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CITY TRIBUNE

Businesses fight back to save jobs and ‘keep the lights on’

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Fergus O'Halloran of The Twelve in Barna: has managed to keep 15 jobs.

With business owners facing the battle of their lives to stay afloat at the moment, a number of Galway restaurants, bars and shops have found inventive ways to stay ticking over in the midst of the Covid-19 crisis.

While some always had take-away and delivery services, others have had to change their business model almost overnight just to ‘keep the door open and the lights on’.

One such business is BóTown, a burger restaurant on Dominick Street which was amongst the first eateries in Galway to close its restaurant and switch to a takeaway service.

Co-owner Frank Greaney says the decision was one that was made with a heavy heart and followed some very “long and difficult conversations” with business partner David Fitzpatrick – but was made in the knowledge that it was for the wellbeing of staff and customers.

“Overnight, we changed our business model from a busy restaurant to a stand-alone takeaway service,” he explains.

“We imposed measures to protect staff, deliver a service and provide a facility to collect food; we put in a protective shield at two entrances – one for delivery drivers and the other for people collecting,” says Frank.

A limit on the number of orders at any one time has helped to ensure that there’s no queuing on the narrow footpath outside, he says, and thankfully, business has been good.

Foremost in their thoughts were staff, who he said they did everything possible to keep on. Four full-time staff have remained in their roles, but part-timers have had to be temporarily let go.

“We helped them out as much as possible with filling out the forms for the Covid Payment and we hope when things return to normal, we can take them back,” he says.

Free takeaways have been made available to these members of staff, while a service providing food to people ‘back West’ who have fallen on hard times is also in operation.

Since BóTown opened its doors almost two years ago, it has built up a loyal customer base and keeping in touch with them is hugely important, says Frank.

A social media running challenge for customers has been set up to raise money for charity, with ‘Run for a Bun’ connecting 100 people selected to run or walk 5km a week during lockdown, recording their activity on the Runkeeper app.

The plan is to have a charity run and barbeque for participants when lockdown restrictions are eased – with a €25 entry fee for participants going to support Claddagh Watch waterways patrol. The response has been phenomenal, says Frank, so much so that the initial target of 25 participants had to be capped when applications reached 100.

While some customers ring in their order, many use apps such as Deliveroo, Just Eat and Uber Eats – all of which take a hefty percentage of what the customer pays for their food. While there isn’t a huge amount of profit to be made, Frank says it’s important to keep going.

“It’s about staying open in some capacity; keeping people in jobs. It’s not about lining our pockets – it’s just to keep the lights on,” he says.

Another business entering the take-away world as a result of Covid is The Twelve in Barna, where Managing Director Fergus O’Halloran says their collection service has been running for the past seven weeks, and has turned out to be a big hit.

“We’ve tried to develop what people wanted; we did three course menu for Mother’s Day and that was very early on in all of this.

“We’ve refined the menu and we test every dish to see what it will be like 20 minutes after it leaves the restaurant. Every week, we fine-tune it a bit; we have a lot of returning customers and they like to see something different on the menu every week,” says Fergus.

As well as this, The Twelve has also started running a ‘Take and Bake’ pizza service where customers can collect all the bits required to recreate the restaurant’s hugely popular pizzas in their own home.

Also famous for its cocktails, Fergus says they’ve now started offering customers nationwide the opportunity to buy them online and have them posted out in vacuum-packed bags – as well as a service whereby customers can pick up a pint of The Twelve’s own brewed stout and lager in one-pint jam jars.

Thanks to these new initiatives, Fergus has been able to keep 15 of their 90 staff on, as well as retaining one part-time role.

“I just wasn’t going to close the doors. There was a lot of social pressure to close at the beginning of this because that was all people could see, but I didn’t want the hotel to go to sleep and to lose our team – we had to dig deep and keep going,” he says.

The Twelve opened its doors in 2007 on the eve of the last financial crash – what they learned then will, he says, hopefully keep them going through this current crisis.

Pubs have been closed since before St Patrick’s Day, and it would appear that they will be one of the last places to reopen.

Crowe’s in Bohermore is one of those pubs trying to find a way through, and with the launch of its barbecue packs last weekend, Mike Crowe hopes they may have found something that will help carry them.

“Our barbecue area is one of the most famous in the city. With this, we’re offering all the products you need to recreate it – the meats, salads, potatoes – in a box ready to go,” says Mike.

“We deliver it ourselves or people collect it at an appointed time – they just pull up and we put it in their boot. They pay by card so there’s no contact.”

