Christmas is almost upon us and the doors and shop windows of many businesses that were closed during the Level 5 restrictions are back open. Our towns are busy again. People are spending money and supporting local businesses and jobs.
Despite the Christmas trade, 2020 has been a very difficult year for many businesses in our county. Kildare County Council has provided a range of supports to businesses to help keep them afloat through restrictions and reduced trade. Through our Finance Department, we have paid out over 3,000 restart grants to the value of €25m and over 4,000 rate payers have received a 9 month COVID waiver on their rates for 2020 with a value of €22m.Through the Local Enterprise office, over 550 trading online vouchers and more than 700 business continuity vouchers have been provided. A further 92 businesses were funded to improve their Shopfronts
Additionally, Kildare County Council is the first local authority in the country to have funded and developed a shared ecommerce website for Kildare business to support the move to online sales. The dedicated website highlights the offerings of over 300 Kildare businesses, and can be accessed at www.shopcountykildare.ie
Financial assistance is one side of our business support. Enabling trade in a safe and responsible environment is the other. We’ve worked with the business community to re-imagine and design our towns so that citizens feel comfortable and safe whilst shopping and going about their business. We have three areas of focus:
- providing safer public spaces for business and communities
- helping businesses to trade, by facilitating click-and-collect areas and ‘pick-up and delivery’ services, permitting increased opening hours and waiving licence fees for on-street furniture
- activation measures to help keep people safe, such as collaboration with the arts sector to enliven public areas
The already strong relationship with our businesses has been deepened on the back of strong cooperation from them to ensure appropriate communications and public signage on adherence to public health guidelines.
Promoting the County
The New Year will, of course, bring many of the same challenges for businesses that they have faced throughout 2020. The first quarter of any year is often challenging for businesses. We will continue to respond to requests from the hospitality and retail sector for ways to accommodate increased consumer demand. Local tourism will also be important during the first part of 2021. Kildare Failte, Kildare’s Tourism Board will continue to work to support the hospitality and tourism sector in 2021. Following the success of the “We Care in Kildare” and the “Be a Tourist in Your Own County” campaigns, the focus for early 2021 will be on the domestic tourist.
To this end, work is ongoing on the Royal Canal and Grand Canal Greenways and the Barrow Blueway – these amenities are a huge asset to the County and will attract domestic and international visitors, when it is safe to do so.
Furthermore, Kildare Failte, Kildare County Council and Failte Ireland are working together, with the equine industry, on a destination development plan for the “Thoroughbred Country”. The vison being to develop the world’s best collective thoroughbred visitor experience. In order to support this vision Kildare County Council, in partnership with the Department of Defence are also in the process of creating a masterplan for the Curragh Plains.
Enabling people to enjoy the arts in a safe way is also important. To this end we will continue to work with the creative community to see how the arts can be enjoyed by all in our community.
Whilst the economy will continue to need support, the same is true for our citizens and communities. At the end of March we established a Community Call Forum with stakeholders from across the public, community and voluntary sectors and the charity ALONE.
Since then we have provided a helpline to co-ordinate a response to those in need of social or practical supports because of their circumstances during the pandemic. This has included the delivery of food, groceries and medicines and other services to those who have needed them. We have also provided support for those experiencing isolation as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic. Since March, the helpline has received 1,491 requests and we’ve provided over 1,100 collection/delivery/transport services. Our helpline remains open to those who need help, those who know someone who needs help, or those who want to volunteer and provide help.
The Community Call Helpline can be contacted at: 1800 300 174
This new service is being provided alongside our regular day-to-day services that are offering people ways to relax, learn or be creative amidst the current challenges. During the period of the pandemic the Council’s staff had to adapt to new ways of working whilst continuing to provide the wide range of services to the citizens without interruption e.g. parks services, road maintenance, housing services, environmental services, Fire services, planning services.
Our library service is one example where local authorities had to adapt and be innovative. This year, due to restrictions such as the closure of our libraries for parts of the year, we introduced rapid changes to service delivery. We have promoted our eLibrary services like eBooks, audiobooks, online newspapers, magazines and e-learning courses, which all library members can access. We’ve rolled out a book delivery service, online streaming of storytime and a ‘click and collect’ service. Kildare Library Service have pivoted their events programme to allow access online. Online talks, books clubs, workshops, festivals and events have taken place covering areas such parenting in these difficult times, wellbeing, getting crafty, biodiversity, and lots of online activities to keep children and adults occupied. Library staff are providing one to one online digital training for older members of our community to build their skills to actively participate in their community. Thankfully, as the year ends, most of our branches are open again for browsing and click and collect services.
Kildare County Council provided safe access to customers during the pandemic with the introduction of the new appointment system, which facilitated 28,000 customers in the last 6 months.
Addressing Emerging Challenges – Pilot projects
In 2020, the Rural Development Investment Programme, including the Town and Village Renewal Scheme, was tailored to address the emerging challenges associated with COVID-19. For the Town & Village Renewal Scheme this means:
- A focus under the standard Town and Village Renewal Scheme on interventions that can respond to the new challenges associated with COVID-19 and support the economic and social recovery of our rural towns and villages;
- The introduction of a new strand of the Town and Village Renewal Scheme for 2020 that focuses on immediate interventions that can be delivered in the short-term to assist towns and villages to adapt to COVID-19.
Examples of types of projects which are being supported:
- Projects that can respond to COVID-19 challenges and aid the economic and social recovery over the medium term.
- The development of initiatives to encourage town centre living.
- Initiatives which attract increased footfall to the town/village, including those associated with tourism activities.
- Repurposing of existing buildings in town or village centres to facilitate remote working and/or other community use.
The Strategic Projects and Public Realm (SPPR) Team in Kildare County Council applied and were successful in securing funding from the Department of Rural and Community Development to trial tactical urbanism measures on a pilot basis in a number of locations to facilitate use of the public spaces by businesses and the wider community during this unprecedented time.
Pilot projects are underway in Kildare town and Naas. In keeping with the principles of tactical urbanism, these projects are low in cost and quick to install – the principle being that each space can easily revert to its previous use if unsuccessful. The SPPR team in Kildare County Council are working on similar projects for Newbridge, Leixlip, Celbridge and Maynooth. Details will follow in the coming weeks.
Your Elected Members and Staff
Central to the Council’s work this year have been our elected members. They have worked hard with staff and different sectors such as the business community to produce solutions and supports for the times we’re in. They took difficult budgetary decisions after careful scrutiny of the options. Like over 1,000 staff in the council, they too have had to adapt their work practices to keep the show on the road. Council meetings can now be held online.
2021 will undoubtedly bring many challenges to the communities and businesses of Kildare county. But it will also bring new opportunities for the Council to work with businesses, organisations and communities to find new ways to protect our citizens and local economy, for the times we’re in, and beyond.
Kildare County Council Christmas arrangements and contact details can be found at http://kildare.ie/CountyCouncil/PressReleasesAdverts/ChristmasandNewYearArrangements2020.html
Mark Stafford Cathaoirleach, Kildare County Council and Peter Carey Chief Executive, would like to take this opportunity to thank all those involved with the various initiatives above and to wish everyone a safe and Happy Christmas.