THE suburban Cork village of Douglas has enjoyed increased footfall, a “fantastic atmosphere” and a new lease of life in the area since the reopening of shops, restaurants, bars and gyms.
Bar managers, shop owners, community groups and sportspeople have welcomed the “buzz that is back” in their community after months of uncertainty, which have been “extremely tough on so many”.
Fine Gael councillor Deirdre Forde said that she was thrilled to see life return to Douglas after the village was “so silent for so long”.
She said that, while the village is significantly busier since the reopening, businesses still face challenges and need to be supported.
“It’s great to see the businesses in the area trying their best to try and recoup some of the losses that they suffered over the last year,” she said.
“People take great pride in the area. There’s a very close-knit community which centers around Douglas village and we just need to bear that in mind and support our own locally.”
She said she was delighted with the new parklet in the village, which she was instrumental in getting, and said that, while it was a start, Douglas “needs many more things to give it that village atmosphere”.
“We need a couple of the junctions changed to make traffic flow more easily and to help the shops because we want people to come in.
“We have the city development plan coming up and there are big plans for Douglas and plans are under way, but we need the money and the push and the action now behind those plans because Douglas is important to so many people and we don’t want to lose out to other areas of the city,” she said.
Douglas GAA chairman Aidan O’Connor said that it had been fantastic to have players back on the pitch, with sport sorely missed within the community over the last few months.
“When you’re involved in sport, you don’t realise until the whole thing is taken away from you how much of a gap it leaves. Something that was a huge part of people’s lives was taken away from them, whether it was playing, watching a team training or going to matches,” Mr O’Connor said.
“Up until sport came back, you were losing contact with people because you’d be used to meeting a person maybe three or four times a week and then we didn’t know what was going on because you weren’t seeing people.
“By our nature, we crave contact with people and then it became normal that we weren’t even talking to our neighbours because no one was going outside the door,” he said.
He said the vaccination programme was showing people that there was a light at the end of the tunnel and the return to sport had hugely helped many people who were “very down in the dumps”.
“We were working away doing maintenance and the housekeeping, but there was nothing at the end of it. Whereas now, we have something to work towards; our players are back out on the pitch and that’s what it’s all about,” Mr O’Connor said.
He said that GAA clubs are more prepared in relation to Covid-19 protocols, such as keeping records of who is training in what pods, and young people could enjoy interacting with others again in a controlled environment.
Barry’s of Douglas general manager Michael Kilmartin said that he and his staff members were looking forward to “a very busy summer” following its recent successful reopening.
He said that online bookings had been “exceptionally busy”, with people booking ahead to secure their places in the new beer garden.
The large outdoor area has “proved popular” since reopening and Mr Kilmartin said they were also looking forward to being able to seat people indoors again from July 5.
He said that staff were thrilled to have their customers back, particularly regulars and older clientele, who are meeting each other again after so long.
“We’re a suburban bar. We have very regular clients and, especially in the morning, we would find that older people meet up for a coffee. It’s great to see them back out because, for a long time, people were a bit uneasy about coming out, especially older people and it’s great to see them back out and about. They’re definitely a lot more confident and it’s great to see,” he said.
He said that people were “happy to be out and about again” and that we had all missed the freedom of being able to come and go as we pleased.
The restaurant ran a takeaway service throughout lockdown, which saw a limited staff working at the premises, but Mr Kilmartin said that he was “thrilled” to have the whole team back again after months of being apart.
Interiosity at St Patrick’s Mills in Douglas has enjoyed a welcomed increase in business since reopening, with co-owners Caroline Breen and Nicole Reid welcoming many new faces through their doors.
“We are thrilled to be back open because we were getting to a point that, if we didn’t open soon, things weren’t looking too good because we still had all the same rents and rates and expenses, and it was dragging on with very little income,” Ms Breen said.
She said that, while they do have a website, it was hard to capture the shop online so it wouldn’t have maintained them for much longer.
“The website and Instagram would have increased our profile a lot, so we did have a lot of new customers and those who were looking at it for months online were dying to come in and see things in the flesh.
“Customers were falling in the door with delight just to be able to look at things and feel things,” she said.
She said that they enjoyed a “very busy” first few weeks after reopening and that customers had been “so lovely”.
“They’re saying to us welcome back and we’re saying to them welcome back because we’re so delighted to see them as well. There has been a lot of support for us,” she said.
Nearby Cork Craft and Design operations manager Carol Walsh said that people were looking to source local products and to support Cork makers instead of buying from large chains such as Amazon.
“In the months that we were opened last year, we did better than those months in the previous year, which shows the amount of support we got. We had a whole ‘made local’ campaign and people really did have such an appetite for supporting local.
“We’ve been so well supported; there’s been a real drive to support local in Cork,” she said.
Douglas Village Shopping Centre manager Bartosz Mieszala said that it had been “absolutely fabulous” to welcome back non-essential shops.
“The whole community of Douglas was really waiting for their return. TK Maxx in particular because it’s such an important shop for the area, as well as all the other boutiques that we have and other stores. We were really busy with people coming in for a bit of a browse and to look through the rails.
“We also had Dennehy’s Health and Fitness reopen too, which has been great for people. It created more footfall instantly. There are way more people and it feels great around the shopping centre at the moment.
“The next step that we’ll really look forward to, and it’s really important to us, is the return of indoor seating at cafes to allow customers to have a place where they can have a break, where they can sit down and have a coffee or quick bite and recharge before they continue with their shopping experience.”
He said that it had also been “so nice” to see older customers that he hasn’t seen in a long time back in the centre doing their shopping.
One of the heroes of Douglas when it comes to working with those elderly people in the community is Young at Heart Douglas Seniors Organisation founder Phil Goodman, who is now focusing on helping people to reverse the adverse effects of social isolation. She is helping people to regain their confidence and re-establish their friendships, and is also helping to promote independence and a sense of self after lockdown.
She aims to do so through an art project, which she hopes will run at Douglas Village Shopping Centre in the form of a mural representing how elderly people in the community are overcoming the hardships of the last 14 months.
“I’m hoping to have a mural likening a tree. As we’re coming out of Covid, we’re all down at the roots and each month there’ll be a branch added to that tree as we climb that tree and, at the top of the tree, there are butterflies so, in other words, we were all confined for the last 14 months and we’re now coming out ready to spread our wings and to forget the last year,” she said.
The mural would symbolise what older people had gone through over the last year and also represent hope and “how grateful people are that they are still here and able to live their lives”, Ms Goodman said.
“I think most people realised that it wasn’t the material things they missed, it was the human contact and we all craved the company of others. Joyful conversations and hugs are what mattered most and it’s what life is all about.
“As a society, we can work together to bring about a healthy environment to ensure that everyone can enjoy physical and mental health and wellbeing,” she said.