Our Rural Future: 128 pages of lofty ideas, ambitions, no-stone-unturned, no challenge too much and all in 5 years. I feel I’m watching the Life of Brian, and that great line, apart from sanitation, wine, water, public transport etc. “What have the romans ever done for us?”
After 50 years of rural neglect this visionary document, Future of Rural Ireland, hopes to re-address the damage already done. My hope is that the energy and commitment contained within it is delivered in reality with tangible results achieved. If not, the worry is that it will be added to the pile of countless previous development plans, visions and hopes etc., all collecting dust.
This, in the context of the 1st Covid lockdown, is an exciting proposition. Covid alone has not changed our work practices, it has simply accelerated change that was coming anyway with, funnily enough, the potential to benefit areas beyond the key cities.
Now, following an almost overnight global, digital adoption, it is viable to live and work outside our major urban centres.
The reality is that from now on there will be much more flexibility in the how and the where we work. And while there will certainly be a need to return to the office environment, it is unlikely to be on a five-day basis.
This plan, Our Rural Future, is the government’s response, to something that was happening already. It seizes the opportunity needed to drive the revival of Rural Ireland, Covid has only served to speed up the inevitable.
So, let’s take the Government at their word. Let’s not kick the chair from under them, for once, but instead, let’s put the pressure on, to assist and deliver this in a positive and meaningful way.
So how do we do that?
We need champions, small teams of proactive professionals, at least one in each county, who can cut through the red tape and engage with the relevant bodies to do what is needed in order to push the Town Centre first agenda.
But we need to be clear, this plan will not be delivered by committee but by these Champions who, with the authority to knock heads together, will make things happen.
Our Rural Future is about delivery, delivery, delivery. The government has said there is money available, so there is nothing to stop us. Except the process. The red tape.
The one thing that isn’t mentioned in the Governments document is planning. Our planning process is obsolete, well past it’s sell-by-date and everyone involved in the process whether it’s the architect, the planner, the County Manager, the owners or stakeholders, everyone is frustrated by the process.
It’s time, therefore, to ask the Government to put this on their action list as one of their first steps to achieving their goal.
Chambers of commerce will be central to the creation of remote hubs to support the enlivened communities and businesses.
An excellent example to illustrate this can be seen in Clonakilty, Co. Cork, where the Chamber of Commerce and the local Council have been active in repositioning this rural hinterland as a cosmopolitan, friendly seaside resort. I remember it being a sad town and a hellish place to drive through. But today the town is alive with bustling streets, painted shop fronts, pedestrianisation and contemporary street furniture driving tourism and supporting local family businesses. So, we know it can be done.
Throughout our towns and villages there are buildings and spaces that are dying a death; court houses, bank buildings, schools, libraries, all crying out to become the heart and soul of the community once again.
A digital, remote working hub, in one fell swoop, provides a centre: A centre of excellence, of innovation, of social activity, of possibility and growth. And whether we like it or not, we are creatures of habit and we love nothing more than a good cuppa coffee and a gossip…. “should that house have won Home of The Year!”
We, Douglas Wallace, know from our experience that this can happen. We’ve done it before with huge success. The conversion of these buildings is do-able and it works. They create this amazing working environment, offering flexibility, resources, inspiration and motivation.
They nurture ideas.
The one thing that has been missing by not going to the office is the ability to spark off each other, agitating ideas, provoking inspiration and just sounding concepts out.
I’m all for this Government plan but It goes without saying, for it to deliver, towns and communities must have the ambition to embrace this change. I will support any town or village that wants to do this. I will be their champion. Not only that, I challenge my peers to step up and do the same. Be the champion for your local town and this great plan to assist and deliver on its strategic ambition.
Like being in an aeroplane, and putting your own mask on first, you can only help others when you help yourself first. Rural communities need to be willing to help themselves first before helping and supporting others to do the same. Let’s let this go viral!
And while there will be winners and losers as we reimagine our rural countryside towns and villages, we can deliver this and we can all be winners, even d’ Townies.