Despite the challenges posed by Covid-19, significant progress has been made during the pandemic in proactive Piltown
The onset of the Covid-19 pandemic and the subsequent imposition of various restrictions presented many unforeseen obstacles for community groups across Ireland.
Current projects, future plans and fundraising opportunities were all dealt a heavy blow. However, in keeping with the indomitable spirit of community work and volunteerism, many Irish communities have surmounted the daunting challenges they faced.
For one South Kilkenny community, the pandemic scuppered plans for what should have been a wonderful period of celebration and socialising for the area. In March 2020, there was huge excitement in Piltown and its environs as the local community geared up for the eagerly awaited ‘Piltown Does the Oskars’ extravaganza. The event was devised as a fundraiser for the proposed Pil River Park and Playground as well as the parish’s three national schools – Piltown, Owning and Templeorum.
A prominent site in the heart of Piltown, located by the Pil River, had been secured in order to develop an integrated community parkland incorporating a playground, sensory garden and a relaxing seating area which would result in the provision of leisure facilities suitable for all ages and abilities.
Huge efforts had been undertaken in the months leading up to the mammoth ‘Piltown Does the Oskars’ fundraiser, with a core committee of eight members in addition to a total cast of approximately 60. All cast members auditioned and met with an acting coach who selected people for specific roles, including a lead actor or actress for each movie. Participants underwent coaching sessions and held meetings amongst themselves in order to perfect their performances. All movies were filmed at various locations around the parish and participants raised funds individually and also as part of their respective groups. Among the fundraising events to have taken place were quizzes, walks, afternoon tea, and a novelty women vs. men GAA match. Local businesses also provided huge support.
In November 2015, ‘Piltown Does Strictly’ had been staged as a fundraiser for the three schools in conjunction with Piltown Community Enterprise and attracted a crowd of 1,200 people at the Lyrath Estate. It was envisaged that ‘Piltown Does the Oskars’ could replicate this success, with the event also scheduled for the Lyrath on Saturday March 14th 2020 – two days after indoor gatherings of more than 100 people were cancelled.
Despite the imposition of Covid-19 restrictions and three lockdowns since March 2020, the enthusiasm of the Pil River Park committee hasn’t been diminished and their resilience has shone through as they remain determined to make their proposed facility a reality. They persevered through Zoom meetings, calls, and worked hard to finally secure planning
permission in November 2020 for their much-needed park and playground for the community.
Unfortunately, when work was due to commence on site in January 2021, Ireland’s third Covid-19 lockdown was implemented but, despite all construction work being halted, the committee persevered to ensure that it would be ‘all systems go’ once restrictions were lifted. Finally, guided by government and HSE recommendations, works could begin in April.
“Our playground provider All Play arrived on site on a sunny Monday morning on April 26th and have worked so hard in transforming this beautiful site while also keeping within the aesthetics of the area,” explains PRO of the Pil River Park committee Fiona Quilty.
“We are now within weeks of completion and the excitement within the community both among the little and big kids is palpable. The site looks amazing and we can’t wait to see everyone enjoy the facilities once it opens – it has been long overdue for this supportive community.”
Fiona explains that there will be so much for all the children to enjoy with various play areas including climbing frames, swings, slide, sand area, wheelchair accessible trampoline and roundabout, climbing bars, zip line for the adventurous and all within a peaceful riverside area for parents to sit and watch them have fun.
She outlines how the committee felt it was important for the village to have a sensory garden within the park due to the local school having two ASD classes.
“This garden will be located near the river in a calm area and the sound of the nearby river is quite therapeutic,” explains Fiona.
“There will be chimes and other instruments and one of the features is a raised flower bed in the shape of a boat in keeping with the history of the area and the river. A footpath will surround this with different surfaces of pebbles, wood etc. for the children to touch and walk on as part of the sensory element.”
Support and buy-in from the local community have proved crucial. Fiona says such impressive progress has been made possible thanks to the hard work of the volunteer committee, the expertise and advice from the various departments in Kilkenny County Council and also financial support from both LEADER and Kilkenny Council.
The late Johnny O’Shea and O’Shea farms were also instrumental in ensuring the project became a reality. “Without them this would never have happened,” explains Fiona.
“The acquisition of the land, and a generous donation, paved the way for this project to commence. Thanks to all of the organisations and individuals for their donations during our various fundraising events in 2019 and early 2020.”
Although ‘Piltown Does the Oskars’ is still on hold for now, Fiona says everyone is hopeful that the event will proceed in 2022 depending on government guidelines.
“We hope to have the park and playground open in early July and will follow all government and HSE guidelines in relation to an official opening,” she explains. “I’m sure there will be lots to celebrate in this wonderful community.”
While Piltown and its hinterland remains a strong agricultural area, this is also a very enterprising area which has admirably taken matters into its own hands regarding job creation. This can be seen through the achievements of Piltown Community Enterprise and Piltown Enterprise Centre which showcase the very best of community collaboration.
