“The motto of the Chamber of Commerce in Ashbroune is ‘Our business is Ashbourne’, and that encompasses the fact that we try to do a lot for the business community,” says Chamber Secretary Kevin O’Brien.
The Epoch Times spoke to Mr O’Brien to get a sense of the important work the Chamber does for the local businesses and community in Ashbourne.
The work of the chamber is vast and includes organising events, organising business networking, and putting businesses in contact with other businesses or people they need to contact. And if there is a specific issue they can assist Ashbourne’s businesses with, they do. According to Mr O’Brien, the chamber also represents local business on a regional basis.
“We make submissions to the County Council – for example, this year we made a submission to Meath County Council regarding the Meath Economic Development Plan, and we undertook to represent Ashbourne’s point of view on the Economic Development Plan. And in particular this year, we have also been involved in the community a lot more,” he said.
One of the high points of 2014, according to Mr O’Brien, was the Ashbourne Racing Festival. “We try to organise community events and our entries for enterprise week were marked by involving a lot of communities – the residents of the town – so our role is basically to form a network between business and the community, and also to represent the interests of businesses in the region.”
Goals and Targets
Mr O’Brien said there were three goals for the chamber in 2014. The first was to raise the chamber’s profile; the second was to become more involved with the community and to reach out to more businesses than they had ever done before; and the third goal was to get more people involved in the chamber, with more manpower and more volunteers.
“This year I believe that we were quite successful in upping the profile of the chamber,” said Mr O’Brien. “We were involved in a lot more events and we were a lot more involved on Facebook in particular, which gave us the opportunity to act as a focal point of information between groups like the County Council and businesses, and the community in general. We had a lot of information that would be of use to the residential community in Ashbourne, and we made sure they got the information as best we could.”
Why it is Important to have a Strong Chamber
According to Mr O’Brien, Ashbourne has been a town that has historically lost out. Not necessarily just because the Chamber wasn’t as well organised as it could have been, but because the town didn’t have good communication and co-operation between groups, and this is what he feels the current chamber brings to the mix.
“Some great examples are three towns I can think of: Trim, Kells, and Navan all had a town council and they all had community groups that were working together, and they got a lot more done in the past decade than Ashbourne did,” said Mr O’Brien.
“So it is crucial to have a representative group in the town, be it the town council, be it the Chamber of Commerce, or whatever. If you don’t have people who are organised, going to meetings or making the case for your town, then you will find that you are left behind in favour of towns who are making their case or do have a plan, who are organised, and it will be them who get the funding,” he said.
Positives in 2014
Mr O’Brien said that the Chamber receives a lot of information from retailers, restaurants, and service businesses.
“What we have heard is that the service industry seems to have picked up quite a bit in the Ashbourne Business Centre,” he said. According to Mr O’Brien, there are companies in the service industry who are booked out until the other side of Christmas, and some as far as February.
For retailers, however, things are still tough. “It has been a brutally hard year. November was possibly the worst in a long time. There is a possibility that consumers are waiting for sales, there may be an element of online shopping, and we are always in competition with places like Blanchardstown, Liffey Valley, or Dublin. There are many people in Ashbourne who live and work in Dublin, but who just sleep in Ashbourne,” he said.
Importance of Shopping Locally
“Ashbourne is a great town – there is a lot of variety there for grocery shopping, there are great clothing boutiques,” said Mr O’Brien. “In Ashbourne, there is a misconception that things are more expensive, but we conducted a survey which showed that prices in Ashbourne are on a par with or cheaper than what you would get in Blanchardstown or anywhere else.” He added that Ashbourne also has an abundance of free parking, which a lot of other towns don’t have.
He also believes that there are more altruistic reasons to support shopping locally. “You are supporting local jobs, local businesses, and local families. Local retailers support a lot of community groups, football teams, clubs, and societies. One gentleman I was talking to a couple of days ago said that his business had given out 7,500 euro in funding this year for various different local groups and causes. If you’re shopping locally you are supporting these businesses, and that is another good reason to keep it local.”
Positives for 2015
“We would love to run the Ashbourne Racing Festival again. We think there would be an opportunity there to have something special and different, and we feel that there would be a bigger crowd attracted to it,” said Mr O’Brien.
“One of the issues we had was that people didn’t quite get the concept of us running a racing festival locally. Now they have seen what it looks like, so that will be able to attract a bigger crowd. It is well worth remembering that this year, the horse-racing festival was organised – at its core – by four people in four weeks with no money. So it started from very humble beginnings. In 2015, hopefully we will have a lot more time, more people involved and, hopefully, more money,” he said.