Will Irish pubs become the next start-up incubators?

In its plan to develop rural areas in Ireland, the government suggests to use the pubs as offices in order to take advantage of the generalized adoption of remote work.

The Irish pub, this distinctive “local“, a place of casual friendship and camaraderie solidly embedded in Ireland’s social culture, may overhaul its business model. The Irish government would like to see some of the 7,000 public houses, 1 for 700 people, become co-working offices.

On March 2021, The Irish government published the “Rural Development Policy 2021-2025 – Our Rural Future“, a 128-page document laying out a blueprint to revitalise Ireland’s deserted rural areas in a post Covid-19 recovery.

Among all the solutions provided, places like the Post office or the bars are thought of as potential community spaces and hubs for local services.

1,700 less pubs in 10 years

Pubs were forced to close their doors during the Covid-19 pandemic but their businesses also struggled before the virus. Between 2005 and 2017, Ireland lost 1,500 pubs, a 17% decrease according to the Drink Industry Group of Ireland. And rural counties were more impacted by the decline with a 19% drop for the pubs outside of Dublin.

As the population migrated to the urban areas, local services, shops, and pubs ceased their activities and increased the social desertification of these regions. Between 2011 and 2016, the population under 25 decreased by 2% in rural areas despite a growth of the population nationwide.

The most rural areas have the oldest age profile at 41.2 years whereas the national average age is 37.3.

The Rural Development Policy aims to offset the trend.

A pub in rural Ireland
Andersons Thatch Pub, a rural pub in the County Roscommon in Ireland. It has a density of 25 people/km2

Remote work as an opportunity to revitalize rural areas of Ireland

And Covid-19 could eventually bring the population back in rural areas. According to a survey of 5,600 respondants, 94% were interested in working remotely to some extent after the Covid-19 crisis.

Remote work could help retain the talents who used to move into larger cities to get a job, and attract a lot more other skilled workers willing to escape the urban density.

The Irish government will introduce a legislation in 2021 providing the rights for employees to ask for remote work. It also plans on converting 20% of the public sector into home or remote working by the end of the year, and developing flexible open desks in the office.

Is the Irish pub the new co-working office and start-up incubator?

A pilot scheme will be conducted to develop a network of 400 remote working facilities throughout the country with shared back-office services and a single booking platform for users.

The large number of pubs spread throughout the country could easily act as a co-working infrastructure. The pubs would in turn increase attendance during  working hours.

Man with a laptop working in a bar
Will Irish pubs in small villages more look like this in the future?

Needless to say that telecommunications and transportations infrastructure would be crucial in this success. Yet, 30% of the highly remote areas didn’t have internet connection in 2016.

As such, the National Broadband Plan, a €2.7 billion investment that the government qualifies as the “largest infrastructural project in rural Ireland since rural electrification, spanning 96% of Ireland’s land mass“, will provide high speed broadband network to nearly 600,000 premises.

But in the meantime, bars, cafes and restaurants are still forbidden to welcome clients.

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