Over the last few months we have been interviewing and celebrating some of the businesses that have been wonderfully resilient, and nimble in adapting to the changing situation across the last 18 months. In this final article of the current series, we thought we'd share our own Pandemic pivot and story.
Drogheda & District Chamber - pre pandemic
Drogheda Chamber is in business FOR Business. For over 127 years, we have worked to connect, promote, represent and inform business owners & leaders within Drogheda and the surrounding districts.
As a non profit group, our focus is on delivering value for our members. We have a highly engaged and active Council team, made up of volunteers from across different business sectors within the region. They are supported by our office Manager and a small team in our offices which are based in Broughton House on the Dublin Rd.
In 2018 we also established the M1 Drogheda Chamber Skillnet. This was in response to the training needs that our members had flagged with us.
The Chamber serves our business community in lots of different ways - supporting all sizes of business organisations, including both indigenous and FDI companies that position themselves in our region. For instance, for our local exporting companies we operate a same day service for Certificates of Origin - a vital export service for those businesses.
What was the initial impact on the Chamber & how did you react?
Our initial priority was to ensure we were as accessible and supportive as possible - for ALL business in the region. Many business owners and leaders were very unsure of what to do next and who could help. It's easy to forget how terrifying those initial days and weeks were for everyone!
We quickly set up weekly business update lunchtime video call sessions across Zoom - as a check in for anyone who needed or wanted it more so. This became a lifeline and important tool to let everyone know of the fast changing situation, of the supports that were available, to de-mystify and clarify pandemic related business issues, and also to give everyone a safe and friendly and factual network they could engage with.
We then liaised with Louth County Council and the Local Enterprise Office to ensure we could keep everyone abreast of supports and developments as they happened.
Via our M1 Drogheda Chamber Skillnet, we looked to give immediate support for as many sectors as possible. For example we ran a complimentary 4 week programme for Retail and Hospitality businesses that had had to shut their doors. This was fully funded by Skillnet and was focused on supporting the businesses to turn this very serious threat into an opportunity for the participants. It gave them a solid grounding to build strategies and strong relationships in the most difficult of times. Many businesses used this occasion to extend their once 'bricks and mortar' only based operation to a new, engaged online audience. A crucial moment for many business owners at the time and one they needed peer support now for more than ever.
What changes did you make in order to cope or pivot / and to adapt to the situation?
The Chamber office, led by Irene McKeown (Office Manager), was quickly readjusted and repositioned - with one singular focus: to support our member base. Supported by the Council team*, this active engagement is still taking place and the combination of activities across the organisation is making a difference across the wider business community too. The Chamber is here for all business and is ready to help in any way possible.
Some of our changes made in order to most effectively adapt to the macro market conditions were in:
We quickly redeveloped our schedule and moved fully online to deliver a meaningful programme of digital events throughout the calendar year, focussed around our members' needs. We've run everything from standard video conference meetings and workshops to webinars and online speed networking events
Over the past year and a half, effective communications with members and the wider business community has never been more important. We deliver regular e-bulletins to our members and provide vital information publicly through our digital communication channels. Supporting the distribution of key messages from the HSE Public Health North East team has been a key focus for our team over the past few months in particular.
We like to seek out to find new and exciting businesses to lend our support to. Tapit (www.Tapit.ie) has been one local business we've really enjoyed working with over the past year. Co-founders Gavin Duffy and Garrett Gunn have a wonderful cash back product, now live in the local market, which we helped launch back in the summer of 2020. It is picking up pace now and there are some very fun features on the way; one being the VIM scheme. This is a Very Important Member scheme and means that those users of the app who are employees of businesses who are Drogheda Chamber members will automatically get bumped up to a higher level of cash back on transactions! This is very exciting news for Chamber members and has already won a national Chambers Ireland award this year for Best Membership Initiative. Watch this space! The product also caught the attention of the judges in the .IE Digital Town Awards a couple of months ago, when Drogheda won top prize for its 'Making Drogheda Digital' initiative, a submission led by Drogheda Chamber. A prize of €9,000 was awarded and the Chamber will be putting this straight back into supporting local digital initiatives over the coming months.
Cross Sectoral Focus
Just over a year ago, the Chamber Council team set up a number of sub-committees within the Chamber to help drive cross sectoral activity within our region. There are 7 internal teams, all running various projects to support and stimulate positive outcomes for our town and district. These teams are: Membership Value (Lead is Tamara Howard), Arts & Tourism (Lead is Steven Rice), Industry & Professional Services (Lead is Robert Murray), Retail & Hospitality (Lead is Miriam Simon), Agri & Commercial Food (Lead is Robert Murray), Tech & Digital (Lead is Breanndán Casey), and Community & Inclusion (Lead is Robert Murray).
*Voluntary Council Members 2021/22 and their background
How are you feeling about business as we begin to plan to emerge from the lockdowns, and as vaccinations roll out?
Ambitious and excited for our town's business and economic future. We have outstanding attributes here in Drogheda and the pandemic has afforded locals, many of whom may have been clouded of the vast qualities by their daily commute out of the region, to take stock of the opportunities that present themselves. We've seen a substantial investment recently by the IDA in the purchase of 40 acres in North Drogheda to house the Advanced Building Solution (ABS) and much more we hope in the near future!
The future is bright. Drogheda is the future.
Finally … What's your top piece of advice for other businesses?
There is strength in great networks! It's amazing how much progress can be made by spreading your wings. Let's help you spread your wings. Get in touch with any member of the Drogheda Chamber today. We are here to help you and your business grow and thrive.
If you'd like to be featured in this series - We'd love to hear from you @Drogheda & District Chamber.