Cork is a city and county which has long demonstrated resilience in the face of adversity. That's reflected in the mottos and slogans. "A safe harbour for ships" is the motto of the proud maritime merchant city with its impressive natural harbour. "The Rebel County" was actually a unflattering moniker bestowed on Cork by Henry VII for its support of Royalist Pretenders to his throne but in true Cork fashion has been recycled to reflect Cork's contribution to Irish Independence lead by local son, Michael Collins. Lately the slogan for urban regeneration is "A City Rising" reflecting both the resurgent spirit in Cork and the cranes on the skyline as new buildings head upwards after the dead stop caused by the economic crash in 2008.
Now Cork is once again being tested by the economic crash caused by Covid19 and Ireland's long Lockdown as it tackles this dangerous and pernicious virus. It seems a lifetime ago (but it was only last October) that the city was wearing its party frock for the famous Cork Jazz Festival. We were loving the walkability of Cork's atmospheric island city centre with its narrow streets and lanes as we jostled in and out of bars and venues packed with revellers enjoying the Festival's well deserved reputation for great music and sweaty amiability. Today a very different landscape of social distancing presents itself as retail and hospitality slowly and partially reopen, venues remain closed and Cork now has to reboot itself.
Many are not up for the reinvention that rebooting entails. After four months starved of customers and cash they have decided to throw in the towel. Cobh was scheduled to have 145 cruise ships calling this summer, now there will be none, and the tourist spend on tours, meals and shopping will be gone with them. With a young population due to its universities, colleges and Hi-Tech industries the City of Cork is a hopping place with music and venues, a cafe and food culture and a vibrant theatre, music and club scene. But all that is under threat and the tourism pound, dollar and euro will not be arriving on Irish shores this year. So from Bantry, Dunmanway, Fermoy to Ballycotton we are seeing retail, catering, craft and artisan businesses which will simply stay closed.
So Rebooting Cork will require reinvention from businesses which are already financially stressed and will require imagination in support which "Official Ireland" in the form of Enterprise Ireland, Teagasc, Tourism Ireland and job "creation" schemes to nowhere simply do not grasp and are not equipped to support, they are old dogs and only know the old tricks. What use are restart grants based on a "rates Bill" to web businesses and Freelancers working from home. Businesses don't need "Free Consultancy" and aren't able to employ Lawyers and Accountants to tap into the "Official Ireland" handout culture.
In Cork City its narrow lanes and streets are being reclaimed from cars and being given over to pedestrians and cyclists as cafe culture moves out onto the streets to promote outdoor dining and imbibing. Princes Street has probably been the most photographed street in the country after it was pedestrianised! It is cast-iron proof of the positive impact created by the reallocation of road space in Cork. Since the 29 June, Cork City’s Princes Street has been partially pedestrianised.
Before 9.30am, deliveries are made along the narrow street, which hosts mostly restaurants, pubs and cafés. After that, chairs and tables are put up in the road, turning it into an outdoor, spaced-out, congregation point for people in the city.
“It has been a rip-roaring success,” Cork City Council’s Director of Services for Operations, David Joyce said. “[There's been] very positive feedback and comments from people, and it’s encouraging local authorities even more, to move this even further forward. The Marina was pedestrianised, Tuckey Street, Plunkett Street, Pembroke Street, Princes’ Street. All of these are done, and we’re looking to do five or six more in the short term, and expect even more again following that. They are full pedestrianisation to allow a very fundamental reimagination of those streets.”
As restaurants move outdoors they are being decluttered inside, so the cushions, books and magazines are disappearing as they adopt a pared back persona, even counters are being moved forward to allow staff to distance from each other while serving .Many are adopting simple ideas that reduces touch points in a restaurant, Booking Apps and scanning the QR code, and you're taken directly to the menus. Saves paper, printing and table space too. Richard and Mairead Jacob are the owners of the Idaho Cafe behind Brown Thomas which has reopened Tuesday to Saturday from 09.00. Voted best Café in Ireland (twice) it voluntarily shut down in March and has now reopened as Idaho Nua with a very different business model. It includes, Short, seasonal, daily menu on blackboards, only 6 tables, open sash windows for ventilation, nothing on your table that another customer has touched, takeout customers remain outside and contactless payment preferred. So there are no condiments on your table and customers will need to get used to this "new normal." But the big question for enterprising and hard working owners like Richard and Mairead is can they pay their way with this new operating model?
In Kinsale the wonderful Suzanne Burns has re-started her Kinsale Food Tours with Social Distancing built in and with in addition for who cannot travel or are cocooning ‘Takeaway’ Food Tours which brings a taste of the Kinsale and its characters to your doorstep! Suzanne started these tours from a combined love for the town itself and an obsession with food, its origins and the coast. Her career started as a Zoologist, focusing on freshwater and marine plants and animals. So this year she is refocusing the tours to take account of an expected reduction in foreign visitors, especially from North America.
Throughout Cork we are seeing great changes and the big question is how sustainable will be these approaches be after the post Lockdown rush in July and August and the long and uncertain winter ahead?
Cork County Council has launched an Activating Cork Towns (ACT) Campaign to help Cork and its businesses reopen and get back on their feet. Chief Executive of Cork County Council Tim Lucey also highlighted how the Restart Grant will assist small businesses get back on their feet, “Cork County has a wide range of businesses which are at the very heart of our communities. Cork County Council is investing in communities and our businesses, we can plan with a degree of confidence. As part of Project ACT, we are Activating County Towns and the Restart Fund will offer another level of support to businesses at a time when they most need it.”
Applications for the Restart Grant can be made online at https://www.yourcouncil.ie/service/COVID19_Business_Restart_Fund
Cork County Council has established a dedicated helpline on 021 4208000 and email at RestartFund@CorkCoCo.ie.
Processing of applications and payment of the Restart Grant will depend on the initial volume of applications but, as far as possible, will be prioritised according to scheduled re-opening dates in the national roadmap.
The Restart Grant is part of the wider €12 billion package of supports for businesses of all sizes, which includes grants, low-cost loans, write-off of commercial rates and deferred tax liabilities, all of which will help to improve cashflow amongst SMEs.
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