Thursday, 27 August 2015

One hell of a ride!

Last weekend was yet another busy weekend right across the City and County.

The wonderful Waterford Walls, one of the BEST projects I have witnessed to date in Waterford City, and the Dunmore East Food Festival both attracted significantly large crowds to the City and village respectfully. And of course we also had the Iverk Show (actually in Kilkenny – but a great event none the less) and the Sean Kelly Cycling Tours.

Now I was lucky enough to get involved in both the Iverk Show and the Sean Kelly Tour, but in very, very different ways!

Mr Sean Kelly joins The Biscuits.
A number of weeks ago, whilst Chairing one of the Waterford Business Group weekly meetings, I agreed with Fiona Quilty (of Pamela Scott fashion outlet in the City Centre) to help her out with the fashion show that takes place during the Iverk Show. Little did I think that I would actually be called upon to take part? My call to participate in the Iverk Show happened last weekend and I duly shuffled the kids into the Mini and we shot up to Piltown, parked the car and reported for duty at 12:30 in plenty of time for my first foray onto the catwalk at 13:00.

The showground was heaving with visitors when we arrived and we found our way to the marquee that would hold the fashion show. There was a flurry of activity backstage in the compact and bijou dressing area. Unfortunately, my contact rider had clearly not been read as I saw absolutely no sign of my requested Yak’s milk refreshments, there were no bowls yellow only M & M’s, no deep fried Mars bars etc. The models were mainly ladies (as one would expect) ranging from teens to more “experienced” models. In terms of the male sex there were three teenagers, a couple of twenty somethings and the three older guys (including me) and we were all strangely the same age, 37 I believe!!!!

We soon realised that our clothes would not arrive in time for the 13:00 show so we had to sit out the first performance, but there was no rest for the wicked as 15:00 duly arrived, our clothes arrived and we were off and walking.

Mean & moody at the Iverk Show!
Two very quick clothes changes and two trips up and down the catwalk, with a wee twirl halfway down, and it was all over. Far too brief and yet very, very enjoyable but unfortunately there were no agents in the audience and so I can discount a future modelling career. My debut in London Fashion Week will have to wait another year.

From Piltown we jumped back into the Mini and we then shot off to Dungarvan to register for the Sean Kelly Tour Comeragh Challenge160km (the tough one!). Having pre-registered some weeks ago I, without any delay, collected my high-vis goodie bag which contained; a snazzy commemorative race jersey, a bottle of water, a couple of flapjacks, a wristband (for food stops) and a bike registration number sticker thing – a registration plate of sorts (Maria McCann take note!). I bumped into the great man himself Mr Sean Kelly at registration and it was so good to see such a high profile personality actually getting “stuck in”. As I returned to the car I had a feeling that I would need far more than a couple of flapjacks and one bottle of water to complete the daunting task that I would take on the very next day.

At precisely 07:45 I and ten other Biscuits set off from Dungarvan on an adventure that would test each and every one of us. Ahead lay 160 kilometres of hills, hills and more hills!!!!! Another packet of Biscuits set off slightly earlier and a whole tin of Biscuits set off slightly later to take on the 100km challenge.

As we shot up The Pike and veered left at Lemybrien we cycled for around 10km with the imposing Mahon Falls, shrouded by black low clouds, taunting us, teasing us and ultimately calling us knowing that we would have to cycle, walk or crawl up this wicked hill at around 120km into the route. It was as though the organisers had shown us a glimpse of the Coliseum before throwing us to lions.   

But our first real challenge would be a wee hill called “Tickincor” at around 55km. Now if you have never heard of this hill go out and find it and try to drive up it, and you will very quickly see just how steep it is and then imaging how hard it is to cycle up the damn thing. I encountered two small problems prior to Tickinor. My “toolkit-saddle-bag” had taken such a battering in the first 45km that the bracket snapped and my Kilted Piper mascot wedged himself in my brakes causing a rather rapid stop and some remedial works. Slightly further on disaster once again stuck as the “toolkit-saddle-bag” once again decided to fall to the ground and this necessitated yet another stop and a MacGyver type fix that thankfully lasted the remainder of the journey.

The “Powers The Pot” was the next hill at around 90km. Whilst grinding up the hill for what seemed like an eternity some comedian spray-painted 3km to go just to remind us how hard the bloody climb was. There was a collective intake of breath, and the odd swear word, when I and my fellow Biscuits crossed this marker and there was a collective realisation that there was a hell of a long way to go to get up this mammoth test of endurance. Up at the top of the “Powers The Pot” the Biscuits regrouped, posed for a few photographs and then we all set off for a quick food stop at Rathgormack before we headed towards the final challenge of the demanding Mahon Falls.
At the top of The Falls.

