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A SOCIAL finance provider has recorded its highest ever level of funding for the community, voluntary and social enterprise sector in Northern Ireland.

The annual social impact report from Community Finance Ireland (formerly UCIT) reported loans for community organisations to the value of £14.2 million from 2016-2019.

The all-island report, a first for Community Finance Ireland, revealed that a total of £26m had been loaned across Ireland in the last four years, with more than half of all customers (54 per cent) based in the north.

As Ireland's fastest-growing social finance provider, the organisation works with groups that drive social impact, including sports clubs, social housing organisations, community projects, faith-based groups and social enterprises.

Community Finance Ireland associate director Phelim Sharvin said: “We can provide loans ranging from £10,000 up to £500,000 but an average loan request is typically £100,000.

“In our 20-year history, first as UCIT and now as Community Finance Ireland, we have helped more than 500 organisations across Northern Ireland, spanning the arts and culture, hospitality, faith and sports sectors.

“We have seen first-hand the force for good behind these organisations and the positive change they make to the communities or end users they serve. We're only too glad to support these extraordinary change-makers in their ambitions to enable change in our society.”

The report has been published to coincide with a rebranding initiative which will see the social finance provider transition to be known as Community Finance Ireland in both Northern Ireland and the Republic.

Community Finance Ireland chief executive Harry McDaid said: “While the organisation's trading name is changing in Northern Ireland, our collective purpose remains the same - to support people changing their communities for the better across the island.

“The response to Covid-19 has highlighted a public desire for greater collaboration and cooperation between Northern Ireland and the Republic. This first all-island annual report and our brand reflects a renewed focus for the organisation operating on an all-island basis and signifies a new era for the organisation.”

Ulster Community Finance Ltd (another group company) has, since 2013, managed two Northern Ireland Small Business Loan Funds on behalf of Invest NI with the latest contract awarded in 2018.

The loan level is up to £100,000, which means the new Fund has the potential to lend over £9m to local SMEs, helping them to optimise their potential through investment. To date, approximately £10m has been disbursed to SMEs in the north.

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