Chamber president wants ‘new blood in’
The new president of Mullingar Chamber of Commerce says that she wants to get some “young blood” into the organisation.
Allyson English took over from outgoing president John Geoghegan on March 7, and, speaking to the Westmeath Examiner, she said one of the first things she wants to do is reach out to the town’s new generation of entrepreneurs.
“Where I’d like to take it is the younger generation, we are missing a trick there, we really are. I look at the businesses around the town and I have rubbed shoulders with some of the owners at women in business events – they are the ones that we want to get in.
“These are the next generation. They are the ones that will take the chamber forward. That doesn’t mean we take the onus off the members already there by any manner or means, but we need to get some young blood in there as well.”
A native of Paisley, just outside Glasgow, and the managing director and co-founder of business consultancy Jigsaw VAE, which counts Enterprise Ireland and the IDA among its clients, Allyson moved to Mullingar in 2005 with her husband Mark and then two teenage sons, Conor and Nathan, after Mark was seconded here by his employer, home improvement retailer B and Q, to open their new Dublin stores.
While the first couple of months were a “rollercoaster”, she says her family quickly settled in to life in Mullingar. One of the first things that struck her about the town was its vibrancy and the friendliness of its people.
“I’ve never found it any other way, even through the tough times; and social and community focused. People want to look after each other and that hasn’t changed.”
After a decade in management at local print and packaging company MLS, Allyson and her business partner Stuart Nelson set up Jigsaw VAE in 2017.
“I always wanted to go into business by myself and was biding my time to find the lay of the land.
It came to a point where if I didn’t do it then, I’d never have done it.”
Since then, the firm has steadily increased its client base and now has a staff of 12 across the country.
A member of Mullingar Chamber since 2019, she says that she wants to chat to the current membership and to get an understanding of “what they need and what they want”.
“I am vice-president designate for Network Ireland, which is a female run group that has different branches around the country.
“One of the things we say to the members is you are being charged for the membership, make the most of it. You are only going to get out of it what you put in. I think that reflects back to the chamber. You have to be putting on events that people want to go to, and be topical. We are looking at people coming to do talks: what do people want to hear about? What to people want to know about?
“The whole networking part is going to be a real big push for us this year too. Business people do business with business people.”
Allyson would like to see chamber membership numbers continue their upward trajectory during her presidency.
“Johnny [Geoghegan] and Aisling [Coleman] have done a fantastic job on over the last couple of years. I’d like to see that double and there’s no reason it can’t. People need to realise what they are getting for it [their membership fee].
If someone had told her when she moved to Mullingar in 2005 that she’d end up the president of the local chamber of commerce, she wouldn’t have believed them, she says, but she is looking forward to her new role and working with her colleagues on the committee.
“I like being busy and I like challenges. It doesn’t daunt me, but it’s about the team you have around you. The chamber is not just one person. It can never be about one person. I am big into people, that they are looked after and they know what they are doing.
“.I am really into diversity and we have a good mix just now on the board, which is great, and I think we will continue do so.
“The number of female entrepreneurs in Mullingar is phenomenal and their stories are amazing.
“They are coming with new ideas and that’s what you need. When you start to stagnate, that’s when people start losing interest and you lose membership. You always have to be innovating. That’s what will keep the chamber fresh and keep it at the forefront of people’s heads.
“We all have a part to play. It’s our town. Why wouldn’t you want to contribute to that.”