Special report: Cork's business community gear up for phase one of Covid-19 reopening plan

On Monday morning phase one of the government's road map to ease Covid-19 restrictions will begin. To mark this first step towards normalisation, Pádraig Hoare met up with a variety of Cork business people to find out how things have been and what they think the future holds.
Special report: Cork's business community gear up for phase one of Covid-19 reopening plan

On Monday morning phase one of the government's road map to ease Covid-19 restrictions will begin.

To mark this first step towards normalisation, Pádraig Hoare met up with a variety of Cork business people to find out how things have been and what they think the future holds.

John McHenry

General manager of Douglas Golf Course

John McHenry, General Manager at Douglas Golf Club getting the course ready for their opening on Monday. Picture Dan Linehan
John McHenry, General Manager at Douglas Golf Club getting the course ready for their opening on Monday. Picture Dan Linehan

It only took a couple of hours for Douglas Golf Club in Cork to realise just how much its members missed the greens.

It opened for bookings on Wednesday morning and by 11am, 85% of times allotted were booked.

General manager John McHenry said every club in Ireland was breathing a sigh of relief, mixed with palpable feelings of excitement -- a pastime for thousands of people throughout the country could begin again, however tentatively.

“We believe if we are as diligent as possible, and are very conscious of the 5km rules and social distancing, that we can look forward to playing the game we all love again.

The restaurant and clubhouse will not be open, but it still means friends can see each other again, and a semblance of normality can come back for many people.

He said sport like golf allowed a social outlet that would boost the loss of community and camaraderie that many felt, as well as the impact on physical and mental health.

The financial impact on golf courses was also a factor, he said.

“Every golf course has some making up to do, many more than others. We are not taking green fees or societies at present, but luckily Douglas is in a good position compared to other courses that have been more impacted.

It’s a step in the right direction, a good first step, and hopefully all that love the game will be able to play it in due course.

Caroline Robinson

Robinson’s Chemical Free Vegetables

Caroline Robinson with her son Gerry and his girlfriend Bethan Lucas of Robinson’s Chemical Free Vegetables working from the back of their van on the Coal Quay, Cork. Picture Dan Linehan
Caroline Robinson with her son Gerry and his girlfriend Bethan Lucas of Robinson’s Chemical Free Vegetables working from the back of their van on the Coal Quay, Cork. Picture Dan Linehan

To close down farmers’ markets was the wrong course of action in the first place, but at least the sector was nimble enough to ride out the worst of the economic storm, according to Caroline Robinson.

The proprietor of Robinson’s Chemical Free Vegetables said they got word suddenly that markets were to be shut, leaving many scrambling to adjust to the new reality.

The good thing to come out of such a sink-or-swim scenario is that farmers’ market traders will be prepared for the next lockdown -- which is a certainty in Ms Robinson’s eyes.

I want us to be prepared and ready for the next one, because I am convinced there will be another. I believe it will be two years of turmoil.

“However, we must be deemed essential for the next one because of the food we produce. We must not be closed again,” she said.

Car boot sales and other types of markets are of course non-essential, she said.

“But food is essential. Farmers’ markets should have been included. We were lucky that we had customer email and contact information, so could process orders and organise collection points. Even that was a grey area, and that must be clarified if and when it happens again.”

For the time being, its back to business this week.

“Most of us thought it would go on much longer, but our nimbleness and agility as businesses means we can mostly slot right back to it. I’m lucky to have two of my sons working with me, and the family and community spirit of farmers’ markets is what keeps it thriving.

We cannot lose sight of the importance of community and hopefully this crisis has shown us that.

John Cleary

JCD Developments

John Cleary representing JCD Group pictured accepting their award on behalf on 85 South Mall for Best New Development at the Cork Business Association's Cork's Better Buildings Awards 2019at the Clayton Hotel, Cork. Picture: Eddie O'Hare
John Cleary representing JCD Group pictured accepting their award on behalf on 85 South Mall for Best New Development at the Cork Business Association's Cork's Better Buildings Awards 2019at the Clayton Hotel, Cork. Picture: Eddie O'Hare

For a city that has prided itself as one on the rise when it comes to development, the Covid-19 pandemic showed how progress can be stopped in its tracks by unseen forces. However, the construction industry is now primed and ready to go again, according to John Cleary of developer JCD Group.

Following a change in Government guidance, outdoor workers will resume work on Penrose Dock on Monday.

Mr Cleary said: “We are looking forward to the resumption of work at the Penrose Dock site. The health and safety of all those on site remains our top priority, and we have taken all the recommended actions to ensure that the site can re-open safely.

“Sites like Penrose Dock are large employment-generating projects and their completion is important to the economic recovery for our city post-Covid-19.

I know from speaking with the future tenants of Penrose Dock that they are all eager to access their new offices in the months ahead.

He said JCD would implement extra measures to ensure the safety of employees.

Amongst the extra measures implemented to protect workers on the site include introducing extra handwashing and hand sanitising facilities; staggering starts, lunch breaks and finishes to avoid groups congregating; social distancing being enforced as per HSE guidelines, and applicable to all.

Extra toilet and canteen facilities have been brought onto site, to reduce contact between people on site, with dedicated entry and exit routes to further reduce the risk.

The Penrose Wharf development has what JCD called a “strong flavour of FDI, cybersecurity and data protection companies” in the major 250,000sq ft office scheme, when it opens.

The two blocks are capable of hosting 2,200 employees.

