Ireland wants remote work to bring rural towns to life

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Terrace of shops and historic buildings, Skibbereen, County Cork, Ireland, Republic of Ireland. (Photo by: Geography Photos / Universal Images Group via Getty Images)

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DUBLIN – In March, the Irish government unveiled a plan to boost the country’s rural economy by getting more people to work remotely.

A long-standing challenge for rural Ireland has been migration to urban areas. With the shadow of the Covid-19 pandemic and what can be achieved through remote working, the Our Rural Future plan aims to get more people to stay or settle in non-urban areas.

The plan undertakes to financially support local authorities to transform vacant properties in cities into remote work centers. This includes a plan for “over 400 remote work facilities” across the country.

Grainne O’Keeffe has first hand experience in attracting people to a rural town. She runs the Ludgate Hub, a coworking space and start-up support organization in the small town of Skibbereen, about 80 km west of Cork City in the south of Ireland.

Ludgate Hub – named after scientist Percy Ludgate – was established in 2016 and was a pioneer in rural start-up efforts.

O’Keeffe told CNBC that Ludgate provides a practical example of attracting founders and employees to a small town.

It operates out of a former bakery and will open a second facility in an empty school building later this year. Above all, it attracted people whose start-ups allow remote working, including the start-up Workvivo supported by Eric Yuan.

O’Keeffe said significant investments in physical infrastructure such as high-speed broadband and provision of appropriate buildings are essential to making any city viable for remote working.

Skibbereen is connected to broadband through a company run by Vodafone called Siro.

“This is definitely a game-changer for each region. It is fundamental, just like having a building conducive to a working environment, ”she said.

Rural broadband connectivity has been a regular scarecrow in Ireland. The government’s National Broadband Plan is rolling out services to previously underserved areas, but it has seen its fair share of delays. Other operators like Eir are in the midst of their own rural deployments while Elon Musk’s Starlink tests in a location in Ireland.

Working environment

Garret Flower moved from Dublin to his hometown of Longford in the Midlands. He is the Managing Director of the software start-up ParkOffice, whose team of 15 is now completely remote.

“The campaign has so much to offer,” he said. “I think remote working is something that can really bring people back to rural areas.”

But he also warned of over-reliance on working from home. As closures ease, the availability of office or office space in towns and villages will be a key part of any strategy, he said.

“Not everyone has a nice living space to work in. You can’t put this pressure on everyone to be able to work from home. I grew up in the family home and it was chaos. “I could never have worked with everyone over there in the house,” he says.

Separately, a government-funded start-up accelerator called NDRC, which is now run by a consortium of business groups across the country, is focused on developing start-up ecosystems in more diverse regions. from the country.

One of its members is the RDI Hub, a facility in the town of Killorglin in County Kerry in the southwest of the country.

“In Kerry, we traditionally have a very ingrained migration. People leave Kerry. You rarely stay, most people leave for college, most people leave to start a job. Some come back but most leave. and continue, ”said Reidin O’Connor, director of RDI Hub.

O’Connor is from the area and moved from Dublin with his partner and children a few months before the pandemic arrived.

She said the government’s efforts on remote work centers should focus not only on workers, but also on how they can be integrated into local communities.

“The hubs should be the space where your start-ups and your creatives work together. But you also have classes and it becomes the hive of the community and this is where people come together,” she said. declared.

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Accommodation and transport

A persistent problem for the development of any part of Ireland is housing. Before the pandemic, the housing shortage had long been a burning issue. But since the start of the pandemic, the problem has become more acute with the cessation of construction activities.

In recent times, the activity of institutional investors in the housing market has attracted much public contempt.

O’Keeffe of Ludgate said rural regeneration efforts will have to cope with housing and that both authorities and county councils will need to “recognize that there will be an increase in population and that there will be a need for housing. to house “.

O’Keeffe recognizes that transport links between rural towns like Skibbereen and neighboring towns like Cork or further afield in Dublin also present challenges.

“It’s definitely a problem we have for ourselves, this estrangement, but I think digital activation is bridging the physical divide,” she said, adding that bridging the digital divide can help bridge the gaps. gaps in physical infrastructure such as transport links.

Flower said there is a significant opportunity to revitalize large swathes of the country that might otherwise be forgotten.

“A shipment of my friends from the last recession left for Australia and Canada and didn’t come back. We need to put images in people’s heads that they can come back and that they can work these jobs from. world class in remote parts of the country. “


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