Innovation is a key weapon in energising any economy and especially one that is under pressure. In this context, a small but powerful idea that is germinating in an Irish village is one which should be explored across rural Ireland as part of the fight-back against decline and depopulation, writes Joe Gill.
In Louisburgh, Co Mayo, a humble but clever bookshop is helping provide that impetus by connecting a well meaning benefactor with a local community. Books@ one was financially supported by the One Foundation, a charity established by aviation entrepreneur Declan Ryan.
He helped recruit a manager and building for the bookshop; which is really a community hub incorporating books, a film club, hot drinks, poetry, music evenings and other initiatives that help bind and promote local community endeavour.
Of course, this formula is not applicable for every town outside the main cities in Ireland. Many mid-sized towns and villages have private book stores that are struggling against the onslaught of online retailing. Where Books@One could come in to its own is in villages that are really small. Louisburgh has a population under 500 and anyone who has lived in the country or was reared there knows many similar sized locations. I visited two over Christmas to meet relatives. Both had lost their Post Offices. One was losing one of just two shops and the other had seen its last pub close. Morale in these types of villages is under severe pressure and they need help.
The Books@One model works best in a village that has a school willing to support its efforts. Children can provide tremendous energy and having a facility that helps broaden their education is only a good thing. It also needs local community backing as any initiative will fail if the people living in the area do not provide full blooded support.
Book@One also has another ingredient that is not easy to find — a benign supporter. To replicate this template small villages need someone or some organisation to give them the guidance needed to establish such a venture. Not only can these type of initiatives erase the negative energy that flows when a village is in a downward spiral but it might also kick-start the type of investment and thinking needed to make existing “infrastructure” in rural Ireland part of the solution to overcrowding and overpricing in our capital city.
Joe Gill is director of corporate broking with Goodbody Stockbrokers. His views are personal.