Social Enterprise of the Month - Field Studies Council Derrygonnelly

 

The Field Studies Council (FSC) is an educational charity which is committed to ‘bringing environmental understanding to all’. It helps to provide opportunities for people from all ages and with a range of abilities to discover, be inspired by and understand the natural environment. It has a national network of 17 education centres, international outreach training projects, research programmes, information and publication services and a range of professional training and leisure courses. Opened in 2001, Derrygonnelly FSC is one of 17 education centres in the UK. It is however the only one of its kind on the island of Ireland.

A key component of FSC’s work includes the provision of both formal and informal education to a range of education providers as well as community based organisations. At the education centre in Derrygonnelly, schools are the main beneficiaries of the formal education provided. Much of the formal education delivered at the centre involves working with schools on curriculum based material. This is available to schools and other education providers from north and south of the border, as the centre can cater for the different curriculums that exist in these jurisdictions. Informal education is also provided through means such as running summer schemes which often involve youth groups.

The centre at Derrygonnelly consists of an education building, a resource room, games room, kitchen, restaurant, a laboratory and accommodation blocks with 60 beds and can cater for people with disabilities. The centre accommodates for both day visits and residential visits to enable people to avail of its services. Residential visits are extremely popular especially amongst schools, with many rebooking a year in advance to ensure a visit for the following year. The centre is ideally located in relation to different habitats including those found in the nearby Geopark; the Donegal coast; forest parks; and the River Sillees which flows through the centre grounds. The proximity of the centre to these habitats is extremely important to help complete practical fieldwork and provides an unique educational experience in an ‘outdoor classroom’.

A group that benefits greatly from residential trips are children from disadvantaged backgrounds. Derrygonnelly FSC runs a programme known as ‘The Kids Fund’ and is designed to help these children. Derrygonnelly FSC uses its income to help subsidise this programme. Indeed the provision of bursaries and The Kids Fund which support children from disadvantaged backgrounds are examples of how the centre reinvests any surpluses back into the organisation whilst helping it to achieve its social and environmental objectives.
In addition to the services Derrygonnelly FSC provides at its own centre, it also delivers education offsite. In January of this year it implemented its Outreach
Programme for Key Stage 3 pupils and with over 1060 pupils in Co. Fermanagh benefiting.

The centre is not only used by students from the island of Ireland but also from further afield. For example, students from the University of Liverpool come across every year to use their services and the centre has had students from as far as the Netherlands and Singapore. In addition to students using the facilities, teachers also avail of professional training courses offered in areas such as taxonomy and teacher training.

Volunteers play a huge role in the running of the centre with short term placements being offered to graduates from Queens University Belfast and the University of Ulster to help gain valuable work experience. The centre also works in partnership with the local job centre as part of the back-to-work scheme which helps to reduce unemployment in the area.

Becoming a community centered facility and delivering outdoor learning to a wide and disparate audience of schools, colleges, universities and community groups have been the centres biggest achievements to date. However, not only do local schools and students benefit from the educational services offered, but the local community and businesses in Derrygonnelly also benefit greatly with the centre and its visitors using local amenities and purchasing goods and services in the local area. This in turn creates and supports employment for the local people in Derrygonnelly and surrounding areas. The centre therefore provides an invaluable service to the community of Derrygonnelly and further afield by delivering an essential educational and community resource.

Key Points
• Opened in 2001
• Main objective: ‘Bringing environmental understanding to all’
• Local community and businesses benefit greatly from the centre


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