There’s seldom a dull moment in Skibbereen these days, and the West Cork town might just be getting a little bit more cosmopolitan in the near future.
One week on from the epic homecoming for Olympic rowing heroes Gary and Paul O’Donovan, all eyes were on another local star, the Ludgate Hub, which has been at the centre of a drive for all things digital.
The Hub, based in a former bakery and cinema, has already attracted users from multinational firms such as Facebook, Google, and Pfizer. Yesterday, CEO of the Ludgate initiative, Gráinne Dwyer, said that the Ludgate might shortly be welcoming its first people from Silicon Valley.
“They have met with Leonard Donnelly [a member of the Ludgate board] and they are a tech company, established in Silicon Valley, and looking for a place top expand,” said Ms Dwyer.
Having seen an article about the Ludgate, representatives of the company travelled to Skibbereen and are now looking at working from the building for a trial period, with four people likely to base themselves in West Cork.
“We are really excited about that,” she said.
Another company, this time from South Africa, is also sending a 10-strong team to visit the Ludgate early next year on a site visit, with a view to possibly relocating.
Ms Dwyer said one issue appeared to be the lack of suitable accommodation in South Africa for the company’s workforce, with Skibbereen offering an associated lifestyle as well as its status as Ireland’s first gigatown, based on its 1Gb connectivity as provided by Siro superfast broadband.
Another visitor was European Commissioner Phil Hogan, who heard the Ludgate is also planning to expand with the development of Ludgate 2, and through its role with National Digital Week, which this year runs from November 10 to 12, inclusive. Last year the event attracted 1,600 people and speakers this year are to include Martin Shanahan, chief executive of the IDA, and Mark Ferguson, director general of Science Foundation Ireland.
At its official launch little more than a month ago, guests were told that the Ludgate was potentially a blueprint for regeneration in many other towns around Ireland and beyond.
Yesterday, Ms Dwyer said: “Since we have launched the project, we have become a beacon of hope for places in rural Ireland.”
She said representatives of 15 towns and villages have already visited Ludgate, from Dingle to Dungarvan, looking for support and advice, particularly when it comes to filling spaces created by the closure of schools, post offices, or garda stations.
“What we are hoping to do is to become European best practice,” she said.
To this end, there is now an increased focus on engaging local farmers as well as retailers in how digital enhancements can aid them in their daily working lives, while the Ludgate will be a case study when Ms Dwyer visits the invite-only European Digital Assembly in the Slovakian capital, Bratislava, later this month.
Mr Hogan was singing off the same hymn sheet when he said that “the roll-out of high-speed rural broadband is a priority for me and the European Commission. It’s essential if we are going to provide citizens with the opportunity to fulfill their desire to live and work in rural areas and to provide opportunities for rural communities throughout Europe.”
He said one goal was to create a European Digital Single Market with everyone engaged in that looking internationally.
He also said he was glad that mainstream agriculture was “still sexy” in terms of job creation and maintenance and that tech would have an increased role to play in that sector and any associated “spin-out industries”.
Stating the Ludgate was “a shining example” of what can be achieved in a rural area, he said “vision alone will not support rural communities — we also need practical projects that maintain the economic viability of rural areas and ensure that such areas are attractive places in which to live and work”.
For Sean O’Driscoll, Glen Dimplex CEO, and another person strongly associated with the Ludgate project, “it is about how rural Ireland can be recreated”.
Any new neighbours swapping Silicon Valley for Skibbereen might not find the transition as much of a culture shock as they might have expected.
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