ONE message that shone through at last week’s inaugural National Digital Week in Skibbereen, which featured an array of notable speakers – all of whom were informative and some quite inspirational – was that digital is the way forward because it offers tangible employment prospects for areas such as West Cork, badly needed to halt rural decline.
While the latest Live Register figures show the unemployment rate now down to 9.3%, the bulk of the jobs have been created in urban areas. The rate of youth unemployment remains worryingly high at 20.6% and rural parts have also been badly affected by both emigration abroad and migration to urban centres. Young people need to be attracted back to rural areas and this will not happen unless there are jobs for them to come home to.
It was heartening to hear Kevin Buckley, joint boss of Spearline Labs, when announcing last Friday evening the imminent doubling of their workforce in Skibbereen from 20 to 40, reminding the attendance to tell relatives abroad about the new posts being created and to encourage any of them interested to send in a CV for consideration. These are the type of jobs that many of our young people are educated and trained for, but which usually only tend to be available in bigger urban areas in Ireland or abroad, so having some of these in a rural town is a potentially great incentive for them to move back nearer to their homeplaces, where ideally many thinking of starting a family would probably like to see their children reared.
Bringing young people and families into rural areas is a huge boost for communities as they bring a vibrancy to them, helping keep shops, schools and services open and viable. Communities are all about people and they need to be constantly refreshed, as without them you have nothing.
Twenty new pay cheques for a town like Skibbereen is like a few hundred for a city and the people coming to work here can look forward to a better quality of life without the stress of long commutes to and from work and also the prospect of more quality time to spend with their families. [email protected], the pioneering new rural digital hub, will provide facilities to enable an initial 75 jobs to be created, with the prospect of hundreds more in the coming years.
Commendably also, during the course of the National Digital Week, Skibbereen-born businessman Maurice Healy of the Healy Group in Dublin pledged €150,000 in seed capital funding to help the next generation of entrepreneurs to set up new businesses and the steering group of Ludgate promised to match this amount. This should encourage State agencies to provide some additional financial backing where appropriate.
National Digital Week, with its stellar line-up of speakers, was so well organised and those behind it should take a well-deserved bow. The Southern Star was delighted to have played its part and is fully behind the next one, which is destined to become an annual event. Judging by the record volumes of Tweets it generated, most of those from outside the area who attended it wanted to move here permanently, so the event proved a fabulous showcase for what West Cork has to offer, not just its renowned hospitality and food – which were widely praised – but its high-speed digital connectivity brought to the town through [email protected] by SIRO, a joint venture between Vodafone and the ESB, which will ultimately benefit the wider community.
It has been confirmed that the Taoiseach will perform the official opening of the Ludgate rural digital hub building, which Field’s old bakery at Townshend Street, Skibbereen, is being converted into, early in the new year – no doubt before the general election! This is providing a template for the digital development of rural communities nationwide and is included as a case study in the government’s South West regional Action Plan for Jobs.
National Digital Week has certainly raised public awareness of the benefits a good, focused digital community can provide for rural areas and it was great to see people of all ages – not just the younger generation – being enlightened and energised by what they saw and heard at the event. The possibilities digital provides are immense and need to be exploited to the fullest extent, not just by entrepreneurs starting companies but also by existing businesses.
The talk has been talked, so now it is time to walk the walk and make the great possibilities become reality in the form of new jobs so that the decline of rural Ireland can be arrested before it is too late.