At around 120km The Falls called us like some cruel Siren would have called the Greek ships to come ever closer to their ultimate doom! Lowest gear selected and with some “Rusty Spokes” ahead of me to chase up The Falls, I dropped my head down, lolly pop in my mouth for energy and I was off. Some hellish 20 odd minutes later it was all over and a quick regroup with my fellow Biscuits, another photograph, and it was “all downhill” to the finish (or so they told me).

No it wasn’t! We still had the 6km or 7km drag up to the mast at the top of the Mama Road.

Mama Road conquered and now it was “mostly downhill” to the finish line in Dungarvan. We had enough in our legs to manage a wee sprint and top speed of 53kph on the borders of Dungarvan.

One final regroup and these 11 Biscuits crossed the line together in, dare I say, perfect cycling formation – it really was Tour de France stuff!. Our wee group had stayed together for 160km of torture, hell, fun, laughs, memories and a sense of accomplishment.

Looking good in Lycra!
Well done to ALL involved. A great event, great company, great event organisation, a great “Packet of Biscuits” and above all a great occasion for Waterford to be VERY proud of.

It was one hell of a ride! Cannot wait for the 2016 SKT.

Thursday, 20 August 2015

Today’s Headline is Tomorrows..........

Waterford City's four local newspapers.
I am an avid reader and advocate for people reading, accessing and debating the content of our four local City newspapers. These are a wonderful way to access and keep up to date with ALL the local news headlines, interest stories, business news, charity news, and so on. You can even scan the local newspapers to see if you have been “snapped” by one of our infamous “local paparazzi”!

The role the local newspapers play in our day to day lives cannot be underestimated and with ALL the social media we access over the internet there is a growing threat that handling a newspaper may, in time, become a thing of the past. But at the present moment in time the local newspapers are here to stay and here to spark debate.

Last week our four local newspapers sparked plenty of debate across many a dinner table. With headlines that declared “Daylight Muggings”, “Happy Birthday Thomas Francis”, “Junkie City” and “Hospice Ball Run 2015 another rolling success”. Each headline in its own way trying to grab you the reader’s attention and persuade you to pick up the newspaper and read it cover to cover, and then hand on to someone else so that they can do the same.

Of course headlines are ultimately there to attract your attention and some would say that last week we even had “sensationalised” headlines.

When we do get the odd sensationalised local headline we often see and hear of reactions that spark further animated debate. Yet, I have over the last twelve months read an awful lot of negative national headlines and unfortunately watched national TV coverage of Waterford that has been far more damaging than what we read in our local newspapers last week. But the reaction to our national pillorying is at the very best muted and subdued and I often wonder why that is?

Take the very recent Vincent Browne TV show that showed Waterford City and County in a very bad light across several hours of national TV debate. And yet our response to this was very passive, almost dismissive and trivialised. In fact, I saw very little reaction to the “bad press” we ultimately received to this a TV programme that can be viewed by literally hundreds of thousands of viewers.

The headlines that grabbed most attention last week were of course “Daylight Muggings” and “Junkie City”. Both excellent pieces of investigative journalism and in many ways both articles were highlighting issues that we ALL know exist in the City, and we ALL know are issues that must be addressed in the short, medium and longer term if Waterford City is to flourish.

Whilst I cannot necessarily agree with the headlines, per say, we can all agree that in recent weeks and months we do have issues with drug use and muggings. These two headlines will hopefully encourage debate and ultimately help us find solutions that suit Waterford City.

What we do not want is people trying to find national solutions for our local problems.

As a relatively small City, Waterford does have its issues and when I hear and read about Waterford being compared to other cities or compared to this national average and that national average this makes my blood boil. To be very frank we should not really care about how we stack up against any other City as the only City that matters to us is Waterford. This is, after all, where we choose to live, work and play and therefore those who choose to compare us to other places I always see them as trying to gain some sort of promotional kudos or are in fact trying to simply flex their local wings.

Waterford needs to be mature enough and big enough to have and to hold sound reasonable debate on the issues that are clearly affecting our City. We must be able to take on all comers when it comes to tackling our City’s problems. Highlighting problems is a start and the fact that we now have these issues “outed” for public debate must surely be a good thing for our City to move forward.

I know that many of our City Centre businesses see on a daily basis that issues highlighted last week in the Munster Express and News and Star, and I know that those business owners and their staff and their customers wish to see creative solutions to our City’s issues. We need to see immediate social solutions to help those who clearly need help and we need to see zero tolerance solutions implemented for those who are freely breaking the law.
It is often said to me “Is what we have in Waterford City worth protecting and fighting for?”

