The City I Want Galway to be After Covid-19

A platform in which Galway puts forward ideas on how, after the pandemic, we can transform the city for the better

Donncha Foley; Phyl Kennedy-Bruen; and Cllr Terry O'Flaherty.

Donncha Foley; Phyl Kennedy-Bruen; and Cllr Terry O'Flaherty.

Phyl Kennedy Bruen

Fights for disability rights

Phyl Kennedy and Grace

Phyl Kennedy-Bruen with her daughter Grace. Photo:- Mike Shaughnessy

The 2020 Galway Capital of Culture was having ‘teething’ problems. The sun would not come out as required for an event in South Park - it is known as ‘the swamp’ for good reason.

There were whispers of more ‘funding’ needed - the word ‘money’ sounds vulgar when ‘culture’ is the subject. Galway was gearing up for a major event. Many of us were busy looking down at a phone, while pushing the baby in the buggy. The baby is fine, there’s important posts on Facebook.

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Cyclists weaving on and off footpaths, looking down at the phone, and wearing earphones. More people running across the road, looking down at the phone, still listening to music and now p****d off with the bus driver who was missing them by inches.

Galway had become a city of multi-taskers. There was very little in the way of good manners or awareness of those around us. We were living in a technology trance at work/school/and especially at home. We were in the grip of the 'Phone Trance'. Heads down scrolling and scowling, unaware of a friend’s greeting. "Can’t they see I’m on the phone, listening to music, texting, no time to talk.....text me later."

Woman on her phone

Then the major event arrived. Shocked hearing the ‘C’ word! No, not Capital, and not Culture. Covid-19! Something got our attention. We put down the phones and we finally LOOKED UP!

We had to become aware of other people. Our very lives depended on it. Galway was in ‘Lockdown.’ No more chatting on the phone at the Supermarket check-out, at the counter in the post office, ignoring others at the bus stop, walking out in front of traffic. We had to resort to the thing we did not even know we lost.....GOOD MANNERS!

'Galway used to be a city where we’d greet each other, give a wave across the street'

Good manners are not available as an ‘app’.....yet. The nature of our city is decided by the nature of our people. No amount of culture, bicycle lanes, bridges over the Corrib can ever be a substitute for us being friendly and good mannered. Galway used to be a city where we’d greet each other, give a wave across the street, and ‘give out’ about the bad, annoying skate boarders in Eyre Square. Now, post Covid-19, please God (is that offensive? ), the slogan says: LOOK OUT FOR EACH OTHER. To do that, Galway needs a HEAD’S UP.

Donncha Foley

Development manager, Galway Volunteer Centre

Donncha Foley

In the last few months we have all have been forced to focus on what really matters – the people around us, whether that be family, friends, but also our neighbours and communities. Usually it feels like community is very low down on the pecking order, but it rose to the top in the first half of 2020.

A big part of our work is to find volunteers for community organisations and charities. We have always known there is a huge desire among the public to get involved in their local community, especially among younger people. After the last three months, this has become more obvious to everyone. In those three months we had 2,000 people come to us wanting to help – that’s double what we normally get in a year!

How do we build on this goodwill and maintain community as the greatest priority in this wonderful city and county? We know that the groups using our service are struggling, and this means they find it difficult to even tread water in normal time, never mind right now. We also know the potential that is out there, with so many people wanting to get involved in community.

'Galway provides fantastic support to people who want to build the next global tech platform. We need the same level of support for the people who give their hours and lives to helping clubs, charities, and services'

We need to invest in the people who are working and volunteering in what is often called the ‘not-for-profit sector (though I prefer the term ‘for-people sector’ ). To provide a comparison, if I want to set up or grow my small business, there are plethora of financial and other supports out there to give me a helping hand. However, if you are community organisation wanting to grow or even just review how you do things to improve, there is, well, not much, and it is very sporadic when it does happen.

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Our friends and relations around us who provide leadership in the for-people sector get very few opportunities to learn new skills or even meet others doing the same thing and share learning. This seems at the very least short-sighted, when a lot of the time, the groups they work with are spending Government or publicly raised funding to deliver services to the most vulnerable in our community.

Galway already provides fantastic support to people who want to build the next global tech platform, or who want to bring overseas visitors here to see why we love this home that hangs off the edge of Europe. We need the same level of support and recognition for the people who give their hours and lives to helping others in their clubs, charities, and services. And like all those who came to us in the last three months, we are ready and willing to help.

Terry O'Flaherty

Independent councillor for Galway City East

It is not all doom and gloom ahead, even if life will not be quite the same in Galway, or anywhere else, for years to come, due to the Covid-19 pandemic. We now have to look to how we can help our city and county to get back on its feet.

Galway was recently voted as the most popular location for Irish people to visit after lockdown — we must capitalise on that popularity and actively encourage domestic visitors, especially as we are unlikely to have overseas tourists in 2020 and possibly even in 2021.

We have so much to offer. The range of great restaurants makes Galway an attractive food destination. I’d like to see a specific marketing plan promoting that. That Galway Docks is within walking distance of the town makes it very attractive for cruise liners, so it is of paramount importance that the planned port extension goes ahead, firmly establishing Galway as a cruise destination.

'What became clear during the lockdown, especially in the early days, was the great sense of community and pride in our city. I hope that great sense of solidarity will continue and grow'

Now more than ever we need to support our local and indigenous businesses that supported us and the vulnerable in our community over the past few months. It has been pointed out that, if each Irish adult spent just €20 extra in small businesses each week for the next 12 weeks, this would inject more than €875 million into the local economy.

One positive that has emerged out of the pandemic is the lack of focus on the traffic problems throughout the city. As we return to normal and people return to work, I hope we won’t become fixated on reporting the traffic problems once again.

A not unrelated positive to emerge has been the experience of some people who found that working from home is something that works for them — though I know it’s not for everyone, particularly on a full-time basis. Maybe a ‘blended’ version of working, coming into the office two or three days a week and working from home other days, is something that will have a beneficial effect on people’s lives, and reducing the number of cars travelling to and from work.

What became very clear during the lockdown and especially in the early days, was the great sense of community and pride in our city. Galway is a relatively small city and we all looked after each other. I hope that great sense of solidarity will continue and grow.


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