or a loved one. We are a social enterprise, but we depend on our enterprises in the centre as income to keep our doors open. We’ve had to close the doors on our Hair & Beauty Salon, our community café, our florist etc, which had a massive effect on income. Currently we are struggling financially but we would hate to close our doors as we understand the need for our service. If you would like to donate, please use this link gf.me/u/xrajfz We all need to look out for one another in these hard times. Please stay inside & stay safe. Thank you to all of those who have supported us & kept us going during these hard time. We’d love to keep going, so please help us in doing so. We are still accepting donations if any businesses have anything to donate also.
Did you think fifteen years ago that the centre would grow so much, expanding into all these different areas and offering so many services?
I didn’t. It organically grew and I suppose at the time, when we did our first extension, JP Macmanus had said that the centre really should be bigger and it should be in a greenfield area, and really not to be just building on here that it was too small. And at the time I was thinking ‘No, sure we’re great as we are’. But now looking at it, he was right. It grew and expanded so much because it’s what the people we wanted, we never drove it. We always listened to the people and it organically grew. Now we have so much, from education with the VEC, care for the older person, as well as hair, beauty, the flower shop, a photography studio, youth clubs, dancing, bingo, age-friendly, older-people clubs, chiropody, Meals on Wheels, sit-down lunches, board rooms for rent, classes, walking clubs – we have a bit of everything.
What does the centre mean to the people in the community in terms of employment and support?
We now have 162 people employed. 26 of those are directly employed and the rest are on community employment schemes, jobs initiatives, and are part of the National Learning Network. We actually have people working all over the city, we have 16 different locations. So we work closely with the Department of Social Protection, as well as the City Council and the LCETB.
I love our track record for progression. The thing about community employment schemes is that people think okay you’re only getting an extra twenty euros a week. You can look at it that way or you can look at it from the perspective of you’re getting the chance to re-educate yourself, to see can you get a job that you want, and for whatever reason that you didn’t have a job before, you can now experience the clock-card system of turning up for work, and the training to get you into another job. So you can look at it with the glass half full and say sure what would I be doing that for, whereas the people who come in are yes, only getting 20 euros more, but they’re also getting all the training, and the rehabilitation that they need to get them into a better job, so it’s up to you. You can come in and the world is your oyster, you work with the scheme in that you have every opportunity.
What do you think has made the centre so successful that it continues to grow each year and help so many people?
I think why it’s so successful is that we have a real bottom-up approach, the centre is run by the community for the community. And I think for everything, Richard (Lynch) is our PR and he started us off and got us known in Limerick, I think he even let us know about JP. The advice I would give to any new community centres would be to come and look at our mistakes and learn from them, and look at the model we have now. It’s a very good model with a very bottom-up approach and there’s a way of making it work. You have to include the community, I always believe that you’ve got to bring the community with you.
What inspires you to keep up your amazing work after fifteen years, and what is the most rewarding part of what you do?
I’m forever fighting for the centre, and now with the pandemic, I made sure to argue out my point that we would get the money from somewhere to keep going. I want to just make a difference for children in the position that myself and my own kids were in. I’m very passionate about what I do and it confuses a lot of people because sometimes they can’t understand me, it can be hard for people to keep up with me.
I love what I do. Every day is different, I just think it’s the constant learning. You can think you know everything but you never know everything. I like to think I know everything but I still learn and I’ve realised that I’m never going to know everything. Watching someone come in who is either on probation, or on a scheme, or with literacy issues, or an older person not knowing how to use a computer, whatever it may be. And all of a sudden there’s somewhere where they can go to learn, and then they can then do it.
I think the most rewarding part of it is when you see that you can keep an older person out of hospital, or when you can see the little things like thank you cards, and realising the things we may take for granted like doing their dinners, what that means to them is so much more, it might be the only phone call or visit they get that day, some of their families might live away and its security for them. When we thought we had to close down at the beginning of the pandemic, the amount of people who tried to help, the money that was donated to us, that blew us away. It’s the people of Limerick and Ireland that kept us open, and that keeps me going.
What do St Munchins and its employees, volunteers and visitors mean to you?
I get on brilliantly with them all, the employees and volunteers are the best in the world, but I know that when I walk into the room, there’s silence. They talk to me but I can never be one of the team because I’m the manager, and it’s just something I’ve had to learn to live with now. Everyone knows they can come to me with anything, I’m very fair, but they say I’m like marmite, that people will either love me or hate me. I’m a good boss but I’m straight out, just be upfront with me. It can be lonely at times because there are so many people here and when you’d hear them all laughing and joking, people coming in and out, it can be different when you are the one at the top. Like with the pandemic, people would visit and they’d only want me in the pictures because I’m the manager, but I see all the keyboard warriors saying I do nothing and only want to be in the pictures when I actually hate pictures. You can’t please everyone.
It doesn’t feel like fifteen years, and when I go in somewhere like King John’s Castle and see a girl in there that used to work here, seeing her now doing her thing having her own job – I love that. To know you made a little difference then. All it is is opening the door to somebody.
Councillors @sarahleekiely, @ConorSheehan93 and Dan McSweeny here again today to help us out, while we feed hundreds of the most vulnerable people across the City and County. Thanks a lot for all your help! #CoronavirusLockdown #Limerick #WednesdayMotivation #EveryLittleHelps pic.twitter.com/esDijanAMj
— St. Munchin’s Community Centre – Kileely, Limerick (@StMunchinsCC) March 25, 2020
In the last fifteen years what are the highlights and best memories for you?
I actually can never remember anything, so I look back at the videos that Richard made on the I Love Limerick Youtube, I love looking back and seeing all the people and milestones, having the Taoiseach visit us. Looking back at the kids dancing, knowing they’re grown up and some of them are now working here teaching dancing. It’s amazing to watch.
How important was it to you to continue some of your services as much as you could during Covid-19?
It was brilliant. We are helping so many people, we’re gone across the whole city helping so many groups. It was amazing to be able to keep going, and when the donations started to come in we were just blown away, to know that people really appreciated it and everyone wanted to be a part of something that was helping other people.
What is next for St Munchins Community Centre, are you excited to welcome back your regular visitors when it is safe to do so?
We had a beautiful day recently when we got to go out and see all the elderly people when they were allowed to travel so far, and they loved it. I’d love to see them back but I’m dreading it at the same time because with our rooms now we’ll only be allowed to sit down a very small number of people together, and there’ll have to be time limits, so it’s scary to think about reopening because it’s not going to be what it was, for a while anyway. So we have to make sure that we make it as good as we can for our visitors. We’ll make a good go at it anyway, we’ll figure something out.
From Richard and the whole I Love Limerick Team, we want to congratulate Linda and everyone at St Munchins Community Centre on fifteen years of amazing work. Long may it continue.
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