Yes it is, and as I and many others have chosen to live, work and play in Waterford City we must come together to find solutions to our problems.

Finally, what we cannot do is gag, discourage or stifle our excellent local journalists from being just that. Remember that freedom of speech is a pillar of our democratic society and being able to communicate our own opinion, without censorship, is a headline worth shouting about.

Thursday, 13 August 2015

Live Local, Love Local and Shop Local

Selfridges 2015 Christmas Shop!
As you read this article I hope that you, your family, friends, colleagues and business acquaintances have submitted your observations and comments to Waterford Council on the Waterford City Centre Urban Renewal Scheme. The deadline date for submissions was Tuesday 11th August at 16:00.

I do wonder just how many of us engaged with the process and in fact how many actually made the effort and compiled a written submission, observation or comment?

I do know from the work of the Waterford Business Group that we penned a significant submission of circa 6,000 words that took into account the views, observations and concerns of people right across the City Centre, and also included a significant input from Ferrybank as well. As Chair of the WBG it was felt that we should make that extra effort and create a document that reflects the views of many businesses and citizens of Waterford City. The submission will, in due course, be available to view on the WBG website and we would hope that you might find the time to read our submission.

As we look towards what we hope is a brighter future for Waterford City, and its immediate environment, we must remember that it is essential that we continue to Live Local, Shop Local and Love Local.

In fact we do need to work harder on this process?

Whether that is sourcing local suppliers for your businesses “meat and two veg” or finding a local supplier for your stationary, promotional items, your print, graphic design etc etc. The importance of sourcing locally cannot be lost on any of us.

I read with interests across several local newspapers last week stories and articles about local people who are trying to supply local businesses with their products and services. Whilst I do appreciate that people must find value for money there is often as much value for money to be found locally than there is further afield.

Eoghan Dunphy &
Waterford's finest spuds.
For example Dunphy’s of Annestown is a local grower and supplier of fruit and vegetables to the hospitality industry. The Waterford Viking Triangle has recently launched an “Eat Waterford” promotion with in excess of 25 restaurants and hospitality establishments. But how many of these businesses are actually buying and sourcing locally? In fact are how many of these businesses are even aware that there is a local supplier literally on their doorstep? Surely, more work has to be done on this and a simple awareness campaign to promote local suppliers needs to be put in place.

As an addition to this, I noted a post on social media from Paul Dower, from Waterford In Your Pocket, who recently posted that it would be fantastic to go into a local restaurant or eatery and see listed on the menu that the meat, fish, poultry, vegetables, cheese etc were ALL sourced locally and when paying for his meal Paul would therefore be directly contributing and supporting local indigenous Waterford businesses.

Sometimes it is hard to go down this route and sometimes you have to make that extra special effort if you really wish to make a difference to the community we choose to live, work and play in.

There has always been a misapprehension that buying locally is a byword for having to pay extra for a products or services. I can honestly say that I see tremendous value for money at the moment across many, many industry sectors here in Waterford City and in fact I would go further and say there is currently better value for money locally than there is regionally and nationally.

As we start to see the night’s drawing in and our thoughts start to turn towards Christmas – yes it is just around the corner and as Selfridges in London has opened its Christmas shop it must be true – we must for the last four and a half months of 2015 make a concentrated effort to do our bit and support local suppliers and support local businesses.

The back half of 2015 will be a struggle for our businesses as we see footfall numbers to the City Centre continue to be extremely disappointing and we see a lower disposable income spend across the whole South East region in general.

There can be no better time to get out and pin your colours to the mast and give local businesses your support. During the last few weeks of work with the Waterford Business Group, on the Waterford City Centre Urban Renewal Scheme, we have met significant numbers of worried and concerned business people who fear that we are potentially changing the very fabric of the City Centre for the wrong reasons. If we are to see a brighter future for the City Centre then we ALL need to play our part and we ALL need to get into the City Centre and GET involved.

Of course that means going that extra mile and that means working slightly harder to keep your business local and this of course takes time and effort.

But if it can be done in Dublin, Cork and closer to home in Kilkenny and Wexford why can’t we do the same here in Waterford City?

Waterford Business Group submission link is as follows;  

Thursday, 6 August 2015

Is the art of volunteering still alive and well in Waterford?

2014 Run for Life.
On Thursday last (30th July 2015) I was very fortunate to be involved in the launch of the Solas Centre 2015 Run and Walk for Life. Yes, there will this year be two events in one this year! Both events will take place simultaneously on Sunday 11th October with a sharp 12:30 start time.

