Sligo County Council is responding to the challenge presented by Covid by coordinating a range of positive measures to boost commercial activity and renew the shopping experience in Sligo.
Council takes extraordinary and unprecedented measures to boost local economy
With the imminent opening of a transformed O’Connell Street, the roll out of re-start grants for local businesses, the implementation of a waiver scheme for rate payers, a coordinated effort is being made to assist local enterprise with a range of important supports in the critical months ahead.
O’Connell Street enhancement
The O’Connell Street Enhancement Project involves the refurbishment of Sligo’s busiest commercial zone and pedestrian thoroughfare. The main design ethos was to create an improved pedestrian zone by enhancing the quality and attractiveness of the urban environment, creating an interconnected metropolitan space that will facilitate commercial and residential opportunities for the undeveloped and underutilised sites in the O'Connell Street area.
Local Enterprise Office
The Sligo Local Enterprise Office (LEO) is the first-stop-shop for those entrepreneurs starting a small business or expanding an existing one. It provides an integrated support service focusing on the needs of small businesses from the Council’s offices in City Hall.
Covid-19 has changed radically the way in which the services of the LEO are now delivered, from fact to face interaction with clients to online delivery. The type of services being delivered was also extended to assist businesses deal with the new challenges posed by Covid-19. Online training on safely reopening food, hair/beauty and retail businesses, delivering professional services online, managing remote working and other topics aimed at assisting compliance with Covid-19 guidelines were introduced.  In parallel, courses such as starting a business, management, sales, marketing (including through social media) and finance were shifted online, having to that point been delivered by trainers in our training room in City Hall. Likewise, the delivery model for one to one business advice provided through either the Office’s Business Adviser or contracted specialist mentors was also changed to online.
The process of applying for and being approved grant aid, aimed primarily at businesses in the manufacturing and internationally traded sectors, moved fully online. Despite the huge hit to businesses, the Office has continued to receive (and approve) applications for grant aid, many of them adding jobs.
Business continuity vouchers
The LEO benefited from significant additional funding from Government through Business Continuity Vouchers, which provided specialist consultancy to businesses to assist them navigate their way through the pandemic. That scheme was open for applications until 15 May last, at which point 282 applications had been received. The LEO also received significant additional funding for Trading Online Vouchers, aimed at assisting businesses to trade, conduct business and accept payments online. 104 of these vouchers have been allocated to date and a further allocation is anticipated very shortly under the Government’s recently announced Jobs Stimulus Package.
Digital futures manufacturing centre
The LEO’s role in assisting broader economic development through the advancement of tourism, workspace, and city centre developmental activities also continued. A very welcome funding announcement by Enterprise Ireland for a new Digital Futures Manufacturing Centre to be based in the Council building in Market Yard was announced recently. That announcement flowed from the work of the LEO, IT Sligo and Leitrim County Council working in partnership to provide a flagship project in Sligo to promote knowledge and implementation of cutting-edge innovation by accelerating the application in businesses across the North West region of relevant industry 4.0 technologies such as artificial intelligence, robotics, cobotics, internet of things, 3D printing, augmented and virtual reality and next-generation cyber security tools. The Centre will specialise in the automation of manufacturing supply chain management.
Significant infrastructure projects
John Reilly, Head of Enterprise, spoke of the terrible toll which Covid-19 has taken on society, including on many businesses. He reflected on the huge progress that was in train in Sligo pre-Covid, from significant infrastructure projects, many involving Sligo County Council, to job announcements, funding announcements, flagship projects such as the National Mountain Biking Centre, the new Surfing Centre of Excellence in Strandhill, the many fine walkways completed in recent times and others planned.
Visitor friendly destination
He said “Progress such as I have outlined and the many projects I have mentioned may have been slowed down but most of it can be resumed. The infrastructure and other groundwork is continuing to be laid to further enhance Sligo’s growing reputation as a positive, visitor friendly and technologically advancing destination. The staff of the LEO have worked hard to play our part, having assisted approximately 570 businesses to participate on our free online training and advisory programmes since the pandemic began, provided 95 with online mentoring, allocated 104 Online Trading Vouchers, processed 282 applications for Business Continuity Vouchers and allocated around €300,000 to qualifying businesses by way of grant aid. I want to acknowledge and thank the staff of the LEO for their efforts and to assure client businesses that we will continue those efforts for the duration of this pandemic and beyond”.
Waiver of Tables and Chairs license
In light of the ongoing COVID-19 challenge, Sligo County Council is actively engaging with local business owners to facilitate the placing of tables and chairs outside premises such as cafes, restaurants and bars. A license is required for the placing of any street furniture on public property, and to facilitate this initiative, no license fees will be sought for any such application (normally €125 per table).
Prospective applicants are advised to contact the planning section of Sligo County Council for advice on the process prior to applying. It is important to ensure that any such apparatus does not interfere with the movements of pedestrians and other vulnerable road users, particularly in light of current physical distancing requirements.
Heritage regeneration initiative
The Heritage Council recently awarded €200,000 to a heritage-led regeneration initiative in the town this year. The Heritage Office of Sligo County Council in partnership with Sligo BID, the property owners and the local community were awarded €200,000 under the Historic Towns Initiative 2020. The award is being further supported with €50,000 in funding from Sligo County Council as well as private investment from property owners.
The Historic Towns Initiative is local authority, business and local community-led and has heritage considerations at its heart. Experience has shown that places that have a strong civic pride in their historic buildings, invest in their historic environment and employ best conservation practice, are those that make the most attractive places ‘to live, work and visit.’
The Restart Grant provides direct grant aid to micro and small businesses with the costs associated with reopening and re employing workers following COVID-19 closures. Eligible businesses who have stayed open throughout the crisis, as well as those who re-opened under Phase 1 (from 18 May) and Phase 2 (8 June) of the Government’s Roadmap for Reopening Society and Business were eligible to apply for the Restart Grant.
A Temporary COVID-19 Mobility Plan for Sligo town centre will improve physical distancing for pedestrians on the busier town core centre streets during the COVID-19 pandemic. The plan was prepared by Sligo County Council having consulted with Sligo BID Business Members and other various stakeholders, including consideration of representations made on behalf of vulnerable road users and cyclists. The plan is a ‘living document’ and will be subject to review over the coming weeks and months ahead, as Government and HSE advice on social distancing is updated.
Sligo Tourism’s ‘Digital Marketing’ initiative aims to grow the number of overseas visitors to the region, as well as the amount of money tourists spend in the county. Key elements of the campaign include the development of visitor experiences and packages which will focus on the off-season and shoulder months of the tourism calendar, which traditionally stretch from October to March.
Sligo Tourism will collaborate with a number local tourism networks while running the campaign, including Adventure Sligo, Sligo Food Trail, Sligo Walks, and South and West Sligo Tourism.
County Sligo with its unique and distinctive landscape possesses all the attributes to contribute to making it a compelling visitor destination. The adoption of a countywide Tourism Strategy means that there is an agreed road map in place to achieve the vision set for Sligo which is: “to have its rightful place as one of Irelands most vibrant and iconic tourism destinations focused on the unique culture, heritage and natural assets of the county.’
This is just a snapshot of the many initiatives instigated or supported by Sligo County Council and its partner agencies as Sligo ‘gets back to business’.