Leah Fairman returned to her home town of Stranorlar three years ago, after time working in human resources and management roles in Germany and London.
Leah leads the operations for BASICC, a social enterprise in Ballybofey & Stranorlar with the aim of stimulating regeneration in the Twin Towns and wider Finn Valley area. As part of her role, Leah manages The BASE Enterprise Centre and key projects for Ballybofey & Stranorlar Chamber of Commerce.
Leah is the founder of Wild Days Out, a walking and wellbeing company with the aim of encouraging everyone to get out and explore more, building their mental and physical wellbeing as they go. Organised weekly walks are open to locals and visitors alike.
Special walks for visitors focus on the wild and out of the way places around East Donegal. They explore countryside that often isn’t well known to walkers and offers a few surprises.
Leah is one of the leading lights behind the Twin Towns Walking Festival. This annual festival attracts over 250 participants every year and is the largest in the North West.
To get a flavour of Wild Days Out you can follow Leah on Instagram and Facebook or visit www.wilddaysout.com
This is Leah’s My Donegal:
(1) What is your favourite place in Donegal and why?
St John’s Point. When I moved back to Donegal three years ago I decided I wanted to get to know the county again. I came up with the idea of driving around the coast, using the roads closest to the sea the whole way round. I started in Bundoran and discovered some fabulous little spots along the way. But St John’s Point scuppered the whole plan for a while, as I just had to keep going back there. Its the perfect mix of land and sea, with the man-made lighthouse setting off the wildness of the whole area.
For walking, which is what I love, it has to be Donegal East and especially the area around the Twin Towns. I love discovering out of the way places – new roads and paths that very few others know about. And the Finn Valley has a surprising amount of wilderness, that people just passing through wouldn’t expect.
(2) Who is the one person in Donegal that you look up to and why?
Eek – that’s hard. Mostly, the people I look up to in life are the ‘ordinary’ people who have gone out on a limb and really made a difference, sometimes through skill, but most often through having a vision and just persevering day in and day out.
I’m going to cheat and pick two people I’ve met and spent time with. What Iain Miller has done with Unique Ascent, developing climbing in Donegal and bringing it to the attention of the world market is inspirational. He’s proof that a single person can make a huge difference, regardless of the area you are working in. Iain is also hugely generous with his time and advice to anyone who is working their way up in the adventure and outdoors market.
And Deirdre McGlone, who led the team at Harvey’s Point until recently, and is the chair of the Donegal Woman in Business Network is my second. Running a world-class hotel in a rural area, consistently innovating and delivering to a high standard is a tough enough job. On top of that Deirdre is generous with her time and support to female entrepreneurs, and she does it all with grace and charm.
(3) What’s your happiest Christmas memory in Donegal?
I’m not sure if this was actually Christmas or not, but I remember one year the snowfall was particularly deep. My brothers and I spent the day sliding down the hill on our lane on 5 gallon petrol drums. We fell off so many times!!! And we packed the snow so hard the milk tanker couldn’t get up the lane the next day. It was the perfect mix of snow, family and fun.
For Christmas Day itself, there always seemed to be a cow calving just as we were about to open our presents. It could have been annoying, but I think we all enjoyed seeing the new life on Christmas morning.
(4) If you could change one thing about Donegal what would it be?
How short the days get in winter. But I’m not sure I’d trade that for the long summer evenings. I love that I can be out walking at 11pm and later without a torch.
(5) What has been Donegal’s proudest moment in recent years?
A lot of people may not have heard about the Red Bull Storm Chasers event which was at Magheraroarty Beach this year. Red Bull supports huge adventure competitions and the Storm Chasers event is very high profile. We had the top flight of windsurfers in Donegal this March, and the showcase for the County was amazing. If you missed it, you must look up some of the footage on YouTube. Coupled with Awards like the National Geographic Traveller Coolest Place on the Planet award, we’re getting recognition for our beautiful county on a global scale.
(7) What is your favourite Donegal-made product?
Marshmallows from the lovely Linda at Mallow Mia. And Edel McBride’s knitwear. Both perfect for a cold winter afternoon with a mug of hot chocolate.
(9) What is your earliest memory associated with Donegal?
Having a birthday party at Rossnowlagh beach, with a Butterfly Birthday Cake.
(11) Who is your favourite Donegal sportsperson of all time?
It has to be Packie Bonner – I literally bumped into him at a conference recently and had a mini-crush moment. It’s bizarre meeting childhood heroes when you’re an adult.
(12) What is your favourite Donegal restaurant/bar?
Benny & Co in Ballybofey. It’s my go-to place for dinner or a breakfast meeting. The Hatter Tearoom is brilliant for lunch or a leisurely afternoon tea.
(13) What is your favourite Donegal saying or expression?
‘Happy out’. Definitely describes me best.
(14) What is the biggest challenge facing the people of Donegal today?
The climate and biodiversity crises are not on people’s radars enough yet. There are going to be huge shifts in policies and regulations coming from our own government and from Europe. And I believe its going to come at us very fast, as the science backs up the scale of the problem. Our rural and farming communities are going to hit very hard by the changes, at a time when they are already under huge pressure. There will be opportunities, of course, but we need to prepare in advance so we can adapt quickly. And we need to support our farmers and the industries dependent on the agricultural trade. In Donegal, we are still very dependent on this sector for jobs, and supporting small retailers in our town centres.
(15) What is your favourite food that you associate with Donegal?
New potatoes and strawberries bought from the roadside.
(17) Who is your favourite Donegal entrepreneur?
I’d like to say Liam Foy – Liam sadly passed away unexpectedly this year. He took Foy & Co from nothing to a company with a great presence in Donegal and a reputation for quality and service. When I started working with The Chamber of Commerce in Ballybofey & Stranorlar, Liam was always generous with his support and advice, and I really enjoyed spending time with him. He is very much missed in the towns.
(18) If you had a hundred million euro to improve something in Donegal what would it be?
I’d put cycle lanes in as many places as possible, and definitely in all our towns so kids could go to school on their bikes. I would improve walking trails signage and information leaflets so people could find the many beautiful walks that are right on their doorsteps. And I’d build wildlife bridges on our major roadways so our native animals would be less impacted by human development. I think I might need a bigger budget…
(19) Where’s the most unusual place you’ve logged on to Donegal Daily?
Probably The Arctic Circle. I was trekking there last summer and logged in to get the news from home.
(20) Nomination for best dressed Donegal person?
Sandra Devenney, Business and Sales Manager of McElhinneys. Sandra manages the biggest independent retail store in Ireland, and I’m always impressed with her style.
(22) What is the most rewarding thing about what you do?
At Wild Days Out my favourite thing is bringing new people into our walking groups who lack confidence and seeing them grow so much. My vision for the company is rooted in helping people get out and achieve more, building their confidence step by step. regardless of the level they start from. I’m really proud of the groups we’ve built up and how welcoming and supportive they are.
For my work at BASICC which covers managing The BASE Enterprise Centre, and working with the Ballybofey & Stranorlar Chamber of Commerce, among other projects, the reward is being so deeply involved with the community. I’m so lucky to have come back to an area I love, and to now have a role where I can make an impact on a day-to-day basis. The Directors of BASICC have a real vision for the towns, and how a social enterprise can help to stimulate regeneration. It’s wonderful to feel like I’m making a difference where it matters most – at home – in the community I live in.Tags: