Six years into a deep recession, and across Ireland - towns and communities are struggling and unemployment remains stubbornly high. While it seems that much of our economic situation is beyond our control, every individual, business and community in Ireland has the power to make a difference to the wider economy. In December 2012, RTÉ Local Heroes, in association with MACE, invited applications from individuals or groups around the country who were doing something visionary to create jobs in their local communities.
Last year the town of Drogheda was transformed with the support and entrepreneurial spirit of the local community which saw hundreds of jobs created. This year Local Heroes will feature the stories of six inspirational Irish towns who are fighting back against the recession. For the last five months, presenter Joe Duffy has followed the progress of six of those projects. Travelling the length and breadth of the country Joe visits the towns of Wexford, Killaloe/Ballina, Boyle, Ballyshannon, Carrick-On-Suir and an initiative in the heart of Dublin City as groups and individuals come together, under the local heroes banner, to do their bit to boost their local economy and keep their town on the map.
In each town, the local heroes come up with a unique idea and set themselves a strict deadline to launch their initiative. Any success could help to sustain, or even in time create, jobs in each of these communities. The series follows these six projects over a three month period, to see if they really can make a difference.
Alex Banahan, Sales Director for MACE Ireland said: "As a local retailer operating in towns and communities across Ireland, MACE is very proud to be supporting a cause close to our own heart – local enterprise and employment. Our retailers are independent operators and like the Local Heroes highlighted in this series, are working hard to create sustainable and thriving communities. We congratulate those individuals and groups who are passionate about making a positive contribution to the places they live and work," he said.
Programme 1: Wednesday 8th May 2013
Killaloe/ Ballina Love Weekends
With only two busy months in the year for tourists, the idyllic and picturesque twin towns of Killaloe and Ballina are struggling. A local group of business people and volunteers have come together to attract people to the area in the off-season.
The group want to get a tourist initiative up and running before the summer season kicks in. After a few false starts, the group decides on 'love weekends'- discounts and offers aimed to bring couples to the town once a month. Everyone is on board, but with the clock ticking, they still have don't have bookings. After consulting a local marketing expert, Susie Horgan, she feels that while their product is good, their ability to promote it is letting them down - they need a unique event to spark interest in the weekends.
Programme 2: Wednesday 15th May 2013
Just four miles from the famous Donegal coast, Ballyshannon is a town hit badly by the recession. A group of volunteers within the town are hoping to attract tourists to the town by opening a local museum which will promote the theme of 'The Oldest Town in Ireland'.
However they face numerous challenges along the way from finding a space to getting the entire community to donate items – if they succeed, they hope to attract the bus loads of international tourists that tour Donegal throughout the year, boosting the local economy and providing jobs.
Once they have identified a space they will be depending on local unemployed carpenters and painters to work round the clock and get the space ready. The group have given themselves an ambitious deadline – can they do it.
Programme 3: Wednesday 22nd May 2013
A group of food producers in Wexford have come together to establish the Wexford Food Family brand in the hope that they can achieve more success as a group than they would individually. All the producers are working to sustain and create jobs, and most are family run operations. But can they really help each other as much as they'd like, or is everyone ultimately only worried about their own business? The group decide to pitch their products together as a unit, and to put on an event to launch the brand. They hope to attract chefs, retailers and hoteliers to their Wexford Food Feast and get them to buy into their idea.
Programme 4: Wednesday 29th May 2013
Two young Dublin men don't want to emigrate and have come up with an idea that they think will create jobs for themselves and others. Andrew Douglas and Paddy O'Kearney , with the help of a number of volunteers, are attempting to turn a rooftop in the north inner city into Dublin's first urban farm. The farm can provide eggs, mushrooms and herbs. But can they get local businesses to buy into the concept and start buying from them? A possible contract with The Boxty House restaurant puts them under pressure to get potatoes growing on the roof; but as their launch day looms, and with tonnes to soil being delivered to Parnell St, Andrew and Paddy wonder if they're in over their heads.
Programme 5: Wednesday 5th June 2013
Carrick-On-Suir is another town facing a really tough economic struggle. The town prides itself on not being 'an English High street'- with all the shops being locally owned. But with most residents commuting to work in Clonmel or Waterford, the town is empty during the week. Two businessmen from the town have come up with the idea of a weekly 'Golden Discount Day'. The idea is to promote Carrick-on-Suir as a day trip destination for pensioners, with the help of the local active retirement group. They must convince the rest of the businesses to come on board with discounts. But with only days to go, it seems even people in Carrick aren't sure what's going on. Can they get the word out to enough people for their launch day to be a success?
Programme 6: Wednesday 5th June 2013
The Local Heroes group in Boyle, Co. Roscommon, are keen to attract more people into their town. Lough Key Forest Park, just three miles out of town, has over 80,000 visitors a year. Attracting these visitors would be a massive boost to Boyle. The local Men's Shed decide to built a model railway, which could attract families on day trips. In order to fund the railway, they must convince local businesses to invest in it – everyone will benefit if they can make this a success. They need a decent premises, and the disused courthouse, an iconic building in the centre of their town, is the obvious choice. But can they convince the local council to help? And get the railway open in time for summer?