6 key qualities that all enterprising Irish towns share
4 MIN READ
Bank of Ireland National Enterprising Town Awards
The judges for the Bank of Ireland National Enterprising Town Awards 2017 visited 76 small towns across Ireland, this autumn to listen, first-hand, to the fantastic work they are doing to develop and promote enterprise. What are the challenges they face and how they are responding? The situation was summed up eloquently by one town:
“For us, enterprise is not about generating wealth. It’s about ensuring that our community is underpinned by a healthy local economy. That our children have the choice to stay and live and work in their home town.”
Six key qualities kept coming up in all the towns our judges visited. We joined the judges on their visit to one town, Castlepollard to hear from local businesses, schools, clubs, charities and local authorities about how they are keeping their community thriving.
1 Attracting large employers
Just one large successful business can have a hugely positive effect on the local community. Without jobs to come back to, young people often leave for third level education or employment in the city and then cannot return to their hometown. In Castlepollard, for example, Irish-owned plastics company, Mergon International, is located only a few hundred yards from the town centre. The company started in 1981 with just 13 employees and now employs 250 people locally. Aisling Nolan, General Manager of Mergon, reveals that over 80% of cars sold in the UK contain plastic parts made by Mergon. Mergon also design and make parts for Elon Musk’s Tesla electric car models. Mergon invests heavily in training the local people who work in the plant and now offers 3-year apprenticeships that lead to a BSc in Polymer Processing.
2 Keeping sustainable small businesses going
A large local employer can make a big difference but the majority of local people still work in small enterprises. Having strong sustainable small businesses is just as important. In Castlepollard, the oldest business on the Square at the centre of the town is Murphy’s drapery owned by Josephine Murphy, supported by Imelda Davitt, where generations of local people have bought their clothes.
Across the Square is D&P Murphy, a builders’ merchants, hardware providers and agricultural suppliers. Better known as Topline Murphys it employs 10 people at the hardware store which was established in 1979 by Tommy and Pauline Murphy and is now run by their son David. Just as in other small towns across Ireland, these small enterprises serve the community who in turn give them their business and keep the town alive.
3 Securing investment in local schools
Small towns flourish if they have the facilities to educate their young people up to age 18 without them having to commute to school elsewhere. Mary Coyle, has been Principal at Castlepollard Community College, a DEIS school, since 2009. In that time, the school has grown from 90 pupils to 275 and added a new canteen, classrooms while expanding the curriculum to include physics, chemistry and a TY year. The College shares its space with local clubs in the evenings and the holidays. “We wouldn’t be able to manage without local enterprise,” says Mary.
Support from local businesses like Salmon Bus Hire and Mergon is clear to see on the jerseys of the school’s sports teams. Indeed, Mergon also contributed their expertise by supporting TY students when they wanted to build a computer games console, Terrawing, which got to the Student Enterprise Programme National Finals organised by the Local Enterprise Offices (LEOs) for secondary schools. All the College’s students get a free breakfast and lunch as it is a DEIS school. The school meals allocation is provided by a local caterer, David Smith Catering, who, in turn, sponsor a BBQ for students on the college’s annual sports day.
4 Supporting community groups
The health of a town can also be measured by how many people get involved in local community groups. Most towns support a range of clubs, groups and societies from bridge clubs to choirs that bring people together. The Castlepollard Men’s Shed is a new addition to the town. As the Irish Men’s Shed Association put it:
“Most men have learned from our culture that they don’t talk about feelings and emotions. There has been little encouragement for men to take an interest in their own health and well-being.”
So, driven by the belief that ‘men talk side by side not face to face’, the Men’s Shed encourages men to work collaboratively starting with simple projects like building nesting boxes for birds. One of the biggest projects that the Castlepollard Shed is working on is to create usable rooms and storage spaces in the large but semi-derelict building they took over.
5 Retaining local amenities
Local community services and amenities that might be taken for granted in the larger towns and cities are essential for smaller towns. Facilities like a local library, community hall and doctors’ surgery help keep a community together. In Castlepollard, there’s a fire station with two tenders and a Garda station with a sergeant and three gardaí. National and local buses serve the town, there’s a post office and HSE health centre. These are amenities that are not taken for granted but regarded as pieces of the complex puzzle that when brought together help the town to thrive.
6 And, more than anything, the people
But of all the resources that smaller towns enjoy, there’s one that they all mention – the people. Time after time they tell our judges that:
“The best thing we have got going for us in this town are the people themselves.”
In both big cities and small towns, the individual businesses, schools, community groups and local services are all part of a bigger picture. It’s just that more obvious in a smaller town where you can walk around and in a short time see the links for yourself. When they work together they can achieve so much more than they can alone. In enterprising towns that might be what helps them to survive and thrive.
“Enterprise is a way of working together, solving problems, looking for opportunities and collaborating to make our town a wonderful place in which to live, work and start a business. For us enterprise is not just business, it’s a way of life.”
Find out more
Bank of Ireland National Enterprising Town Awards 2017 is a national competition to find the country’s most enterprising town from the 76 entries. The overall winner, Tralee, was announced on 15 November. As part of the award, the town will receive €23,000 to invest in enterprise in their local community. Other winners included Kerry, Dublin Docklands, Cootehill in Co. Cavan and Carrick-on-Shannon in Co. Leitrim.