Connected Hubs demonstrate social change at scale

Connected Hubs Showcase Day 2023 this week lights the way for greater hubs infrastructure and reinvigorating our town centres.

What connects Ireland’s remotest communities such as Malin Head, Donegal with high tech business parks of Sandyford in Dublin? Town centres such as Dundalk with Killlorglin in the tip of Kerry? The first Connected Hubs Showcase Day, that’s what!

26th April 2023 saw hubs across the Connected Hubs network stage open day events as part of Ireland’s inaugural Showcase Day, a day highlighting the benefits of hub working in Ireland.

“To help localities not just survive but to thrive in this new reality there is a new mission for towns and villages of attracting investment remote/knowledge workers, homebuyers, shoppers and visitors to their place”

With more than 317 hubs now members of the Connected Hubs network the Showcase displayed their incredible variety and regional diversity with a focus on promoting why their hub and locality are great places for remote and knowledge workers.

National hubs infrastructure

Connected Hubs is a flagship initiative led by Minister Humphreys and the Department of Rural and Community Development and implemented by the Western Development Commission. The initiative was established in 2021 to connect and deepen the remote working infrastructure across rural Ireland.

With more than 50 hubs taking part in the first Showcase Day there were a variety of initiatives for the public to attend. Some counties hosted collaborative events highlighting the range of hubs located in their county.  Connected Hubs appointed a number of Showcase Day regional coordinators in a pilot model for mobilising and coordinating hubs across diverse localities. This model saw Kerry Showcase Day coordinator Maeve Lyons bring together Sneem Hub, Farranfore’s Centre for Smart Aging, Dingle Hub and the Killarney Innovation Centre together at the RDI hub in Killorglin to highlight their localities to an audience of business advisors, mentors, commercial estate agents and innovation driven enterprises considering a move to Kerry. Mayo saw the county Showcase Day coordinator Orla de Burca bring together in Belmullet the gteic hubs from Belderrig, Gweesalia, Aughleam and Greannai for a similar audience.

The North Midlands brought hubs from Leitrim (The Hive, Manor Hub, Mohill Enterprise Hub), Cavan  (Cavan Digital Hub) and Longford  (Co:worx) together in The Hive through the Leitrim Showcase Day coordinator Colm Keane. Donegal’s Carlene Lyttle gathered hubs from Inishowen Innovation (Buncrana), Clonmany, Malin Head, CoWork Plus @Spraoi in Carndonagh, Moville Family Resource Centre, Carrowmenagh Community Centre together in the Greencastle Community Centre for their “Inishowen Coworking Trail”. Limerick organiser Agnes Relihan brought five of Limerick’s Engine Hubs network together in Engine, Limerick, the same happened in Clare where organiser Urban McMahon brought members of the DigiClare hub network together at The Ennistymon Hub.

While collaborative events were a way of showing the growing strength of the network, many hubs also ran individual events promoting their hub with the slogan “Our hub, our locality, one community”. The slogan reflects the reality that a strong hub, a vibrant locality and engaged stakeholders are the ‘3 legs of the stool’ that can help deliver on the rural repopulation through remote work goals of the Department of Rural & Community Development’s ‘Our Rural Future’.

Speaking at Dundalk’s Creative Spark hub Showcase Day event Minister Humphreys TD made the point that it’s not just the practicalities of remote working that are important, Creative Spark and hubs across the country play a hugely important role for the community. The Minister mentioned her hearing in conversations with people and families that remote working saves up to two hours twice a day on commuting, time they now get to spend with family in their community.

Underpinning the Minister’s commitment to creating a national infrastructure of remote work locations, she pointed out that her department has invested over €100m in repurposing old buildings, Garda Stations, farm buildings, banks and much more across Ireland. Responding to the Minister, the manager of Creative Spark hub, Ciara Breen, said that she is biased on the subject of attracting remote/knowledge workers to create a vibrant community in Dundalk as she has spent her whole in Dundalk. Running a Showcase Day event focussed on town regeneration, hub users and their experience of returning to the area and working from the hub made perfect sense to her.

Sandyford’s Hub 17 in Dublin saw their Showcase Day event being the official opening by Minister of State Ossian Smyth TD of their new hub. Speaking at the event Minister Smyth said that all over the country hubs allow people to work flexibly and in their own communities with access to great facilities. Ger Corbett, CEO of Sandyford Business District highlighted that the new hub will help improve the experience of businesses, community groups and sporting organisations in the district. The provision of modern and innovative facilities designed to host meetings, gatherings and events, will only serve to enhance the Sandyford district as a place to locate.

Digital and green transition

Speaking at the Digital Dun Laoghaire hub event (the hub has been supported by Bank of Ireland since 2017) hub manager Eoin Costello highlighted the fact that Ireland faces two major transitions, the digital and green transition. The scale of the change facing our country needs catalysts at the grassroots level that can help enable and support the looming twin transitions for businesses, communities and people where they live.

He mentioned that hubs across the national network perform multiple functions, for example the Digital Dun Laoghaire Hub runs the town’s website and social media, helps upskill local small businesses, runs events such as ‘Why Choose Dun Laoghaire’ and many other activities that help future proof the town. As a result, he told the 50+ audience of Council officials, business owners and other stakeholders in the town’s economic development, that social change at scale is something that the Connected Hubs network, with 317 member hubs, is ideally positioned to facilitate given the right resourcing.

Eoin took the opportunity of the Showcase Day to launch Digital Dun Laoghaire’s inaugural ‘Digital First Communities’ Benchmark of Dun Laoghaire Town. The report, which is a collaboration between Digital Dun Laoghaire, Tidy Towns, DLR County Council’s Smart Dun Laoghaire and students from the Masters in Smart & Sustainable Cities at Trinity College Dublin, is intended to be a roadmap for positioning the town to attract investment, knowledge workers, home buyers, shoppers and visitors.

“We all know that the 21st century will see a paradigm shift brought about by the digital and green transition and that these transitions will have considerable socio economic impacts on localities,” Costello said.

“To help localities not just survive but to thrive in this new reality there is a new mission for towns and villages of attracting investment remote/knowledge workers, homebuyers, shoppers and visitors to their place.

“To drive this work year in, year out a new entity is needed with a presence on our individual high streets. As positive reports ripple out from the many hubs across the country it feels like this is a network that could help play a part in reimagining our future, where our towns and villages can embrace a sustainable future from the grassroots up,” said Costello.

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