Those behind Derry’s new wave of homegrown businesses have expressed their backing for a BoxPark type development at Fort George.
Many existing businesses and aspiring entrepreneurs have said they would be keen to base themselves from a unit at such a facility at the former army barracks site, which is now in public ownership.
Kevin Pyke, founder of Pyke ‘N’ Pommes along Derry’s quay said the project, which would consist of large shipping containers similar to their current premises, was “a super idea” which would add a new element to the city for local people and the growing number of tourists coming here.
Kevin (40) whose business has grown since he started along the quayside in April 2013 with a van to now include Blackbird in the summer of 2016, said: “It’s a cracker. It works in other countries and I think bringing creative people together in the one hub makes sense too.
“From barbering to eating to surfing, we could bring people in that don’t have any direction, and have 15 different trades down here under one set-up and all the guys like ourselves are willing to put a bit of time in to share a bit of knowledge. I would love to get involved.
“The teenagers, by the time they are 16/ 17 they have nothing to do here, they have no direction so they either make wrong decisions or they skip out of town. This could generate 100 jobs.”
He added that he was able to start up Pyke ’N’ Pommes with an investment of £10,000. “If you have got a wee idea it doesn’t have to cost you £100,000,” he said,
Jake Gallagher (26) The Derry Barber Company is also interested in taking a unit in a new BoxPark and said it expand upon what the city and its quayside have to offer.
He said: “With B&M there and the new Home Bargains opening up in the area there will be a lot of passing traffic, and there is a lot of parking down here.
“I’ve moved away, I’ve done the whole living in Australia, and I thought it was the end of the world coming back, I was dreading it, but the work you are in makes the place that you are in, and the Derry Barber Company recognised my skills and gave me a start when I came home.”
Jake said many of the staff there had trained on the premises at what is now one of the busiest barber shops in the town, adding that he would like to see more indigenous businesses being developed by local people, which would, in turn, generate employment.
“There is only so much young people in the town can learn in a college or recruitment agency, they do good work, but they need that experience in the industry, see how a shop works. If you had a facility you could train them up and then they are ready to walk into any place.”
He added that Fort George has “got the space, got the potential, it just needs the backing and go ahead”.
Fellow Derry man Ben Holly (27) said the BoxPark would be the ideal location for his plans for a base for his Wild Atlantic Wave surfing school business.
“As someone who has been travelling for the past five years I don’t have much capital so this would give me a head start; a foot up, somewhere central.”
Ben has big plans to have premises in Derry and take surfing students to Donegal.
“It would give me a chance to develop the business as a tourism package,” he said.
“We have tens of thousands of tourists coming to Derry every year and there is not really any outlet to bring them from Derry to Donegal. They all operate in their areas and you have to go to that area. Portrush and Bundoran are absolutely based on their surf tourism, and Derry is based on its tourism but doesn’t take into regard the fastest-growing sport in Ireland at the minute.
“You’d be linking with local hostels, hotels, accommodation, food, nights out.
“One of the biggest clients I would have if was set-up is going to be hen parties and stag parties and corporate bonding so it’s not people coming for the one day - it’s people coming for the weekend.
“There would also be a lot of trying to work with the disabled and with schools.”
Ben said he believed this was something the local council and other tourism bodies could get behind.
He added: “I have got a few younger surfers I would know that wouldn’t have summer jobs so I would pay for them to do their training and employ them for a while, give them a chance. It’s something I would have loved to do when I was younger.”
Ronan Stewart, co-founder of RoCo eco-organic hair and beauty business, based on the quayside, said he believed the area along the quay was central to Derry’s future and said a BoxPark would be an excellent addition to that, particularly for young people who might be trained there.
Ronan, whose company runs an apprenticeship scheme to give young people a chance to hone their skills, said: “This would encourage young people and show them there is something they can do in Derry.
“I would give a lot of talks to schools and there is this mindset that they need to get out of Derry as quick as possible, they really think there is nothing out there so if they see things like this happening, it would prove to them it can be done.
“It’s about encouraging them young ones and hopefully it will act as a catalyst for them.”
For more detail of the BoxPark proposals see: www.derryjournal.com/news/groundbreaking-proposal-for-fort-goerge-site-1-7837685.