By Sarah Canty
Members of the MCP revealed their Integrated Strategic Local Development Plan for the Mizen peninsula along with their smart new logo to an enthusiastic crowd at the Mizen Head Visitor Centre. The plan has been over two years in the making. In 2013 the Goleen and District Community Council under the advisement of the West Cork Development Partnership (WCDP) undertook the job to establish a clear strategy that would benefit the peninsula as a whole. The Goleen council was paired with a village council from Finland to brainstorm on how their communities could achieve self-sufficiency. Ultimately the WCDP also encouraged Goleen to team up with Schull and Ballydehob to form a peninsula-wide partnership that would pool resources and better channel funding and support into the area.
Unifying the 3,380 permanent residents was the most important task, and possibly the most daunting. The people of Mizen have fostered a friendly competitive spirit over the years and joined-up thinking will be a new way of doing things. The audience chuckled knowingly as MCP chairperson Gene Griffin thanked the three community councils of Ballydehob, Goleen and Schull, ‘named in alphabetical order in case anyone was worried.’
To facilitate this new combined effort, the WCDP and the Goleen Community Council commissioned professional researchers to analyse the Mizen and produce the 40+ page plan to clearly define its demographic, strengths and weaknesses. This information helped inform what the tenable objectives would be, primary of which was to encourage a unified identity. Said MCP secretary Bernard O’Sullivan, ‘The key point of the vision was to work together and look after each other.’
The report reveals fascinating information about the people and natural assets of the area. Among other things the report explains how, common for rural areas, the Mizen has a small workforce relative to its dependent population of minors and pensioners. This is of course due to the amount of young adults who either go to university or emigrate for better jobs.
The report also identified constraints, or weaknesses that could impinge on progress. For example the peninsula’s infrastructure lacks sufficient roads, signage, public transport and broadband service. Accommodation and amenities for tourists could also be improved.
Fortunately Mizen boasts clear strengths as well that will assist in overcoming all these obstacles. Chiefly, the Mizen demonstrates a strong history of community volunteerism and resilience. This has certainly been proven in the work the MCP has managed in the last six months and will help future plans to build on other existing assets such as natural landscape, recreational facilities and a wealth of historical landmarks.
When it was decided last autumn that the MCP would first focus on three main objectives (out of a total of 25), three sub-groups were formed to carry out those objectives: to bolster Mizen tourism through its heritage; to research ways to stimulate the local economy through its well established food producers; and to achieve unity and market the peninsula as one identity.
To this end, local historians Noel Coakley, Jim Campion and Denis O’Neill were asked to identify and gather information on all the major historical sites on the peninsula. ‘We researched the history and came up with major points from mining to monuments and castles and looked into accessibility. We have all of that done and our ultimate aim now is producing a brochure – we just need to find the funding for that now,’ said Coakley.
Produce grower Joel Davis, farmer Tom Notter and Susan Shields, wife of a fish merchant, all have a vested interest in the local food supply so that is where their work began.
They are keen to better link local food producers with local buyers to create an independent economy calling it ‘import substitution’. Davis explained that even though onions and beetroot and cabbage are indigenous crops, ‘no one here is growing them.’ By encouraging local producers to meet the demands of the local buyers he believes the peninsula could become self-sufficient.
The shared brand and logo will help set the area apart as somewhere unique and distinctive. Julia Zagar who undertook the branding initiative with Brendan Launders and Owen Kelly wanted the new image to reinforce the vision established by the partnership ‘to work to the mutual benefit of all’.
For months they consulted with local graphic designer, Jonathan Parson, to create the right look to capture the essence of their mission. ‘We were concerned that this was not just a tourism initiative. We will support all people who live and work here. And we needed to think in a regional way instead of a local way.’ The resulting waves that form the fluid letter ‘M’ do remind one of the sea and the land that make Mizen so singularly exquisite.
The enthusiasm that buzzed around Mizen Head that bright morning was palpable.
The plan is well researched and practical. With its long and short term goals listed methodically it will employ the diverse skills that abound on the peninsula. The plan is ambitious and reachable at the same time.
As Ms Griffin shared with the audience, ‘It has been an interesting journey for the Mizen Community Partnership. Local politics are often bedevilled by division and misery and the exact opposite has been true of our experience. I can honestly say that our meetings have been great fun . . . and we went away from every meeting having achieved something.’
If this kind of hard work and enthusiasm can maintain its momentum, Mizen Peninsula will be flying it in a few short years.
• To request a PDF of the Plan or to further ideas you have for the mission people are encouraged to contact Bernard O’Sullivan at [email protected] or 086-1947835.