How remote work contributes to sustainable communities – Maria & Colum’s story

3 min and 5 sec to read, 769 words

On the small island of Valentia, off the coast of Kerry, is a vibrant community of remote workers. Over 15 percent of the working population of Valentia works remotely, a number that local community member Colum O’Connell is hoping will continue to grow over the coming years. 

Colum is the Local Leader of the Grow Remote Valentia chapter and over the past few years has been committed to helping locals who want to stay or move back to Valentia to get remote jobs, and also to attracting new people and families to the island. 

Employment was always the biggest issue in the past for small communities like Valentia, explains Colum. But with remote work things have changed. 

“I moved to Valentia 11 years ago”, says Colum. “Back then the problem statement back then was ‘where are you going to get jobs?’” Then Grow Remote and remote work started to come up and we began to think we could solve this problem – we could have an opportunity to create jobs and allow people to live where they want. It was perfect for us.”

So Colum and others on the island set up a Grow Remote chapter and got to work spreading the word. “We threw ourselves into it” he says, “we started to do community events and there was a strong level of interest”.

“That was the first time we had a line of sight on the art of what’s possible”. 

Colum’s sister Maria was also living on Valentia Island. She said the community was quick to see the opportunity and get behind it.

“There is a common saying or half-joke here that ‘you fatten your kids for export’. In the past, the choice of staying wasn’t always there, even if the desire to was. Remote working gives people back that choice”, said Maria. “During the lockdowns in 2020, many people with connections to Valentia decamped to the Island and for some it shone a light on what was possible in terms of having the fantastic lifestyle Valentia offers while still being able to progress your career.”

For Maria, remote work was not just opening up opportunities for the island, it was opening up opportunities for her as well. She was looking for a role that fitted her career aspirations, which was to work in a role with a non-profit organisation.

“Through Grow Remote, I saw a position advertised with The Wheel which I was lucky enough to secure. So I find myself working in a very rewarding job, with a fantastic company and living in an area I love.”

Colum was delighted to see Maria land a great role while also being able to stay on Valentia. “Remote working set her up in terms of the career path she wanted. It wasn’t any old job to work remotely, it was actually a role that aligned to her career path and her career aspirations”, he says. 

Maria is optimistic about the potential of remote work for the future of Valentia. “There is definitely a renewed sense of optimism about the place, particularly  among the younger generations. Regardless of their chosen career, everyone should be afforded the opportunity to live where they wish.” 

“Traditionally a big part of the Island’s economy has been tourism so it’s difficult for businesses to sustain themselves all year round. By attracting new people and families to the Island, remote working has the potential to create the year round critical mass needed to sustain services, restaurants and pubs etc and potentially encourage other businesses to open. The result, hopefully, will be a more vibrant and sustainable social and economic model for the Island.”

Colum is positive about the progress that has been made on Valentia over the past few years. “We now can measure the progress that has been made. If you look at the CSO census data you’ll see that around 15% of all people working on Valentia are working remotely, it’s amazing. That’s a line in the sand, that’s our baseline, and we want to make sure that goes up rather than down in the next census.”

But he also says there are other barriers in the way that are preventing Valentia from realising the full potential of remote working. “Now the problem statement for us as a small community is no longer where are we going to find the jobs, it’s where are we going to find the housing? So that’s the next problem statement we have to solve.”

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