The initiative, being rolled out on a pilot basis, will see financial supports provided to publicans in rural areas to diversify their facilities for community use.
Modelled on a similar scheme in the UK, ‘Pubs as Community Hubs’ is designed to utilise pubs during quiet trading times into the likes of digital hubs, community cinemas, book clubs, arts and crafts workshops and community meeting spaces.
Funding of €50,000 has been provided to the Vintners Federation of Ireland which will select five pubs in Cavan, Kerry, Donegal, Clare and Cork as part of the pilot programme.
The Rural Development Policy 2021-2025 – Our Rural Future includes a pilot scheme to support the use of rural pubs as community spaces and hubs for local services. The initiative, which was a commitment under ‘Our Rural Future’ is set to be expanded to other parts of the country if the pilot is a success.
“The local pub is part of the fabric of Rural Ireland,” said Minister Heather Humphreys in announcing the new initiative in The Keeper’s Arms in Bawnboy, County Cavan, recently, “Traditionally down through the years it’s where people in rural communities have come to meet with their friends and neighbours to socialise. In recent years our rural pubs have faced challenges and those challenges were exacerbated further during the pandemic.
The new initiative which she has launched in collaboration with the VFI is about exploring how the rural pub can be utilised as a space for community activities and services, she explained.
“Often people in rural areas might have to travel many miles to access certain services. In other instances, there may not be a suitable meeting place for local groups to come together for activities. Through the ‘Pubs as Community Hubs’ initiative we want to see how rural pubs can diversify during quiet trading times by acting as community cinemas, book clubs and meeting spaces for local community groups.”
The Minister continued, “As part of ‘Our Rural Future’, I committed to developing a pilot scheme to support the use of rural pubs as community spaces and hubs for local services. A similar concept is already being rolled out in parts of the UK – it sees pubs being utilised as digital hubs, community cafes, arts and crafts workshops, libraries and markets for local food producers. The possibilities are endless, but the goal is simple – supporting our rural pubs so that they can continue to be a focal point in our rural communities where friends and neighbours can gather for a range of services and activities into the future.”
VFI Chief Executive Padraig Cribben welcomed the initiative, stating, “Pubs are a vital part of Irish life but as local communities evolve it’s more important than ever to understand how our pubs can continue to enhance their offering to the villages and towns they serve. The Pub as Community Hub pilot programme is a fantastic opportunity to examine how pubs will thrive in rural localities well into the future, so I’d like to pay particular thanks to Minister Heather Humphreys TD and the Department of Rural and Community Development for the funding that will allow us develop the project. Upon completion these pilot projects will offer a roadmap for our members as they navigate the coming challenges and opportunities faced by the rural hospitality sector.”
Sheila & Bryan McKiernan are the proprietors of The Keeper’s Arms in Bawnboy, County Cavan and Sheila outlined their plans to install a community cinema under the new initiative.
“We hope that the cinema will cater in particular for elderly people during the daytime,” she stated, “The nearest cinema in Cavan Town is almost 40km away so we think there will be strong demand from the local community.
“We’re going to be using funding from the pilot programme to secure a projector and screen, new cinema seating and black-out blinds. I’ve spoken to local community organisations who fully intend to support the cinema. The general view is that the cinema will promote local community integration and assist with combating rural isolation.
“Ireland is changing, but through initiatives like this the pub can still be at the heart of rural communities – sometimes it just takes a little bit of thinking outside the box.”
In the coming weeks the VFI will refine proposals with local community groups in rural Cavan, West Clare, West Donegal, East Kerry and West Cork before submitting funding proposals to the Department for consideration.
Funding is being made available from the Department’s CLÁR Innovation Measure and the project will address specific challenges faced by communities in CLÁR areas such as rural isolation and village decline.
It’s anticipated that up to six projects will be funded to serve as exemplars to other rural pubs. Family-run pubs have serviced local communities for generations. Falling demand coupled with the strains of dealing with Covid-19 have really challenged these businesses. This policy has the potential to use sometimes underused spaces for the benefit of local communities.
This initiative is focused on ensuring the viability of these important community assets while at the same time it aims to identify opportunities to enhance their use by the local community.