Graiguenamanagh – Barrow Valley Activities Hub
The project is a social enterprise based initially around ‘place making’ in the small town of Graiguenamanagh as a hub of outdoor activity tourism based on the River Barrow on which the 2.4 hectare site borders, and the adjacent mountains and hills. The project evolved and grew as opportunities emerged from the catalyst of the construction of the Hub building itself. This multi-use facility was originally designed as a base for canoeists, swimmers and hikers.
It fulfills the original purpose very well, while growing to become the centre of a wider range of services to tourism visitors. In particular the site has become a thriving campervan/ motorhome visitor site, with space for up to 75 vehicles. The facility is booked to capacity most weekends of the year.
The funding gained from this business, have allowed BVCD to invest in its facilities to accommodate other tourism and social enterprises to benefit visitors- and ultimately visitors to the town. For example, BVCD has invested in an installation of solar panels to supply power to campervans and the Hub.
BVCD have surveyed the expenditure of campervan visitors in Graiguenamanagh (beyond the facility) and estimate that they generate €2 million annually for the town.
Presentation of the project
The Outdoor Activity Hub is situated in the very attractive riverside town of Graiguenamanagh on the east border of County Kilkenny. The River Barrow forms the eastern boundary of the 2.4 hectare site, which had lain vacant for many years following its abandonment as a ‘pitch & putt’ course (mini-golf) site. The site was originally in the ownership of the local authority/ municipality: Kilkenny County Council (KCC).
Graiguenamanagh has suffered from disadvantage for many decades- since the decline from the 1960s, of the river/ canal traffic in agricultural products. Its geography: distanced from rail and national road networks, meant that despite its picturesque appearance and adjacent mountain and river attractions, the town did not achieve its potential as a rural tourism centre.
In 2007 KLP identified the potential of the disused pitch & putt site as of high strategic value. KLP part-funded BVCD in 2014 to establish a small social enterprise based on an artificial sporting surface for football, tennis, etc., that adjoins the Hub site. In 2015 KLP proposed to BVCD that an ‘Outdoor Activity Hub’ services building would help support and grow the already existing activities- and crucially, ensure that some value was secured for the town of Graiguenamanagh.
KCC became a partner in the initial project and supported the transfer of a lease for the site to BVCD and helped co-fund the initial LEADER grant to develop the hub building. The Hub building was completed in 2016 and realizing the importance of improved access, BVCD, KLP and KCC negotiated with the National Asset Management Agency (NAMA) to secure lands to the south of the site that would facilitate the construction of a new entrance to facilitate emergency and larger leisure vehicles, such as campervans.
Starting in 2020 (during the Covid 19 restrictions and opening) the campervan business grew steadily at first and then accelerated to its capacity. The installation of solar panels- with plans for more on the roof of the Hub- and elsewhere in town to the value of the Hub and other community projects was a very significant additional benefit.
In parallel with the campervan growth, BVCD built the non-vehicular outdoor activity business- and expanded into providing environmental and recreational courses based on the river and mountain environment in which it is situated. The basing of The Waterways College: a training and education concept based on the skills and learning attached to the waters: rivers, canals, lakes, sea, wetlands, etc. at the Hub added considerably to the potential attractions and utility of the Hub in the growing environmental and sustainability sectors.
KLP was the main outside driver and mentor of BVCD in the initial planning and development phases. Now with the Hub attracting national attention as a model of ‘place making’ and sustainable tourism social enterprise from Failte Ireland (the Irish Tourism Board) and other municipalities, KLP is delighted to see BVCD flourish. It has also established itself as an expert in the development of campervan facilities, advising other towns and villages on their plans.
The project is a priority for KLP on account of both its positive impact on the socio-economic quality of life of the wider Graiguenamanagh area, and of its replication and scalability potential for other towns and areas of the county, and beyond. The town in itself has become a ‘Hub’.
The impact on Graiguenamanagh has been significant, both in terms of economic value and of the sense of ‘can-do’ and morale of the town’s businesses and communities. The estimated increase (supported by retained individual visitor surveys) of €2 million per annum from the campervan trade alone is very considerable in a town of its size: less than 1,500 people. The visual effect is clear to observers. Strategically the town is now a growing hub for outdoor activity visitors and is beginning to support adjacent settlements to optimise their visitor attractions too, in a symbiotic beneficial relationship.
On a grander strategic level, the project provides an example (and a possible pathway for some) for towns like Graiguenamanagh with attractive setting but few existing tourism assets to take advantage of their opportunities to become centres for tourism. Other towns and rural locations in Kilkenny and far beyond are nor visiting and examining the ‘Graiguenamanagh Outdoor Hub model.’
A key element of the project that should be emphasised is the role of the community in kick-starting the development process. BVCD is a social enterprise. Without it work, supported by KLP as the initiators, and then by KCC and others, the wider benefits would not have accrued.
Some of those wider benefits are in the environmental/ climate action sectors. The installation of solar panels to displace the energy needs of campervan visitors and the community is novel. The hosting of The Waterways College demonstrates a wider vision than that of a typical private enterprise.