Local Heroes is a new jobs initiative which started on RTÉ TV, radio and online this week. It aims to support job creation and get Ireland moving again, starting at a grassroots level. Drogheda has been chosen as the launch pad. Alan Corr reports.

Sitting on the River Boyne between Belfast and Dublin, Drogheda is one of the oldest and biggest towns in Ireland. Surrounded by numerous places of historical interest and with a large population, it’s more than well placed to thrive, even in our difficult economic situation. But Drogheda is typical of many towns and communities in post-Celtic Tiger Ireland.

It’s felt the full effects of the downturn, with over 8,700 of the town’s workforce unemployed, the town centre facing meltdown, and heavy manufacturing industries on the wane. Shop Street may still be bustling but in outlying areas the ‘To Let’ signs are up and factory gates are padlocked. But Drogheda has always been a place that fights back and it is the ideal starting point for Local Heroes, RTÉ’s new jobs initiative project which hopes to put some vigour into ailing communities. Drogheda is also the kind of town which can set an example for the rest of the country as we struggle to pull ourselves out of the greatest economic downturn in our history.

Over the next six weeks on Local Heroes – A Town Fights Back we’ll witness people – job seekers, retailers, businessmen and women – as they work together to come up with and road-test imaginative solutions that could help their local economy start to recover and lead to job creation. The efforts of the people of Drogheda to save and create jobs in their community are intended to provide inspiration and guidance to other communities in similar situations.

Alongside Senator Feargal Quinn and an assembled team of experts – including entrepreneur Jerry Kennelly, brand expert Noel Toolan, strategic marketing expert Gary Joyce, brand consultant Pat Savage and recruitment expert Robert Mac Giolla Phádraig – we’ll see how harnessing local talent and imagination and acting locally can change the future of Drogheda and set an example for the rest of the country. The campaign will urge everyone, from individuals to businesses and communities, to become a Local Hero by taking action so that we can create and sustain jobs in Ireland. Individuals can become Local Heroes by pledging to shop local, buy Irish, holiday at home or become part of a Local Heroes group in their town. They can also use the Local Heroes Coupon, which offers rewards for buying goods and services that support local jobs. RTÉ’s Local Heroes Campaign will run across a number of programmes on RTÉ Television and Radio and there will be major online and print activity that will highlight and support the campaign. As the Local Heroes Campaign rolls out, there will be weekly updates on RTÉ TV on the campaign and information about how to get involved and what’s happening around the country on programmes as diverse as Nationwide, Four Live, The Business and The Daily Show.

Go to the RTÉ Local Heroes website at www.rte.ie/localheroes for a full catalogue of the ideas and initiatives piloted in Drogheda. The website will be a valuable resource, with information for individuals, groups, jobseekers and businesses about how they can get involved.

Drogheda’s Local Heroes

Local Heroes has already made a big difference in the lives of many Drogheda people. Alan Corr spoke to them.

The Job Seeker – Michelle Rock “I’m unemployed, my partner is unemployed and we have three young children – seven, four and two. I was working in a shop in Drogheda but I had to leave due to postnatal depression and now I want to work again but I just can’t get any work. I heard about Local Heroes when Drogheda was chosen as the lead town and I joined the page on Facebook and then I got in contact with people at The Hub, in Drogheda which is the local careers clinic. “It really has made a difference to me, it really has. Now I don’t feel like I’m on my own and I have someone helping me find work. When you’re looking for work it can be very off-putting. I’d get no replies back, no phone calls. I’d go for interviews, but I didn’t even bother keeping my hopes up for a job.

“Local Heroes has made a difference in Drogheda. It’s got people talking and they’re going into The Hub with ideas to regenerate the town. It has people talking and thinking of working together instead of sitting at home moaning, saying ‘oh, I wish I could do this, I wish I could do that’. Now people are sharing their ideas. There are other people who just go around the place moaning and there are people who want to get up off their backsides and help themselves.”

The Regeneration Team Member – Pádraic Kierans, Head of Drogheda Chamber of Commerce “Drogheda was chosen to launch Local Heroes because we’re the town that fought back. Drogheda, like so many Irish towns, has difficulties, with town centres facing meltdown with loss of retailers, loss of manufacturing businesses, but we’re also unique in the opportunities we have. We have a lot of tourism potential that hasn’t been realised yet and marketed. We do suffer from a high rate of unemployment but we are on the M1 economic corridor between Dublin and Belfast, we’re the gateway to the Boyne Valley and we’re 5km from Newgrange World Heritage Centre. We have so much to offer that hasn’t been branded and delivered on a national or international level.

“Local Heroes has had an impact already and there’s a huge sense of civic pride being delivered. It will be difficult for other people to measure the success of this project but for me I measure it by what happened when we called a public meeting for the first time. We had over 500 people in a room discussing all that was wrong with Drogheda but also all the potential for Drogheda. If we had locked up the door and walked away and said this Local Heroes thing is finished, it still would have been a success for me at that point.

“There is a real sense of empowerment on the ground for ordinary people. It is everybody pushing in the one direction, it is a unified effort. There is a much more positive outlook for everybody. We’ve done one-to-one mentoring with job seekers. There was one lady who volunteered to be an assistant in The Hub and within a week she had a job on the back of that; the first two people we did one-to-one mentoring with by the following week they had jobs. Local Heroes means tangible success.”

The Retail Volunteer – Interior architect Elaine Keogh “Local Heroes is a huge initiative for Drogheda and I got involved in the retail section of the project. I’m working on a couple of things – I’ve taken on a designing and co-ordinating the visual merchandising of all of the shop windows for Christmas. I’ve volunteered them my time and services to get all the displays done in a Christmas wonderland theme before November 30.

“I can see Local Heroes has already made a huge difference here in Drogheda. It’s gotten local business people talking to one another. Up until now everyone had this tunnel vision of ‘how am I going to help myself get out of this problem?’ but now we have a collective of people working together. I can already see business being generated in Drogheda because of Local Heroes, it might be one person getting hired here or one person getting hired there, but everyone is getting involved and volunteering their time. This is how it will work, with everybody working together and communicating.

“Local Heroes is a project that will finish but when it does, the groundwork will already have been done in Drogheda. We’re been asked to set an example for the rest of the country. Drogheda is a great town, it’s between Belfast and Dublin, we’ve got so many natural elements here but why doesn’t it work? Why doesn’t it work in the way Edinburgh works? It’s a historical town, there’s lots to see and do here. People just took their eye off the ball but I really think with all the effort people are putting in here with Local Heroes, it’s a starting off point. People in Ireland are good at talking but it’s the action that really counts. We want to show the rest of the country that there are people willing to get off their backsides and do something.”

Alan Corr