A lot can be done in three years, an awful lot. Just ask the eight philanthropic volunteers behind the inception of an enterprise hub in Edgeworthstown which looks set to transform its fortunes for the absolute better.
'co:worx', when complete and ahead of its projected opening next June, will house up to 40 high tech entrepreneurs and businesspeople by offering co-working and hot desking facilities as well as cutting edge training opportunities thanks to the centre becoming a gateway hub for Athlone IT.
What’s more the hub will be housed inside the town’s former Ulster Bank premises which closed its doors amid much local angst in September 2017.
“Like the Main Street of many other towns it was getting very sparse and very sad looking,” said Hugh Quinn in his role as chairperson of Edgeworthstown Enterprise Hub CLG.
“The Ulster Bank leaving also meant the Credit Union had to go and a few other businesses so a few of us got together and decided how to make things better.”
Fortunately for Hugh and his seven other board members, the hub committee could call upon a number of already well established groups, headed by the likes of a Town Development body, Tidy Towns and Traders Association organisations.
The town’s train station was quickly identified as a main target point in which to try and entice prospective businesses and associates to the hub and in so doing lure spin off firms to the mid Longford town.
“The train station was bringing about 100 to 150 people a day out of Edgeworthstown and to Dublin and back in the evening,” added Hugh.
“We put together a plan to try and get a digital hub opened in the town so we identified the bank building and we created a business plan. We did a lot of surveys and we presented the council a business plan, how it can be done and how much it can be done for.”
Not that the local authority’s main protagonists typified by the likes of CEO Paddy Mahon needed much convincing.
The council moved swiftly in snapping up the building for around €150,000 and leased it back to Edgeworthstown Enterprise Hub CLG over a 20 year period.
But as with any ambitious venture of its kind, the group knew all too well that talking and catchy buzz-words would only get its grand blueprint so far.
What it needed and needed quick was cash. Happily for Hugh and the rest of the group, those yearnings were met by a €180,000 injection from former Rural Affairs Minister Michael Ring under the State’s Town and Village Renewal Scheme together with close to €200,000 in Leader funding.
Those pair of six figure boosts enabled the group to appoint Monaghan based firm Craft Studio as design architects, kick-start a major branding drive and add a Continuing Professional Development (CPD) to the hub’s overall appeal.
“Out of those two measures (architect tendering and branding drive) was borne our concept called co:worx,” said Hugh, in reference to the name of the new building.
Hugh’s air of positivity and all-round enthusiasm for the project was palpable as the Leader was given a guided tour of the building last Friday.
Not even the mention of Covid-19 brought an adverse twist to the plans for a project which is now entering its final and most exciting stage.
“The fact Covid happened made this project all the more relevant,” interjected Hugh confidently.
“Less and less people want to go to the urban centres to work and more and more companies in those centres want people to work remotely and working from home may not always suit so that’s the space that we fill to meet those demands.”
His assurance was perhaps made even more detectable by his revelation of how the hub committee planned to publish its final e-tender for the building’s full “fit out” ahead of its projected grand opening at the end of June.
Throw in the ongoing installation of a €4.5m state of the art library across the road and streetscape of a town which has endured its fair share of bad press over the past decade and suddenly you begin to understand the rationale for such upbeat and assertive logic.
“It’s unbelievable the amount of high paid, highly trained people who get on a train to go east on a daily basis,” remarked Hugh.
“We are trying to keep those people in town so they have an extra three hours in their day to use amenities around Edgeworthstown and Co Longford. It’s not just about Edgeworthstown.
“If you take this as a stand alone project, it will have a huge impact. This has facilities for 40 people to work out of the building plus a manager. The impact that that will bring alone is huge as far as cafes and other tertiary services and you factor that in with the new library that’s going in across the road and the new streetscape and the high speed broadband that’s already here.
“It’s going to be a huge game changer, a huge game changer.”
Given the vast strides the town has made over the past three years of so, who could argue with that?