"So are they the future, or a potential white elephant? The answer is closer to the first but they have been a bit of a slow burn." Personally I feel we really need to reframe the debate about hubs.
Headlines like 'Are Remote Hubs the Future or Future Failures' or quotes such as "the eye-opening statistic of the week was that only 1,800 people have registered on the app on the Connected Hubs Network" miss the point in my opinion.
Now let's first acknowledge the positive here, unlike when I wrote a response last October to the piece on Strokestown ( 'Does despondency about Irish towns sell more papers' https://bit.ly/3NLX2f7 ) the writer does say "this isn’t another maudlin account about the gradual demise of another town in rural Ireland. This is a story about change and renewal."
So far so good.
The article talks about the Department of Rural and Community Development as having invested €100 million in the development of hubs and quotes national occupancy rates however the goal of this investment was never to focus on 'bums on seats' or app downloads but to act as cataylsts for the creation of vibrant, lived in rural communities.
And indeed the piece goes on to show glimpses of how this is indeed coming to pass - it points to growing Edgeworthstown's (the subject of the article) population, a new school with 400 children, the new creche with 25 staff, the fact that 40 per cent of the town’s population are not Irish-born. “The value of volunteerism is huge. A big part of the job is integration, trying to get our foreign nationals involved in the hub, involved in the GAA and in the community. It’s working extremely well.”
This describes what we term a 'Digital First Community' in action, using the hub as the rallying point, the 'go to' location for the work of collaboratively attracting investment, remote workers, home buyers, shoppers and visitors to their locality.
So yes, phase one was to build the network/persuade more people to use them but Our Rural Future envisons Phase 2 for the increasing footprint of the hubs in the network as not so much about maximising the number of 'bums on seats' (while acknowledging that hubs should at least break even to be sustainable) but facilitating social change at scale.
The goal is to repopulate Rural Ireland thereby cutting commutes, activating vacant buildings, contributing to achieving climate goals and avoiding the isolation that can come with working exclusively from home.
So the real question is not to "spread the word and convince people that, unlike the banks or the hotel, the 400 hubs will be there for the long term." but "Can remote hubs transform the way we LIVE and work?".
At Digital HQ clg we believe they can by hubs becoming the cornerstone of a 'Digital First Community' in their locality and we are doing our bit to help make this happen.