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Ludgate could be a game-changer to attract West Cork's diaspora home

February 16th, 2016 11:55 AM

By Jackie Keogh

Lord David Puttnam with Chris Brett and Anton O'Mahony (new principal, Skibbereen Community School) at the Ludgate Hub meeting at the Town Hall, Skibbereen last Friday night. (Photo: Anne Minihane)

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SKIBBEREEN’S Town Hall was packed to capacity to hear details of the Ludgate ‘digital hub’ initiative for the town.

The meeting heard that the town has been picked as ‘an exemplar’ for other towns and villages who are taking responsibility for their own development.

Lord David Puttnam captured the mood when he said that the changes that are coming with the digital age are as transformative as rural electrification was half a century ago. 

With 1,000MB per second at your fingertips, he said that ‘Ludgate is the trigger that makes everything else entirely possible’.

SIRO – a Vodafone and ESB joint venture – has provided the Ludgate digital hub in Townshend Street, Skibbereen, with the high speed connection. In layman’s terms, this equates to being able to download a movie in eight seconds, or a book in four.

Skibbereen’s Adrian McCarthy of Wildfire Films was there to record the event – a meeting to explain all aspects of the Ludgate digital hub initiative – and feature it in a four-part production for RTÉ.

Kevin Buckley of Spearline Labs described this as ‘power beyond belief.’ He said old obstacles to selling a digital platform would be a thing of the past. No longer would he have to ask his 20 employees to ‘stop downloading’ while they work on one particular pitch, and no longer would he and his partner, Matthew Lawlor, have to take four days out of their working week to travel to Dublin where they would be assured of high-speed broadband. 

Callum Donnelly – who, together with Grainne Dwyer, is driving the initiative – told the audience that Skibbereen was one of the worst affected areas during the Great Famine and that it has a history of sending its best and brightest abroad.

His father, Leonard Donnelly, a telecoms entrepreneur, took up the emigration theme and said: ‘We have a moral charter to make sure that doesn’t happen again.’

The ‘we’ refers to a team of high-profile business people – the likes of Sean O’Driscoll of Glen Dimplex and Anne O’Leary of Vodafone Ireland to name but two – who are working on a voluntary basis to make sure this project represents a turning point in Skibbereen’s history.

Grainne Dwyer said: “Ludgate (which will open officially in March) is not just a building, it is for the entire community, and comes with a five-year business plan for the town.’ 

Initially, there will be 75 desks at the digital hub in Townshend Street that will offer ‘the opportunity for many of the diaspora to come home.’

Callum Donnelly said Ludgate would also offer those who are not IT-savvy training courses, starting with a course on how to use iPads. He said it would have an international networking platform for the diaspora. And that it would have implications for the tourism industry, too, because people will be able to view everything from guesthouses to ferry times online, plan their itinerary, and make their bookings.

The ultimate goal of the Ludgate steering committee is to create 500 jobs over the next five years, but with the multiplier effect means that number could become 1,500. 

Sean Dervan, SIRO’s commercial manager, told the audience that Ludgate is already ‘a tremendous success story’.

He said: ‘What is not measured here is what it is going to attract. This is a pilot town: it is a very fortunate position to be in.’ 

When it comes to investors, Mr Dervan said: ‘This is the place they’ll pick. And people who are native to this area will be delighted to come back.’

Grainne Dwyer summed it up saying: ‘Of the 85 expressions of interest 18% is coming from our diaspora – those who have emigrated and are looking for a way home.’

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