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Return to the island: living a connected life on Arranmore

The high-speed broadband connectivity that Three has provided to Arranmore has been a catalyst for change

Three

Pictured left to right: Seamus Bonner, Arranmore Community Council, Elaine Carey, Chief Commercial Officer, Three, Adrian Begley, Arranmore Community Council and Eoin MacManus, Chief Business Officer, Three.

 

In a community the size of Arranmore’s, changes become obvious fast. It is just 10 short months since the island’s Community Council partnered with Three on a project to reverse the island’s population decline and rekindle its growth, by improving connectivity on the island. We return to Arranmore and speak to Seamus Bonner and Adrian Begley, two of the key people behind the initiative to see what impact improved connectivity has had on the island community and what other changes are afoot.

Already, the pace of change has seen many positive benefits for Arranmore’s tourism, local business, fisheries, healthcare, education and environment.

Arranmore’s digital hub spearheads the transformation

The MODAM digital workspace is one part of the bigger project, but it’s a useful illustration of the change in action. When it opened earlier this year, its goal was to attract people whose jobs enable them to work remotely, by giving them the ability to do so on Arranmore, while visiting family or staying on holidays. It also allows students to remain on the island to study at third level. Within a month, the facility was already surpassing those early expectations and by the time the summer season drew to a close, the numbers of people using the new digital workspace beat all expectations.

Change comes fast

Getting the building up and running before the summer meant it would be available at the busiest time of the year, when people who left Arranmore years ago return on holidays to visit families and friends. “One advantage of living on an island is that it’s small and you can see the effects of changes pretty quickly. There have been definite increases in visitor numbers,” says Seamus Bonner. “We saw more familiar faces regularly throughout the summer, not just for a week in July or in August,” adds Adrian Begley.

Another way that MODAM beat expectations was the variety in the types of people using the hub.  Originally, we had thought this type of remote working would best suit people working mainly in technology jobs, but on one day in May alone, there were people from banking and motoring, working side by side with people from broadcast media and private health insurance. Other times, we’ve had lawyers from the USA and surveyors from Australia, as well as HR professionals, recruiters, project managers, PR consultants and accountants, using our desk space to catch up on work. 

To date over 70 people have worked at the digital hub and it’s now reached a point where some people are already talking about plans for next year because they’ve sampled the hub and discovered how it can work for them.

The social and community impact

Arranmore’s approach isn’t just an economic one; there’s a far larger social and human aspect to the project. “The reason that we did what we did, before we even thought about the hub itself, was to think about the diaspora relocating home. Arranmore has a lot of things going for it: a great community, great schools, links to the mainland and a rich heritage and history,” says Adrian. “We want to move with the times but at the same time sustain the community that we have. That was always our aim and for that to happen in such a short space was great for us. The hub being a physical thing you can see and touch – it’s a big building, it’s a very tangible aspect to the whole project.”

At a human level, the plan benefits people who want to swap life in a big city to be close to their families, to have flexibility and an improved quality of life. “To have a work space where they can be as productive as if they were in a city; if they are able to do that on Arranmore and then look out the window to see a familiar place, that, for us, is a benefit: striking that work-life balance,” says Adrian.

The high-speed broadband connectivity that Three has provided to Arranmore has been a catalyst for change that is only just beginning. The connectivity is boosting Arranmore’s tourist industry and it’s helping to bring the island’s rich history to a new audience. Recently, the archaeologist Damian Shiels visited the community centre to give a talk about an Arranmore native who fought in the American Civil War. The high-speed broadband connection made it possible to live-stream his presentation on YouTube, which would have been unthinkable before.

Education on the island is also benefiting. The CoderDojo classes that run during the school term use online course materials, so the improved connection makes it easier for children to follow the lessons. “Now that there’s reliable connectivity, we’re looking at things like distance learning for third level. People who in the past couldn’t leave the island for family or work reasons – can now access courses remotely,” says Adrian.

Arranmore’s fishing industry also looks set to see potentially far-reaching changes. Fishermen on the island are trialing IoT technology that can track the location of lobster pots, send an alert if they are moved, and log their catches to make this data available on an online marketplace. This will allow them to sell lobster and shellfish directly to customers or to restaurants in a kind of ‘fair trade’ system for the fishing industry that will allow them to get the best possible price for their product. The use case for this technology goes potentially far beyond just Arranmore. You can hear more about this on our latest Eye on Irish Industry podcast.

Healthcare on the island is also benefiting from the partnership. The medical centre and GP practice can communicate and collaborate with specialists located in other hospitals more easily. A project is underway to place connected IoT sensors in the homes of elderly residents, which will help them to stay at home for longer, improving their quality of life.

“The connectivity really helps, but from our point of view, it was important to make sure that we weren’t implementing these new technologies just for the sake of it; that we had a use case. There are plenty of issues that can be solved, and we wanted to make sure they were practical and useful,” Seamus emphasises. Adrian adds that: “There are seemingly simple fixes that have a big impact: we now have a weather station on Arranmore. Given our geographical location, knowing the weather patterns on a day to day basis is important to us because it impacts everything from transport to fishing to medevac. That in itself is going to benefit the community across the board.”

From the positive changes that are evident so far, Arranmore’s practical approach to adopting technology has clearly been working. And with more developments to come, it’s clear that this is just the start of something special.


If you are interested in learning more about how Three Business are transforming the island of Arranmore, visit Three.ie/theisland