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The Ludgate Hub: How the idea of creating a digital hub in Skibbereen was born

One Saturday afternoon in September 2014 as part of West Cork’s food festival, A Taste of West Cork, the idea of creating a digital hub in Skibbereen was born. Within two months, the first committee meeting had taken place, attended by eight people with a passion for West Cork and keen to see the area thrive in a sustainable manner. Local businessman John Field and his family subsequently donated a building which was to become the Ludgate Hub. In keeping with the theme of sustainability, in its previous lives the building had been both the local cinema and bakery. Within six months, the sod had been turned and work began on transforming the building, funded by private investment. At the same time, Vodafone and the ESB came together to form SIRO to deliver high-speed 1GB broadband to 50 towns in Ireland. With the growing momentum behind Ludgate, Skibbereen became the 51st town on this list, and ultimately Ireland’s first 1GB town. Ludgate opened in early 2016, Ireland’s first rural digital hub in Ireland’s first 1GB town. Three years later, we now have 55 people using Ludgate as their daily place of work. This number is supplemented by another 20 regular users, as well as a community of hot-deskers who use our facilities as a second office or while on holiday in West Cork. Ludgate is now home to a wide range of businesses: we have a number of companies in the creative digital sector; others in the TravelTech area; software companies and service providers. Ludgate is also the base for a number of startups, a number of whom are funded by your own seed fund.

Two Dublin-based companies have established successful second site locations in the Hub. xSellco is an eCommerce customer support platform that allows sellers to manage and integrate all their marketplaces channels.  The company took first place in the Deloitte Technology Fast 50 rankings in 2018. Headquartered in Dublin, the company opened its second site in May 2017 with four staff, hoping to double its Ludgate staff number within 12 months. It doubled within six months; went 24/7 and having embarked on another recruitment round, now has 10 staff with plans for continuing growth. Six West, a Dublin-based high-end aviation support services provider have made a strategic decision to expand segments of their growing services and their workforce to Ludgate.  They have expanded from one person employed in Ludgate in October 2017 to a current staff complement of six across two companies.
The company has embraced flexible working, with its 6 female employees designing their own working week. SixWest is interested in further expanding its workforce in Ludgate and is looking for graduates in marketing, business development and project management. Ludgate is also home to a number of remote workers whose companies are based in Cork, Dublin and the UK and who can enjoy the quality of life that West Cork has to offer, while avoiding the commuting headache. The Gigabit connectivity has had a transformative impact on the community of Skibbereen, enabling businesses to connect and operate in global markets. It has facilitated the creation of over 100 new jobs in the town, with an estimated annual contribution of €13m to the local West Cork economy. These jobholders are based in an area 70kms wide, with the economic impact felt across a number of small towns and villages. Most importantly, the connectivity has facilitated the move or return of families to West Cork, which is key to maintaining sustainable development in the region. As well as the economic impact that these families are having, they contribute to the social fabric of the area, with children going to school locally and families being part of local clubs. Bringing the benefits of digitisation to as wide a community as possible is core to Ludgate’s vision. We have run training for silver surfers, connecting them to families abroad via social media. We passionately believe that children growing up in West Cork should have a significant advantage in terms of digital literacy and we work with a number of second-level schools to advance this. Partnering with UCC, we have been working with the local community school in Skibbereen to for the past 12 months to develop a digital skills development programme. Last year, partnering with Vodafone, we ran a Code like a Girl a week-long programme where 25 transition year girls from three local schools learned how to build websites. Last year also saw our first schools hackathon take place, in partnership with the Skibbereen Lions Club. As we move into the next phase of our development and partner with organisations such as iWish, these initiatives will be rolled out across West Cork, with a full-time person to be recruited later this year to develop this programme, ultimately helping to secure the future talent pipeline for the area. The next phase of Ludgate’s development sees the creation of 4 new posts at Ludgate over the coming year, thanks to Regional Enterprise Development Funding from Enterprise Ireland. We are currently recruiting for a Business Development Manager - see www.ludgate.ie/careers for more details. This person will market and sell West Cork as a location of choice for indigenous and international companies, offering a range of practical supports to companies locating here. We will also be recruiting someone to work with our current startups as they scale and grow as well as increasing the number of startups based in Ludgate. Another new and exciting post will deal with growing employment in the food, food-tech and ag-tech areas in West Cork. We have set an ambitious job creation goal of 400 new jobs over the coming 3-5 years, and to house a number of new posts, Ludgate will be opening a second site over the coming moments. We are confident that we can achieve these targets. We have a strong offering with 1GB connectivity; an existing ecosystem of startups, SMEs and family businesses; a range of supportive partners from UCC to Cork County Council, government departments and enterprise agencies, as well as local businesses and schools; a ready supply of talent (our talent database TalentSpace lists several hundred people interested in relocating to West Cork); a range of affordable accommodation across the region; easy access to good quality schools; a clean environment; a rich cultural life; and incredible scenery with the sea and mountains on our doorstop. West Cork is a food lover's paradise, and is now home to 2 Michelin-starred restaurants as well as the annual incredible 10-day food festival A Taste of West Cork. It is an amazing place to live and work. The question is not ‘Why would I live there’, but rather ‘Why would I not live there?”

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