Joe Mason

Allotment grower in Ballincollig

Joe Mason at work in the Ballincollig allotment before the lockdown.
Joe Mason at work in the Ballincollig allotment before the lockdown.

For Montenotte-based Joe Mason, growing your own produce was not just a wonderful pastime in a quiet and safe allotment in Ballincollig, but also somewhere to spend quality time with his cherished grandson Luke.

He still believes closing allotments was the wrong course of action but he’ll be grateful to be back.

The plot in Ballincollig is one of the biggest in the country and growers were happy to adhere to social distancing guidelines, but felt closing was a bridge much too far, Joe said.

“It is a wonderful place, in a lovely gated enclosure. Luke, who has additional needs, can ride up and down on his tricycle to his heart’s content, and spending time with him there is one of my greatest joys.”

Joe admits his visit to his allotment next will bring mixed emotions. He is thrilled to be going back, but is resigned to the fact that much of his planted vegetables will not have survived.

Weeds may be my biggest problem, and a lot will depend on what effect they have had. I obviously have not been out to have a look, so I hedged my bets.

“Things like onions and shallots should survive but my potatoes may be worse off. We were actually very lucky that we were not closed down for the first two or three weeks, so we could mitigate somewhat.

“I believe it was the wrong thing to do to close down allotments, I feel very strongly about that. Common sense should have been applied.”

Joe said most growers wear gloves, and they have access to several water-taps on site for hand-washing.

As much as he loves the growing of nature’s produce, it is the time he gets to spend with Luke once they are reunited in their special place that Joe longs for most of all.

He just keeps me so alive.

Margaret Griffin

Griffin’s Garden Centre

Margaret Griffin getting ready to reopen at Griffin’s Garden Centre, Dripsey, Cork. Picture Dan Linehan
Margaret Griffin getting ready to reopen at Griffin’s Garden Centre, Dripsey, Cork. Picture Dan Linehan

For 35 years, Griffin’s Garden Centre in Dripsey has been a stable of the best of community life.

Margaret Griffin is determined to keep it that way, despite the toughest of times.

“Online orders and roadside collection worked out well for us, but there is nothing like the real thing. We are going to give it a huge heave over the coming days to be prepared for the reopening, but retail is going to be very difficult, there is no doubt.

“Our restaurant will simply be unviable and that will change the business entirely. Smaller businesses like us may never reopen, so we’ve got to be thankful and look forward to seeing our customers again, who have always been our lifeblood.

Resilience is within all growers, we prepare for natural disasters how we can - it is in our DNA really.

Margaret said the lockdown had been an unexpected boon for would-be gardeners around the country, and that she hoped their new-found passion for horticulture may bring them to the likes of Griffin’s Garden Centre.

“The first day back, we ask ourselves what it will be like. People want flowers and plants, and children have also found a passion for it all. Maybe that will be one of the great things to come out of this pandemic, a rediscovered passion for the wonderful thing that is nature. Animals are roaming with freedom and nature is having a ball.”

The 44 employees will be brought back on a phased basis, she said.

“We like many others used the Government payment scheme, so we think the political response has been good on the whole. However, Cheltenham and the airports cost everyone dearly.”

Griffin’s will be open from Monday to Saturday, 9am to 6pm. Sundays will now be closed.

We decided out of all this that family time and community time is very important, so Sundays will be days for that. That is one very good thing to come from this crisis -- appreciating those we love.

John Nolan

Dealer principal of Cork Ford Centre.

John Nolan, principal dealer, Cork City Ford Centre which will open for repairs and servicing on Monday as per government roadmap. Picture Dan Linehan
John Nolan, principal dealer, Cork City Ford Centre which will open for repairs and servicing on Monday as per government roadmap. Picture Dan Linehan

Businesses like Cork Ford Centre will take their licks, absorb the hit and soldier on, according to John Nolan.

The dealer principal in Cork Ford Centre said the desire and willingness was there from firms opening on Monday, albeit on a phased basis. Safety is absolutely the main priority, he said, but also letting people know they were raring to go.

The office closed on March 30, but in reality the fear of it happening was there for two or three weeks beforehand. We will begin again with parts and services, because cars need to be repaired as people begin to go back to work and travel a bit further.

“It was very tough saying to loyal staff that we were closing, as well as a significant loss of revenue. But that is something we had to absorb, we’ll take the hit and soldier on.

Of the 23 staff, 80% involved in the first phase of reopening will be back this week, with more as the days progress. It hopes to have all back by the end of June, Mr Nolan said.

The Government will need to be cognisant of SMEs throughout the country if the economy is to recover, he said.

“The Government acted quickly and correctly, to be fair. However, there will be supports needed for SMEs if many are to survive. Measures like Vat reductions will need to be taken. Luckily there is lots of lobbying going on by good organisations.”

More in this section


In the Kitchen with

ieFoodLogo   Video Series

Join Darina Allen for Stir It Up Sunday and cook along with her as she makes her mother’s plum pudding recipe. She also makes Mrs Hanrahan’s sauce - a recipe that is so delicious that Darina says people ask for more plum pudding just so they can have more sauce!

Join Darina Allen as she makes her mother's plum pudding with Mrs Hanrahan's sauce.

Watch Here
Puzzles logo
IE-logo

Puzzles hub

Visit our brain gym where you will find simple and cryptic crosswords, sudoku puzzles and much more. Updated at midnight every day. PS ... We would love to hear your feedback on the section right HERE.

Lifestyle
Newsletter

The best food, health, entertainment and lifestyle content from the Irish Examiner, direct to your inbox.

Sign up