There will be the now traditional 10-mile run and for the first time ever there will also be a 5-mile walk. The 5-mile walk has been introduced to bring the event back to the people, if you like, and this much easier option will encourage many, many more people to get involved.

More importantly the 5-mile Walk for Life will allow many clients, their families and their friends of the Solas Centre to take part. Both routes have been designed to get all the participants back into the People’s Park, the finishing line, at roughly the same time. This will ensure that there are more people than ever enjoying the post event activities in the Fun for Life.

During the launch event there were a number of speakers and without doubt the short speech from Fiachra Ă“ CĂ©illeachair summed up what the Solas Centre and its most important fundraising event the Run for Life is all about. You could have heard a pin drop as Fiachra retold his family’s story of their fight against cancer and the important role the Solas Centre played and is still playing in his family’s life. Fiachra was delighted to let the gathered audience know that he and his three children would be completing the Walk for Life in the memory of Siobhan.
2014 Run for Life.

Fundraising for bricks and mortar are of course much easier than the continuing fundraising needed for additional services required for a project such as the Solas Centre and without a dedicated band of enthusiastic and committed volunteers it would be impossible to continually set a higher and higher bar and raise increased funds to allow expansion of services. Without a committed volunteer force then it would have been impossible to service the 200 plus clients who have visited the Solas Centre it the first 6 months of 2015.

During the Run and Walk for Life dozens of volunteers will be needed to help marshal the route, marshal crossing pints and of course service water and food stations. Without these volunteers the events simply would not happen and our volunteers require the acknowledgement of us, the public, as without their tireless work ethic the continuation of Solas Centre services would not be possible.

Another organisation I am involved with, on a voluntary basis, is of course the Waterford Business Group, now in its third year of operation. In 2015 at the first AGM we increased the committee numbers from 12 to 14 and we now see 14 good men and women giving up their time and their family time for the betterment of Waterford City and the people of Waterford.

As an example of the tireless work this committee are carrying out on our behalf. You only have to look up at the buildings around the City Centre to see the riot of colour that is part of the annual City in Bloom. This operation takes months of planning and coordination and will continue possibly right up to early October, weather permitting.

City in Bloom 2015.
In addition to the wonderful floral displays around the City Centre you cannot have helped but notice the live musical acts that are playing in John Roberts Square every Friday and Saturday afternoon. These FREE musical sessions are without a doubt bringing much needed increased footfall back into the City Centre.

The Waterford Business Group also does so much more unseen work. Whether that again is giving up free time to attend meetings, representing members on strategic policy committees, lobbying on behalf of members, meeting political representatives to lobbying for increased funding for the City.....and I could literally write and fill a whole years worth of blogs with the unobserved and unnoticed work this tireless group of 14 carry out on our behalf.

I am also involved in the 1848 Tricolour Celebration committee who voluntarily give up a huge amount of their time and their family time to deliver a feast of events, every March, that celebrate Thomas Francis Meagher's "creation" of the Irish tricolour flag which was of course raised for the first time at the Wolf Tone Confederate Club on 33 The Mall, in March 1848. As a footnote the Committee also celebrated TFM's birth date on Monday 3rd August with a new Muldoon cocktail called a "Montana" - most enjoyable and refreshing! 

On Friday, Saturday and Sunday last you could not but help notice the plethora of volunteers helping out with the Spraoi Festival. On Sunday evening in particular I witnessed firsthand young volunteers soaked to the skin, and no doubt hypothermic, on Barronstrand Street doing their bit for Waterford.

From my first hand knowledge I can honestly say that the voluntary organisations I am involved with will always give far more than they are perhaps credited for. And the people who volunteer for these organisations are the unseen and unobserved heroes of many an event and festival that takes place here in our wonderful City. I suppose that key thing that we all must do is dig a wee bit deeper to see that what we are supporting “does exactly what is says on the tin”.

Summer in the City 2015.
There are some organisations, events and no doubt festivals that rely on a huge voluntary support network and yet there are some “paid people” involved in such organisations, events and festivals. And yes some of these people in particular certainly give the impression that they are doing their bit for Waterford but not on the voluntary basis they many well promote. It is up to us, as supporters, to decide who we should support and who we should not support. I suppose the trick is that we need to do a wee bit of homework to ensure that we are supporting those that actually deserve our full support. The question of remuneration does of course play its part in this process and like some very recent high profile press coverage of charity executive salaries we need on a local level to make sure we are supporting "the cause" and not the administration costs of an organisation, event or festival.  

So, the question I posed at the start does on the surface appear to be a “YES”. But you must always look a wee bit closer to see the real value of volunteers and the groups that they support.