By shopping local, we can stop our communities crumbling

I met someone the other day who told me wide-eyed that she had never met anyone who didn’t have a job. In the two and a bit decades that she’d been on this earth, people losing their jobs just weren’t known to her. And that is how it has been for many people who have grown up seeing jobs as disposable as weekly contact lenses. If it was irritating you, you just flung it away and tried another. But a harsh reality is about to set in for us all which will see us all soon know a lot of people without jobs. Or be without jobs ourselves.

The news that came from Toronto last night that Nortel had filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy, has seen fears grew for the security of the 300 jobs at its plant in Mervue. Limerick and Waterford have had their days and it is all moving so close to home. Already thousands in many industries across Galway have lost their work in the past three or four months and that trend is set to continue as we experience an economic whirlwind the likes of which we have never seen before.

So we have to put our heads down, and see if we can dig our way out of this. And we can start by protecting local jobs and local community spirit.

Every year or so, you see the appeals for people to shop local. They are normally fuelled by business organisations acting in tandem on behalf of their clients. And because they have become so commonplace, the plea to shop local often falls on deaf ears and is seen as just another needless plea from an avaricious business community.

However, this time the appeal is different, because the decisions we take in the next days, months, year will determine whether many of these businesses will survive. In all of our communities, whether it is in Galway city, or in the many towns and villages through the county, the businesses that have popped up have made all of those places better places to be. There is something nice about the greater choice we have been given. There are nice shops, restaurants, cafes, and businesses in all of our communities. We all like living where we do because of this great mix and we cannot now allow the work of generations to crumble.

How many years has it taken to create the communities we all live in? Think back to the seventies and eighties, when all there was was the corner shop. And the choice was ‘take it or leave it.’

If these businesses go to the wall now, then our entire communities start to unravel and it could be another generation or two before it gets back to where they were.

We all hear the anecdotal evidence of how much you can save across the border, but travelling to Newry every week to stock up at Iceland is not sustainable, and with the differential between sterling and the euro set to decrease, that option will become less and less viable.

Of course, the success of shop local campaigns does not rest solely on the shoulders of consumers. It is incumbent on the businesses to look at themselves too and to ensure that customer service is better than it is, that staff are trained in the basics of good manners and don’t grunt an answer at you; that waiting staff don’t try their best to avoid eye contact; and that shop layouts are inviting and look more like storerooms than places to browse and buy.

This recession is taking us back to basics, but let us try to hold on to as much of what we have so that recovery will be that much easier when it comes a year or two from now. This week and every week, help the process by supporting those businesses that form the heart of your community.

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