"I never thought I'd be the kind of person to go for a swim at lunchtime," said Graham Clarke.
The co-founder and CEO of BaseWorx, a company that makes software for managing co-working spaces, relocated from Galway to west Cork during the Covid-19 pandemic. "When we lived in Galway city, there was always the opportunity to meet someone for a pint after work or to go for a bite to eat.
“It was very much that kind of night life. But here . . . we got into walking and sea swimming kicked off in a big way.”
When Covid-19 hit, he and his partner Amy Murray, were staying in Cork with his Castlefreke-based mother for a Christening, and decided to remain on. After six months, they got their own house in Castletownshend.
They use the Skibbereen-based digital hub, Ludgate, for a lot of their work.
“We go in and out of the Ludgate. I find it really good. I’ve been working for myself for years and I have kind of worked from a kitchen table. I understand that small businesses might want to avoid the cost of a desk but for me, putting that divide between the house and work is important,” he said.
To rent a hot desk is €20 per day plus VAT. Full-time membership is €240 per month plus VAT and that covers a dedicated desk with seven days a week access.
“The Ludgate is of massive benefit. When you’re working from home and on the laptop, it can be an endurance test rather than anything else. You wonder how long you can stick it out,” he said.
While in Galway, Mr Clarke used the PorterShed, a digital hub in the city. Some of his team still work there with the company continuing to be run out of Galway.
The couple are among dozens using the Skibbereen digital hub. The centre, which claims to have made a €4 million contribution to the town since its creation in 2015, now has 55 people using its "hot desks" daily.
To date, it has rented hot desks nearly 4,000 times to digital workers.
“Obviously during Covid, we had periods when the door was closed such as lockdown. But we had our doors open for frontline workers and essential workers,” says Gráinne O’Keeffe, the chief executive of Ludgate since July 2020.
For the former investment banker, it was always the plan she return home to Skibbereen with her husband and three sons after years spent in London, New York and Tokyo.
The ability to work remotely “is changing the landscape of west Cork. It means jobs that previously weren’t available to us down here now are,” she said.
“When things opened up, certainly during the summer, we had the seasonal hot deskers that we usually see. Because we’re in west Cork, we have a strong summer season. Anyone that didn’t have to stay working in Dublin or Cork could work with us, without the need for schools.
“We found that people from the city were extending their time with us. They’d work for the month of July and take their holidays in August. If both parents were working, they’d alternate with the dad coming into the Ludgate for the first two weeks and the mother coming in for the next two. Come September, they had to return home for the opening of schools.”
The past winter has been encouraging with regular members returning. "We're seeing people from Schull, Baltimore, Glandore and Rosscarbery coming back to us," she said.
Some people have migrated entirely to west Cork: “I haven’t seen them in their thousands but we have seen a certain amount. A lot would be creative types in digital marketing, graphic design and people from tech solution companies who are website developers and app developers.”
The influx of families means more pupils for small rural schools.
At one point, Ms O’Keeffe had three children, including twins, under the age of three, living in an apartment in New York. “I was thinking we have to leave. Now I have a five-minute drive to school, soccer, football and the beach.”