RURAL towns are still not benefitting from the economic uplift of the last two years to the same extent as their bigger urban counterparts to where most of the jobs that have been created have gone. Therefore, communities need to help themselves and come up with ways of providing jobs, especially of the type that would attract home some of the generation of young people lost to rural towns and villages through emigration during the economic downturn.
It was a matter of pride to see the impressive new [email protected] initiative being launched in Skibbereen last Friday, which has the stated aim of creating 500 jobs in the area over the next five years. With the advance of technology, it is no longer necessary for people to locate in already-congested urban areas for work purposes.
The working group behind the venture was brought together by Drimoleague native and Glen Dimplex chairman and CEO, Seán O’Driscoll, and includes entrepreneurs, digital ambassadors and local business owners, who live in the area or have strong connections with it, and who appreciate the West Cork lifestyle and want to see the area prosper. This gives them an extra incentive to see it through to the delivery stage, so there are good grounds for optimism about this digital project.
The Minister for Communications, Energy and Natural Resources, Mr Alex White, TD, officially launched what was described as Ireland’s first Rural Digital Hub, which will be housed in the 10,000 sq ft old Field’s Bakery building on Townshend Street, which will become known as the Ludgate Hub. Generously donated by local businessman John Field, it is being fitted out with a view towards opening in November with at least 75 jobs at start-up time.
With that many extra pay packets available for spending locally, it will be a huge boost for the town and surrounding area and a nice early Christmas present for Skibbereen that, hopefully, will keep on giving. New families will be encouraged to move there and it may be the type of incentive that many natives who had to move out of the area to get work need to return, helping rural schools stay open and enabling various State services to continue to be provided locally.
The minister was keen to emphasise the progress being made by the government in improving broadband connectivity for rural areas, his department’s Online Voucher Scheme and that the Ludgate Hub idea had been included in the recently-launched South West regional Action Plan for Jobs as a worthy case study. However, his thunder was stolen by Anne O’Leary, CEO of Vodafone Ireland and a member of the Ludgate steering committee, when she announced that, as telecoms partner to the project, SIRO – the ESB and Vodafone fibre broadband joint venture company – will provide the infrastructure to support 1,000 Mbps speeds of high-quality fibre broadband connectivity this autumn in time for the opening and that this will also be made available throughout Skibbereen next year.
Increasing Vodafone’s existing high-speed 4G mobile data connectivity in the area is another tangible measure that, no doubt, will be delivered on, because business is business and the more activity you have, the more economic benefit it generates. As a flagship ‘entrepreneurial ecosystem’ initiative, the [email protected] project is leading the way for rural Ireland with this type of bottom-up community ethos, involving mentors who know what they are doing and some of whom are also keen to expand their own businesses while working out of West Cork.
There is great credit due to everybody who has given of their time and talents to the project. And, as the dynamic Gráinne Dwyer, who is co-ordinating it, stated at the launch, this is just the beginning and there is still plenty of scope for people – be they living locally or abroad – to lend their expertise in some practical way to help copperfasten the success it hopes to achieve and build on in years to come for the greater good of the local community.
We look forward with great anticipation to the official opening of the [email protected] centre in November when it will host Ireland’s first ever National Digital Week, which will feature high-profile international and national speakers and will include seminars, workshops and activities. This should truly put Skibbereen on the map as a digital hub and provide inspiration for rural communities all over the country to replicate the model that could well prove a saviour for many of them.