Castlepollard fighting decline of rural areas
The Castlepollard Local Development Group have taken action to ensure the people of the area have access to at least some services now that there are no bank branches still open.
They have secured a cash machine for the town centre, and are in the process of transforming an abandoned bank building into a digital hub space for remote working.
The group worked with local businessman, David Murphy of Topline Hardware, to purchase the building. Noel Kinahan of Castlepollard Local Development said: “David is committed to the community, so he looked at the building and came to us about the ATM idea. It took a few weeks to install but we’re lucky now that it’s in.”
The hope is that the digital hub will increase business in Castlepollard: “It’s all about sustainability and having people in the town. People will work there, and then they might want to get a coffee afterwards, that’s what we want.
“We’re trying to provide a service for people and hopefully when they’re using it, they’ll spend money here too.”
In an interview with Virgin Media last week, the owner of Murray’s Checkout in Castlepollard, Pauline Smyth, spoke about how the lack of cash providers has affected small businesses in the town: “Without a bank branch on our doorstep, we’re losing passing footfall. People have to travel to the nearest banks, which are in Mullingar or Oldcastle, and as a result, they’re taking their business with them.
“This is leaving the businesses in our town suffering and it’s not just me – it’s everyone.”
Ms Smyth the problem is also affecting charity organisations within the town. "We have money boxes in the store that help local charities but people can’t support them.
“These small things are being missed out because people are being forced to use their cards.”
Castlepollard Local Development have been working in with Westmeath County Council for four years now and act as an ‘umbrella group’ for the community.
They have shown what can be achieved when communities work together.
This has been a three tiered project for the community starting with the installation of a new ATM and the building of a digital hub working space.
There are also plans to re-introduce a fully functioning social protection office back into the centre of the town.
The social protection office was evicted from the town square in April of this year and was moved into a small room in the town library, operating at just two days a week.
Locals have reported the change to be isolating to everyone who uses the services regularly.
The group have contacted social protection minister Heather Humphreys on a number of occasions since April in hopes that she would relocate the office to the old bank building.
Representative of the Castlepollard Local Development group commented: “We need the Government to step up to the plate here.
“We have asked the minister to come here to listen and examine our case and to see what we’re doing but we’ve had no response.”
Minister Humphreys has been hit with many letters and appeals signed by businesses and residents of the town but at the time of publishing, there remains to be no answers.
Sinn Féin TD Johnny Quirke spoke to the Westmeath Examiner and said it is a credit to the Castlepollard community for fighting for their needs as a small town in rural Ireland.
He said: “Well done to Castlepollard Local Development group and to everyone involved in getting the ATM and digital hub up and going in the town.
“It was very disappointing to see the banks closing in Castlepollard because it hurts rural areas and communities but this group does great work and the new services will be a huge asset for sure.”