Mike, who is a Fianna Fáil city councillor, says there will be big changes required to ensure the hospitality sector has a fighting chance – including consideration of pedestrianisation of parts of the city centre to give outdoor space for businesses to operate.

“This will require radical thinking from some people, and a willingness to change from others,” says Mike.

One of the newest businesses in the city – The Filling Station Eco Store on Abbeygate Street – has also been trying to find a way through.

The shop, which offers package-free goods in an attempt to cut down on plastic waste, was on an upward trajectory before this crisis, but has been hit hard, says owner John Tedders.

To fight back, they’ve set up a website offering postal delivery and collection on two days a week.

At thefillingstationecostore.ie, customers are able to buy what they had been getting in-store and have it sent out to them – and while this is made further difficult by the shop’s commitment to cut down on packaging, containers that can be reused in the future are being provided.

“The people that were supporting me want good organic food without plastic. One woman contacted me to say she was so happy the day we opened for that reason, and said she will support us in any way she can – I think we have built up good relationships with our customers,” says John.

While the future remains uncertain, like so many more businesses, John says he is resolute that they have to keep going.

CITY TRIBUNE

Spanish Arch project to highlight dangers of rising sea levels and flooding

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From the Galway City Tribune – The city will now receive twice-daily illuminated reminders of the potential dangers of sea surges in a joint science and art project which had its first showing this week at the Spanish Arch.

Each day, at the times of high tides in Galway Bay – morning and evening – the Spanish Arch will be it up by the Línnte na Farraige environmental group.

The Spanish Arch has been chosen as the city location for the ‘high tide illuminations’ – the Galway site is the first of a number of coastal locations selected for the light shows.

Two Finnish artists – Timo Aho and Pekka Nittyvirta – are responsible for the bars of light that will appear on the Spanish Arch, indicating the projected rise in sea levels from future storm surges.

According to the artists, the striking visual light installations are designed to ‘open eyes and minds to potential future storm surge levels around Ireland’s coastlines’.

One of the scientists involved in the project, Dr Zoe Roseby, of Trinity College, Dublin, said that the goal of the project was to ‘provoke a dialogue around rising sea levels to demonstrate that the future is still in our own hands’.

Dr Roseby said that the Spanish Arch had been picked because it was a location of local significance to highlight the link between greenhouse gas emissions and rising sea levels.

“Línnte na Farraige aims to encourage individuals to consider how collective societal action can mitigate climate change and sea level rise, to ultimately inspire a more sustainable and resilient future,” she said.

According to Línnte na Farraige – funded by the Dept of Environment’s Creative Climate Action initiative – since sea levels were first measured in Galway in 1842, they have risen by 25 to 30 centimetres.

“In recent years, Galway has become the go-to for reporting on coastal flooding associated with storms. Storm surges occur when strong winds drive water in the direction of the coast. The impacts of these events are then exacerbated by high Spring Tides,” Línnte na Farraige stated.

Galway’s most dramatic relatively recent sea surge event occurred on January 2, 2018, when Storm Eleanor caused sea waters to rise above the dock walls leading to severe flooding along Dock Road, Merchants Road, Flood Street, Quay Street, Spanish Parade and Claddagh areas.

According to Línnte na Farraige, on that occasion, the water levels had risen by 90cms above the base of the Spanish Arch, Now their line of light – first shown last Thursday – will appear 1.9 metres above that base line.

“This indicates the predicted rise in sea levels of a similar storm surge in 2150 when sea levels have risen by one metre — a moderate climate change scenario,” Línnte na Farraige point out.

The group also state that ‘solar panels and renewably powered batteries will be used as part of the installation to power the lights, which only turn on twice a day during rising tides.

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CITY TRIBUNE

Fears that interim Emergency Department at UHG will become long term

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From the Galway City Tribune – The new ‘temporary’ Emergency Department (ED) at University Hospital Galway  is due to open over the coming weeks, the HSE has confirmed.

The HSE – in a reply to a question from Cllr John Connolly (FF) – said that the ‘interim ED’, would have a capacity of 43 patient bays, as compared to 34 in the pre-Covid ED.

However, Cllr Connolly told the Galway City Tribune that while he welcomed the news on the interim ED, he feared ‘this new temporary facility could test the meaning of the word temporary’.

“I want to see a real commitment and urgency about the provision of the new permanent ED at the hospital which is to be done in tandem with the proposed maternity and paediatric units.

“As things stand, the whole process hasn’t even come near the planning stage and is currently being looked at under a public spending evaluation process. This needs to get moved on,”” said Cllr Connolly.

