Irish firms put in the effort in Wales

If I was a hat wearer, I would certainly take my hat off to the scores of Irish companies present at the Royal Welsh Show.

Not only were some of the big multinationals such as Glanbia present, but a lot of family-run companies were also there, and it certainly is a great news story to see these Irish firms growing and competing on an international stage.

Among those at the show were Abbey, Hi-spec, Cross Engineering, Major, JFC, O’Neill Engineering, Carlow Precast, Dairypower, O’Donovan Engineering, Vmac Silos, Keenan and McHale.

Those behind the establishment and growth of these companies deserve great credit, not least because they provide so much employment, and support many communities.

I also took the opportunity to visit a number of UK-based businesses and community projects which I thought deserved merit, and from which we can learn.

On the production side I visited Tyrrells Crisps, based near the Welsh border in Herefordshire, England. The commercial potential of innovation and diversification was clearly visible in a tangible form. From a standing start in 2002, the potato farmer behind Tyrrells Crisps grew the company to such a degree that he was reported to have netted a cool £30m when a majority share of his business was sold in 2008.

In the rolling hills of Herefordshire, it was inspiring to see a huge production facility and a car park full of employees’ cars in the middle of the countryside.

One would have thought that a market dominated by the likes of Walkers and Pringles would not have rooms for new entrants, but it goes to show that determination and innovation goes along way.

On the community project side, I spoke to two locals who were heavily involved in the story of Dilwyn — a semi-static village population with a slow decline of local facilities.

Like many towns and villages in Ireland, the shop, the pub were closed and the community school was under threat of closure.

What was particularly interesting about this village was its pub. Following a long period of closure, the community took it upon themselves to buy out the pub from the owners with a view to re-establishing a fundamental mainstay of their community.

The vision of the project was to ensure that the pub became inclusive in its appeal to a wider customer base and became successful in providing the facilities and social amenities sought by the parish, such as good quality meals and a friendly village meeting point that would be well supported within the village, at all times of the day, by both locals and visitors.

The Crown Inn was purchased last March by the parish council. There are plans to use part of the premises for a shop to serve the community.

This is an extraordinary story of community effort. The timeline is a reflection of the huge community effort — getting the place from a redundant state to a fully functional focal point in their community in only a matter of weeks.

This was the first community purchased pub in the county of Herefordshire, but is already a shining example for other communities who are following in their footsteps.

Speaking to one of the volunteers responsible for the community pub, I learned also of the story of the school in Dilwyn, which is equally impressive.

The school was established as a charity school in the late 18th century and it has nearly come full circle to this position again. In 2011, the local council funding for the school was suspended, following a program of rationalisation of rural schools.

However, the 18 children who attend the school were still taught there for the 2012 academic year, by a mix of unpaid and retired teachers providing their services free, backed by community fundraising.

All the hard effort has paid off, and the school has now attained the status of a free school which will be backed by central government funding.

These are the positive news stories which should inspire us to follow suit.


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