In 1980, Piltown GAA ran and developed a very successful ‘Big Draw’ which was the first of its kind in Ireland. Subsequently, the club decided to stimulate and encourage the development of an enterprising culture in the parish of Piltown and, in 1987, decided to run a ‘Start Your Own Business’ competition which resulted in Piltown Community Enterprise being created. A voluntary committee was established consisting of ten members drawn from local groups and organisations and possessing a wide range of experiences and skills.
The Mission Statement of Piltown Community Enterprise is ‘to create, promote and develop a culture of enterprise in our community, by providing support, facilitates, infrastructure and the environment to encourage business development and job creation in start-up and small business.’
Since its formation, the group has gone on to achieve all this and much more besides. Many successful businesses were fostered at the Fiddown Enterprise Centre, built on a site with funding from the local GAA and businesses, the IDA and a bank loan. The building, which had subsequently been extended to 10,000 square feet, was later sold to T. Butler Engineering which ensured that the company and its jobs could remain in the area. Following its sale, Piltown Community Enterprise purchased the Old Creamery Centre, located in the heart of Piltown village, which had entered a derelict state.
In 2011, with job creation once again becoming an issue within the community, Piltown Community Enterprise undertook the task of renovating this building with the aim of creating incubation units for start-up businesses. Due to its historical and heritage value the tall chimney on the Old Creamery Building, and part of the structure, had to be maintained which posed additional problems and costs. It was therefore decided to tackle this ambitious project in two phases.
Work commenced on Phase 1 in May 2014 and was completed in mid-March 2015 with the assistance of funding obtained from Kilkenny LEADER Partnership. Phase 1 resulted in the creation of a three-unit enterprise centre consisting of 6,300 square feet. Not prepared to rest on their laurels, and heartened by the response to their efforts, the committee embarked on Phase 2 and, under the 2017 Town and Village Renewal Scheme, obtained funding of €200,000.
Phase 2, which added a further 2,580 square feet, became a reality thanks to this funding as well as the group’s ongoing fundraising initiatives, and the assistance of Kilkenny County Council. It was officially opened by Minister for Rural & Community Development Michael Ring in March 2019. Already, businesses which had located in the centre have moved on to larger premises thanks to their successful incubation. However, along with providing incubation space for start-up businesses, the project has had many additional benefits for the area. A prominent building with considerable heritage value has been preserved and rejuvenated and has brought welcome activity back to the centre of the village.
Broadband for our Community
Furthering highlighting how the community of Piltown is taking matters into its own hands, B4OC (Broadband for our Community) CLG was formed in 2020 by Piltown Community Enterprise to develop the parish’s very own top-standard broadband fibre to the premise (FTTP) network. It was initiated on the suggestion of Kilkenny LEADER Partnership and funded through the LEADER programme. KLP’s suggestion was made in response to the implications of the roll-out of the National Broadband Plan (NBP).
The NBP funding of the commercially owned rollout of the FTTP network will only partially cover the villages of Piltown/Fiddown and will not be happening until 2023 at the earliest. KLP and its philanthropic funding partner, the Tomar Trust, supplied technical assistance, planning, training and capital funding to the community to develop and advance the project.
Chairperson of B4OC Brian Doyle explains that the current situation in the parish is that parts of the village have adequate, but not future proofed, high-speed broadband, while the rest of the communities have sub-standard connections. It became clear that the NBP would address some of the worst and immediate connection issues but in the medium to long term, as the demands on broadband expand rapidly, Piltown would be stuck in the same situation where much of the village would have inadequate broadband access.
The B4OC company’s mission is to provide FTTH to every home in Piltown/Fiddown on a not-for- profit basis. Crucially, the surplus money gained beyond maintenance of the network will be invested back into community projects.
This community-owned model is similar to other rural broadband schemes that have successfully rolled out in the UK, such as Broadband for the Rural North (B4RN) in north Lancashire, England. The two villages of Piltown/Fiddown are just two of approximately 20 similar-sized villages and towns in Kilkenny that will have sub-optimum broadband under the current NBP proposals. B4OC believes this would be the first such model in Ireland and, along with KLP, aims to be a model for other communities in the future.
The board of B4OC believe access to reliable high-speed broadband is essential to attracting SMEs but Brian says the project is about much more than that.
“The community gains not only by having access to faster broadband for families, schools and other community buildings, but also having access to a local service provider that cares about service to our neighbours and can use profits from the company to benefit the community,” he explains.
Another example of Piltown’s entrepreneurial spirit and strong community ethos can be seen with the phenomenally successful Iverk Show. In late August, crowds from throughout Ireland and beyond flock to the area for what is Ireland’s oldest agricultural show. A strong sense of community spirit is on display each year as volunteers from throughout the parish and surrounding areas work together to stage one of the largest such shows in the country.
This was another high-profile casualty of the pandemic last year and the 2021 event has sadly also been cancelled. However, hopes are high for a triumphant return in 2022.
It’s clearly evident that Piltown is a community which other communities in the region and throughout Ireland could certainly learn a thing or two from. The village has undoubtedly set the bar for what can be achieved by other areas of similar size. With such dedicated and enthusiastic volunteers working for the betterment of their local community, Piltown’s future is in safe hands. Visit the Pil River Park Facebook page to keep up to date with progress. For more information on B40C, visit https://betterbroadbandforpiltown.com/