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"The Relocation Gods had Donegal in mind for me!"

Derek McDonnell is the Managing Director of Big Picture Consultancy, an organisation that supports both businesses and individuals to thrive by offering a combination of organisational development, coaching and training.

Derek is also a recent relocator to Donegal and the picturesque sea-side town of Mountcharles.

Here at we sat down with Derek to learn more about Big Picture Consultancy and why Donegal was the right choice for him.

First we chatted about the Donegal connection and what factors were considered when making the move to Donegal:

“Two of my sisters, Sharon and Ciara, are married to Donegal men, one from Mountcharles and one from Frosses. Sharon and her family had relocated here from Kildare in 2007. As I visited Mountcharles over the years, I found myself becoming part of quite a large extended family and getting to know the community and building friendships. Having grown up about an hour down the road in Sligo, in a ‘wee’ village called Ballysadare, I’m a country boy at heart.

“I started seriously thinking about moving to the Northwest about 10 years ago, but at that stage the work I was doing meant I needed to be in Dublin. The Covid pandemic was one of the biggest factors that supported my move. Being forced online afforded my clients and me a way to find a ‘new normal’ in how we worked together and now I’m able to offer my services through a blend of in-person and online.”

Derek McDonnell

Upping roots and moving from Dublin to Donegal brings its fair share of challenges but there are also many benefits to be had as Derek explains:

“The transition for me has been very easy, I think the ‘relocation gods’ had Donegal in mind for me. I came up to visit during Covid and worked from my sister’s house. I loved the freedom of being able to get out for a long walk and jump in the sea without breaking any of the distance rules! After a couple of weeks here I realised that this might be the opportunity to move that I was looking for. My brother-in-law happened to be chatting to a neighbour, who knew the owners of an empty house, and after a bit of ‘gentle persuasion’ agreed to rent to me for a month. One month turned into a second and three years later, I’m the proud owner of the same house, which overlooks Donegal Bay with its ever-changing vista and the stunning expanse of Murvagh beach all from the ‘Old Road’ in Mountcharles.

“In terms of challenges, I’m still trying to figure how to relocate my business, Big Picture Consultancy, to the hills of Donegal. Having spent most of my career in Dublin, with a few years working in East Africa, Australia, the UK and the Peoples Republic of Cork, my contracts and contacts are mainly located in Dublin so it will take time to build connections with a network of organisations in the West and Northwest. In the meantime, I will continue to spend time travelling to Dublin most weeks for a day or two, which is a small price to pay to wake up, most mornings, to a spectacular view of the sea and the surrounding mountains.

Connectivity in the Northwest is something Derek would like to see improved upon: “the lack of a train is a challenge; it would be more cost effective and efficient for me to use it as it would allow me to work enroute and be ecofriendly while travelling.”

Moving on to the range of work that Derek has expertise in we spoke about building resilience to emerging challenges and we asked how the challenges of Donegal and the Northwest differ compared to the challenges faced in a city environment like Dublin:

“My work with organisations and individuals has a particular focus on the nervous system (stress response) and how we can use our body to be more resilient.  Humans adapt to their surroundings and through experience develop a preference for the type of space they live in.  What might be a challenge for one person about living in Donegal might be a comforting thing for another and conversely for Dublin.  My work explores what is happening in the system (individual, organisation, family, or community) and what’s getting in the way, so that a change management strategy can be devised, implemented, and, most importantly, sustained.  I believe that both city and more rural living present different challenges and yet, it’s about how the individual experiences it. 

When friends visit from ‘the big smoke’ some take to the quiet and relaxed pace of Mountcharles and the surrounds, while I notice others take a sigh of relief when it’s time to get back to the hustle and bustle of the city.

One of the things I notice most is the lack of traffic jams here in Donegal and I really appreciate that no matter what time of day it is, it’s always eight minutes to the ‘Diamond’.

We asked Derek to look back at what 2023 delivered for Big Picture Consultancy and what was in the pipeline for 2024 and beyond:

“2023 was a great year for Big Picture Consultancy as I had an opportunity to work on a diverse range of projects including culture coding across a large organisation, researching the impact of trauma on staff in a frontline service, training managers on Trauma Informed (Embodied) Leadership, working with teams who were experiencing conflict and leading a wellbeing event for 150 staff along with facilitating many fascinating conversations with CEOs and their teams to problem solve and implement change. Furthermore, I worked online and in person training staff on a range of topics like psychological safety, the art of a courageous (difficult) conversation, leadership, workplace boundaries, diversity, and trauma informed practice.

To begin to dip my toes into working with the people of Donegal, I ran a few things locally like Shake It Off, a mind body training programme for people who want to learn how to embrace stress and use their breath to feel more resilient, and I worked in partnership with an amazing guy, Aaron Deane, who trained with Whim Hoff (the Ice Man) to provide a mind body breathwork and ice bath experience, which we ran locally here in Inver.  We had people ranging in age from 20 years old to those in their 70s, most of whom gave it a go for the first time.  In 2024, I hope to run more courses and one-off events using the breath and cold therapy (ice baths) to help people to learn to regulate their nervous systems so that they can navigate the often-choppy waters of life with a little more ease.

As a body orientated psychotherapist, I also work with individual clients here in Mountcharles and online for coaching and therapy. Rather than retelling their story, I’m more interested in how the person is experiencing life now and we explore together, using the body and mind, what’s getting in the way of them thriving.

I’ve taken on a big challenge in 2024 as I start a PhD in Organisational Change, my research will reflect my practice in the companies where I work to support their change process.  My intention is to help organisations (community, statutory, and private) to implement new programmes, practices or policies while paying close attention to the needs of the company, its staff, and its clients to sustain positive change. It would be amazing to get the opportunity to partner organisations in Donegal to share learning and be part of positive and progressive change in the Northwest.”

If you would like to find out more about what Derek does or are interested in booking a service with Big Picture Consultancy please email or get in touch via LinkedIn 

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