Pubs in five locations in the country will become “community hubs” in a new pilot programme launched today (Friday, March 25) by the Department of Rural and Community Development.

The ‘Pubs as Community Hubs’ pilot is aimed at supporting rural pubs to diversify their facilities for community use.

Examples of the services pubs could provide under this pilot would include community cinemas, digital hubs, arts and crafts workshops and community meeting spaces.

The initiative was formally launched by Minister for Rural and Community Development Heather Humphreys. Financial supports will be provided to the participating publicans in rural areas to diversify their facilities for community use.

The pilot is modelled on a similar scheme in the UK. Under the programme, pubs would play host to events and functions like the ones mentioned above during quiet trading times.

Funding of €50,000 has been provided to the Vintners Federation of Ireland (VFI), which will select five pubs in counties Cavan, Kerry, Donegal, Clare and Cork to participate in the pilot.

The initiative, if successful, will be expanded to other parts of the country.

Speaking at The Keeper’s Arms in Bawnboy, Co. Cavan, Minister Humphreys said: “The local pub is part of the fabric of rural Ireland. Traditionally down through the years, it’s where people in rural communities have come to meet with their friends and neighbours to socialise.

“In recent years our rural pubs have faced challenges and those challenges were exacerbated further during the pandemic,” she noted.

The minister continued: “The new initiative which I am launching today in collaboration with VFI is about exploring how the rural pub can be utilised as a space for community activities and services.

She noted that in rural areas, people may have to travel many miles to access certain services, and there may not be a suitable meeting place for local groups to come together for activities.

“The possibilities are endless, but the goal is simple – supporting our rural pubs so that they can continue to be a focal point in our rural communities.”

Padraig Cribben, the CEO of VFI, said that, upon completion of these pilot projects in the five pubs, a “roadmap” will be offered for VFI members “as they navigate the coming challenges and opportunities faced by the rural hospitality sector”.