The Lakeside Shop & Tearooms is the operating name of the project, which combines a traditional community centre- with an integrated shop and cafe selling basic groceries and cooked meals to visitors on a daily basis. The concept arose from the closure of the last commercial shop in the village, and the need to both replace a dilapidated community hall- and address the need for a local shop.
KLP encouraged Windgap Community Development Clg. to integrate a community-owned shop/ café to its proposed application for a new community building. KLP supported the project through LEADER and its ‘Community Shop Initiative’ which provided training, planning and capital support for communities without a local shop. The nearest commercial shop was almost 10 kilometres away.
The new facility proved instantly popular, despite the restrictions of Covid 19, and the Lakeside Shop & Tearooms rapidly became a fixture in the village attracting many locals and visitors to shop, eat and socialize there. It is now a thriving social enterprise, a classic Smart Village initiative- to which concept KLP is pledged to support development for communities. It acts as an important gateway to the emerging Lingaun Valley tourism area.
Presentation of the project
The project is located on the outskirts of the village of Windgap in southwest County Kilkenny. The community had seen a long-term decline in facilities for all generations. The village had an old community facility: a traditional ‘village hall’, that was in a bad state of repair. On the positive side the community had seen a number of younger people emerge or move to the area, and they combined with longer-resident volunteers to plan a series of revival plans. These included a new playground adjacent the school and the old hall, a walking-track; partially off road. These projects built confidence and capacity in the community. These successes led to the community accepting the bigger project of replacing the old hall.
With the closure of the last shop- and the loss with that of the local sub-post office, the lack of retail services became very evident. KLP’s suggestion of the integrated development of the new community centre with a shop- café was embraced and following an excellent design by a local architect, the project commenced and was completed for opening .in June 2019
The traditional facilities of the community centre have been very much welcomed and well used by the locals and others- including organisations seeking occasional meeting spaces, but The Lakeside Shop & Tearooms has proven the biggest success. The shop- café has in turn provided a platform for further strategic planning in the tourism and related sectors, which will place the village well to secure its socio-economic future.
The facility services a wide range of users: the parents/ guardians and children frequenting the playground, visitors to the waling routes and the wider Lingaun Valley’s heritage and tourism assets, isolated and older people availing of the high class cooked food and- not to be minimised, socialisation opportunities, friends meeting for a chat, locals purchasing basic groceries. The shop is managed by a coordinator paid for from a government employment scheme, but largely staff by volunteers from the community.
The mark of the success of the ‘community shop/ café’ venture was the decision by a local business to open its own shop beside the community shop a couple of years following the opening. The success has led some other private enterprises to consider other investment, with the prospect that the facility will form the central node in other businesses related to visitor accommodation and related services.
KLP use of LEADER was central to the overall development of the several Windgap projects referenced above, and was crucial to the development of the shop-café. Without the animation support of KLP Development Officers, the availability of training in the community shop concept, further by Smart Village information/ training, Analysis and Development funding of the drafting of the building plans, etc.- and finally the significant contribution towards capital costs of construction and fit-out, the project would not have proceeded.
The project is an emblematic and innovative project in the emerging Smart Village concept tradition. The expansion of a network of ‘community shops’ in the face of the decline of rural towns/ villages and their services to their residents and hinterlands, was and remains a key part of KLP’s Local Development Strategy.
The project provides a social focal point for a community that had lost such a vital resource. Since the opening of The Lakeside Shop & Tearooms the village and its wider parish area has started to thrive and grow in confidence and ambition. The evidence of new businesses emerging and opening is an indicator of this reality. Windgap and the Lingaun Valley that its sits in, is primed for further development. Some of which will inevitably be community-led and supported- and some will be private enterprises planting into the soil tilled by Windgap Community Development Clg. and other community and social enterprises.
The project is an exemplar for transference to other parts of County Kilkenny- and to other LAG regions. The basic underlying mechanism is that of social enterprises filling the gap that commercial markets either cannot – or no longer want to fill. As the ‘market’ increasingly withdraws from rural areas, if communities want to retain retail and other services, they may have to consider doing it for themselves!
The project is fully aligned with the Smart Village concept. KLP would aspire to form a network of community shops- cafes in the wider Kilkenny region to share experiences and resources. Three such retail social enterprises have been mentored by KLP over the two most recent programmes. KLP sees cooperation and networking as much as resource sharing as being essential to their survival and thriving.
Video link: RTÉ 1 NATIONWIDE in WINDGAP