Tus & RSS (Rural Social Scheme) are the types of programs that tend to tip away on their own without much press or hoopla. But the people employed through the Tus & RSS schemes are often the people who do the physical labour in a community that keeps it functional and pleasant to live in. They also support community groups that are completely dependent on volunteers, and help enable those groups to have a bigger impact in their communities.
I embarked on a visit to hear a bit more about the impact that the Tus & RSS schemes have had in one of our local Clare communities, in Corofin.
I sat, talked, and walked with Joe O’Connell, who manages the Tidy Towns community group in Corofin (and has been involved with them since they reformed in 2011). Tidy Towns is supported by the RSS schemes through CLDC. Joe told me about the various projects and ongoing work in the town that people from the Tus/RSS schemes maintain, support, and contribute to. We were joined by Kieran Linehan, who is the Tus/RSS supervisor for the area. “From the very beginning, Kieran has been there,” said Joe, commenting on how the RSS team has been helping out for as long as he can remember.
I asked a lot of questions about how the work has impacted the local community. Both Joe and Kieran have lived in the area for quite some time, and have watched it change. “I’ve seen massive changes to the town over the last ten years; massive, massive,” they both agreed, saying that it’s become a much nicer place to be and to live. A lot of that change is due to the physical outdoor spaces being upgraded, cared for, and looked after. Tidy towns and the RSS have had a huge part to play in that. “People also aren’t dropping rubbish like they used to; once you see a place being looked after, you don’t trash it anymore,” said Joe. “There’s zero tolerance for that now.”
“The ethos of Tidy towns is really all about taking care of the place where you live, making it a better place to live,” he told me, “And this is what the Rural Social Scheme is helping us to do. You can’t do that without the support of organisations like CLDC, and the schemes (Tus&RSS) that are operating in the village. It’s a partnership thing really.”
“They [RSS} are a great benefit to Corofin, and we need them, you know. They’re doing a number of things; they’re not just involved with Tidy Towns, they’re involved with the GAA club, the Community Centre, and a few others. Everything from stone walls, to planted areas, to green spaces, to maintaining paths…numerous projects. There’s been great work done, when you think about what the place looked like before we got going…there’s no comparison…Huge, huge improvements.”
We spoke about how the schemes support the community groups through lifting the weight off of the volunteers, keeping things going and enabling volunteers to work on more initiatives. “Our volunteer base would be small enough, considering the amount of stuff we have to do. It’s really good to have the RSS on board,” said Joe. Kieran added, “It gives the volunteers a chance to carry on with other tasks, you know, outside of worrying about grass cutting and things like that.” We spoke about how a lot of the work being done by workers on the scheme is hard, maybe repetitive, physical labour that many people wouldn’t be up for. Grants for materials to improve the town have also come through the RSS scheme. So when you look around the town, you can see their impact everywhere.
Corofin Tidy Towns has been climbing up the rankings in the national Tidy Towns competition, but Joe made it clear that “it’s not all about the competition at all. It’s about the area you live in, month in and month out.”
As we walked around town, we talked about the meaning of community. Joe said, “Some people have different definitions of community; some people might say it’s the GAA, some people might say it’s the schools, or the music.” When I asked him, “What is YOUR definition of community?” he replied, “Inclusivity, and working together.” Kieran added, “I suppose community is really about the place where you live, and the people that are there, isn’t it?”
As we wrapped up, Joe noted, “I suppose the challenge is, how do we appreciate the members on the [RSS] scheme? Is there a way we could be appreciating them a little bit more?”
My visit concluded with a delicious coffee from the new Morning Dew Cafe, which opened at the end of last year and features locally sourced ingredients, and works to support local artists. (Highly recommend!)
Thanks to Joe and Kieran for showing me around, and thanks to all the Tus & RSS supervisors and workers for everything that you do!