Community At A Crossroads #42 #cong19


Much of Ireland has suffered in recent years, once bustling regional towns have fallen into decay and communities are struggling to survive. Many attempts have been made to tackle the issues but we’ve witnessed only limited success. It’s time we pushed aside our own self-interest and truly come together to help solve the challenges we face. Our communities are at a crossroads and it’s up to us to decide which route to take.

4 Key Takeaways:

  1. Lend our voices to identifying the challenges that exist in the communities around us
  2. Advise our networks to look for collaboration rather than individual efforts
  3. Seek out existing community forums and strengthen them by our participation
  4. Support community initiatives as they arise
  5. Spend our income in the communities in which we live
  6. Share our learning’s with the world

About Darragh Rea:

Darragh has worked in communications since 2002, helping his clients successfully navigate an ever-changing media ecosystem. Over those 17 years much has changed but the importance of telling impactful and relevant stories based off true insight and amplified across the right channels hasn’t. ​

Darragh has led the huge growth of the Edelman Digital business in Dublin over the last 5 years building a team of paid, creative and strategy experts who work with clients such as KBC, Mars, Unilever, Irish Distillers, Coca-Cola, Pfizer, SSE Airtricity, Deep RiverRock, Xylem, Jacobs and Novartis.​

Darragh is a Council Member of the Marketing Society of Ireland, a judge of the All Ireland Marketing Awards, a speaker at DMX Dublin and a Board Member of Triathlon Ireland. He graduated with an honours BSc. Economics and Finance degree from University College Dublin and has completed numerous additional training courses including the Digital Marketing Executive Programme with the Marketing Institute. ​

Contacting Darragh Rea:

You can contact Daragh by email,  follow him on Twitter, connect on LinkedIn or see his work at Edelman.

By Darragh Rea

I grew up in a thriving market town, it was the type of place you felt safe in and new amenities were added every year. We had a 25m swimming pool when very few other towns our size could get one, a state of the art sports complex was opened in my teenage years and would play host to many a game of indoor soccer, squash or badminton. Our cinema might not have shown the newest films but it did provide an option on a wet day. In latter years there was a vibrant nighttime scene with good restaurants and plenty of pubs to entertain us. But when the sun shone the place really transformed from stunning walks in the glen to cycle rides along quiet country roads, pitch and putt in the hills and hurling and football on the fields.

Many of those facilities remain in the town and we’re still blessed with some of the most breathtaking walks in all of Ireland but on my most recent visit back I was struck just how much the town has struggled. The main street where once we enjoyed street parties is now a collection of rundown buildings and closed pubs, restaurants and shops. Clean, safe streets have been replaced with dirtier, rougher alternatives and even the really good businesses that I grew up with are feeling the strain. Friends who still live in and around the town talk of anti-social behavior, closed businesses and a community under pressure. There is some hope that the recent confirmation of Deis status on the town’s schools will help, but mostly there is a sense of exasperation that it’s fallen so far. You’d be forgiven for thinking that this is the result of some mass exodus to find work further afield but in reality the town’s population has grown substantially over the last few years. We could spend decades asking why and how this has happened but the truth is these are complex questions and finger pointing won’t change the past. We must instead focus our energy on what we can do to change the direction of this and many more regional towns who have suffered similar falls.

I’m heartened by the fact that we have so many of the ingredients required to help turn the town around but the frustration I sense from friends is the lack of co-ordination of collective efforts to arrest the decline. So what can be done?

I’ve been attending Cong for the last 5 years and each year I’m blown away by the experience, the participatory nature of the day, the openness to listen, to debate, to share knowledge and expertise. It feels like a brilliant study in what community should be about – and moreover a template as to how we can start to direct our collective efforts towards the betterment of the communities in which we live and operate.

Unfortunately, all too often, and mostly despite the best intentions of those involved, efforts to support community are too fragmented and instead of fulfilling the mission they strive for, they often become an unwitting part of the challenge.  For many this is down to a desire to have “ownership” over a particular activity, for others it is simply due to a lack of credible focus for their efforts. Take any major community challenge from housing to education and you’ll find examples of multiple stakeholders, all with the same stated end goal, working on separate and not always complimentary programmes.

I believe we need to examine the existing approach to community engagement where we sometimes inadvertently let self-interest get in our way and instead look at ways to collaborate and create an environment where participants unite to solve common challenges. This collaboration calls for stronger roles from our local chambers and councilors and greater participation from the wider public. To do this we need to create a forum whereby we can actively identify the major challenges a community faces and start to look for meaningful solutions from all interested parties. This could be through financial commitment, policy review or by simply directing the energy of volunteers to a common purpose.  We’ve had examples of this type of collaboration in the past and in some parts of the country there are already hugely active Local Development Companies working tirelessly to create meaningful outcomes but effective collaboration shouldn’t be the exception it should be the rule.

I’ve always been hugely impressed by communities like Clonakilty who have a hugely progressive and engaged grouping of businesses, NFPs and committed individuals who are creating tangible positive outcomes. You only have to look at the pioneering work they undertook to become Ireland’s first Autism Friendly town.  They did so by working together to solve what was a real challenge for some in their community and in doing so have inspired others to follow.

If we can foster such collaboration and create functioning forums whereby problems can be identified together, then people within the wider business network can make informed decisions on where we can begin to direct business resources and energy to meaningful community impact.

In the case of the town where I grew up, I can imagine a future where local businesses supported by government and community stakeholders can begin to truly share their views on how to reboot the story. Perhaps it’s a change in how we use our town centres and a return to the market structure of old, maybe it’s a dedicated tourism effort that unlocks the beauty of the surrounding countryside, or maybe its these and more – the fact is unless a credible forum is created where everyone connected with the town can truly partake in its future we’ll end up with more false starts and disappointing closures.