FOR Adrienne Harrington, the newly appointed CEO of the Ludgate Hub in Skibbereen, moving to West Cork and leaving her secure job in the civil service was a no-brainer.
Adrienne, a Dubliner, is full of plans for her new home along the Atlantic Way. She is currently renting a house in Caheragh and plans to buy a home in West Cork with her data analyst partner who is in the process of relocating from Dublin.
“Back in Dublin, I have a polytunnel for growing vegetables,” says Adrienne. “We’ll transfer it to West Cork and will expand it and we’ll keep chickens and have an orchard full of fruit trees. That’s the plan.”
Adrienne has worked as principal officer at the department of the Taoiseach for the past three years with responsibility for data protection and digital policy. Prior to that, she held roles as head of the secretary general’s office and head of ICT strategy at the Houses of the Oireachtas as well as CEO of the Psychological Society of Ireland. She holds a Masters in business studies and a doctorate in governance from Queen’s University in Belfast.
Adrienne also worked as a volunteer in rural Namibia, educating chiefs of tribes about HIV and AIDs. That was six years ago when she was in her mid 40s. It was something she always wanted to do and was keen to transfer her skills so that she could leave a legacy behind her.
“Namibia taught me self-reliance,” she said. All my normal support structures were gone.”
Adrienne is clearly self-reliant and has had her eye on the Ludgate Hub for some time.
“I applied for the CEO job in March. There were about 50 applicants, from all over the world. A lot of people living away wanted to come back. It’s an attractive job in a great part of the world. I went through all the elements of the recruitment process and was offered the job.”
The Ludgate Hub, a space with facilities for different types of businesses, has the fastest broadband in the country through SIRO and Vodafone.
“Our goal is the creation of 500 direct jobs and 1,000 indirect jobs in West Cork facilitated by the digital economy. The Ludgate Hub isn’t just about the building. It’s about a community, not just in Skibbereen. It’s about the wider West Cork, allowing it to benefit from digitisation.”
Adrienne says that in the whole of Skibbereen, there are 2,500 premises, commercial and residential.
“All of them have access to the same level of connectivity. It’s absolutely crucial to have a good connection to run a business. You can’t run a business if you have to run up to the top of a hill to get a connection.”
Rolling out broadband for the whole of Ireland has been promised by successive governments but is complicated, says Adrienne.
She points to a new coffee shop that has just been opened across the road from the hub as an example of a support business.
“Obviously, a lot of the business for the cafe is going to come from the hub. Our goal is these kinds of support services and industries. So far, we have 35 people operating from the hub. We have four start-ups that got seed funding from the hub itself. We had a half million euro seed-fund call during the summer. Now, we’re in the process of negotiating with five other companies in relation to that. If it all works out, we’ll double the numbers.”
Businesses at the hub include that belonging to a dietician from Drimoleague who runs a Harley Street business from Skibbereen.
“We also have a number of website developers, graphic designers, a travel agent business and a business selling educational tools online. There’s also a video content company. We’ve had the first relocation from Dublin, a company called xSellco, which is a support company for call centres. They set up a satellite office in Skibbereen and plan to double their staff there by the end of the year and expand again next year. So there’s a great mix there.”
Adrienne points out that one of the issues affecting start-ups, apart from the lack of broadband connectivity in rural Ireland, is the absence of talent “because an awful lot of people have had to leave the country over the years”.
She adds: “Last November, at Digital Week, there was a conversation with the IDA and Enterprise Ireland about how more jobs could be brought to Skibbereen. How can we guarantee that we have the talent? The hub took up that challenge and set up a website called Talentspace. We now have over 500 people registered on it, so for people willing to come and work in Skibbereen, there are different technical skills available.”
This is making Skibbereen attractive to people from Australia, the US, Canada and Asia.
“A lot of these people have West Cork connections or are originally from the area and want to move back.”
The Ludgate Hub building, formerly a bakery and before that a cinema, was donated by board member John Field. As well as resulting in a return of the diaspora, it is facilitating job growth via digital technology. The long term goal is to make Skibbereen a hotspot for technology start-ups and multi-nationals to locate and prosper there at a global level.
“The hub is primarily financed by private investment with a small amount of government funding. Businesses using the hub pay rent so it generates its own income.”