At this week’s Regional Health Forum, the HSE in a written reply, told Cllr Connolly that the new ‘interim, temporary ED’ – a project started in June, 2021 – would offer an improved service as compared to the previous facility.

The temporary ED will provide 43 single closed cubicles and extra resuscitation bays providing greater dignity and privacy for patients,” the HSE stated. The organisation also confirmed that the opening date for the new ED unit was the end of September or early October [2022].

In a letter last March to the Minister for Public Expenditure, Michael McGrath, Cllr Connolly recalled that in December, 2015, the then Taoiseach Enda Kenny had highlighted the problems in ED at UHG.

“On December 1, 2015, the Taoiseach told Dáil Éireann that the Emergency Department at UHG was one of the most inadequate facilities in the country and needed to be replaced and that the staff there worked under extraordinary conditions,” Cllr Connolly outlined in the letter.

He also said that while he acknowledged the need to ensure value for money in public expenditure, this shouldn’t be done at the expense of providing adequate and appropriate levels of emergency health care for people.

“Can I specifically and purposely ask, that as Minister for Public Expenditure, you would agree to tempering the demands of the Public Spending Code in a bid to hasten the progression of the project.

“I would also ask that in conjunction with the Minister for Health you would endorse this project [the permanent ED/Maternity units] progressing to planning, procurement and construction forthwith,” Cllr Connolly stated in his letter of March 29 last.

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CITY TRIBUNE

Stars for businesses who offer proper services to disabled people

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Maggie Woods is always ready for a challenge. The latest is serving as project director of the Galway Gold Star initiative, which is designed to improve accessibility and services for disabled people at businesses in Galway City.

It will be launched this Tuesday, October 4, in the Connacht Hotel from 11am-2pm and all are invited to attend

Based on the Gold Star Disability Project developed by the HSE, this scheme will allow restaurants, shops and other businesses to be rewarded with Bronze, Silver or Gold Star awards for the services they provide for people with disabilities.

Minister of State for Disabilities Anne Rabbitte and Mayor Clodagh Higgins will lead the launch, which is being run through the Galway City Partnership (GCP), and will be headed up by Maggie, a long-time disability advocate.

She started in the new position this year.

“I am delighted to be part of the Galway City Partnership (GCP) team and get the opportunity to work on a project so close to my heart,” she said.

“Like a lot of people, I love Galway but know from first-hand experience that it’s difficult to navigate the city when you have a disability, whether you use a wheelchair or have a less-visible condition like chronic fatigue or an intellectual disability. This is a way to address the lack of services and accessibility – as well as educating people about disability issues.”

She said the goal of the Gold Star initiative was to make Galway a city that was accessible to everyone, doing that through positive reinforcement rather than focusing on the negatives.

Maggie will be working with Galway restaurants, shops and other businesses along with GCP and the Access for All Galway network, finding common ground on ways to improve access and services for disabled people.

Removing barriers for disabled people is a cause she is passionate about and has been advocating for all her life. As one of the youngest survivors in Ireland of the Thalidomide drug disaster, she has faced a lifetime of adversity and succeeded through hard work and a positive outlook. She worked most of her working life for The Irish Wheelchair Association in several capacities, in Tuam Resource Centre. She was also chairperson of the Irish Thalidomide Association and negotiated with government for people born with disabilities caused by the biggest drug catastrophe in the late 1950s and early 1960s. In addition, when she was in her 30s, she organised a fundraiser for the Galway Hospice Foundation, flying a small Cessna plane from Galway to Shannon and back, and raised €8,000.

The mother of two sons and two grandsons, she celebrated a big birthday this year with family and friends, but her fight for disabled services is not slowing down.

“I came to Galway about 38 years ago with a weekend bag and never left. I know the people of Galway will work with me in making the project a success,” she says.

The Galway Gold Star initiative, which is officially titled Access Together Galway, will be administered by GCP, using money provided by the Disability Participation and Awareness Fund approved in December 2021 by Minister Anne Rabbitte.

This initiative will follow the design of similar successful Gold Star programmes in Cashel and Tipperary towns. These support the implementation of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (UNCRPD), which was ratified by Ireland in 2018.

The guest speaker at Tuesday’s launch will be Anne Bradshaw of HSE Tipperary, where the original Gold Star initiative was rolled out. Declan Brassil, CEO of GCP, will speak on how the Gold Star will benefit the entire Galway community, not just people with disabilities. Access for All chairperson Marian Maloney will give the closing address. Members of the Chamber of Commerce will also attend. Entertainment will be provided, along with light refreshments.

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