Triple success for Galway County Council at Local Authority ‘Oscars’

The recently opened BIA Innovator Campus in Athenry, the community-based ‘Healthy Islands’ initiative and a pilot scheme aimed at improving energy saving and management in County Galway’s social housing stock have been named winners at the 2024 All-Ireland Community and Council Awards.

Galway County Council’s triple success in what is regarded as the Oscars of the local government sector was revealed at a ceremony held at the Dublin Royal Convention Centre last night (Saturday, 17 February 2024).

Now in its 18th year, the award scheme hosted by LAMA (Local Authority Members Association) and IPB Insurance recognises and celebrates communities and the country’s 31 local authorities working together.

Opened in January by Taoiseach Leo Varadkar, the BIA Innovator Campus in Athenry is the first Centre of Excellence for the Irish food industry in the country and aims to drive regional and national growth in Ireland’s agri-food sector. The facility, which was developed with the support of Galway County Council, was named overall winner of the ‘National Impact Award’ after coming out on top in a shortlist that also included Dublin City Council (Connection Arts Centre), Dún Laoghaire-Rathdown County Council (Coastal Mobile Route) and Wicklow County Council (It Takes A Village & Tiglin and the Rise of the Cover).

Galway County Council also was named overall winner of the ‘Best Energy Smart Initiative’ for its ‘Heat Pump Remote Access’ project, having beaten off competition from Wicklow County Council (Bray Bolt E-Bike Scheme), Mayo County Council (Castlebar Energy Clinics) and Dún Laoghaire-Rathdown County Council (Carbon Neutral Street Lighting).

The pioneering approach to sustainable energy, which is currently is being piloted in a local authority estate, involves the installation of GSM modems on domestic heat pumps to enable technicians to remotely monitor for energy efficiency and any maintenance requirements ahead of any required callouts. Should the initial trial prove successful, Galway County Council says it will roll out the scheme across its full housing stock that contain heat pumps, including all new builds.

The ‘Healthy Islands’ project was named winner of the ’Best Community Health’ category in recognition of its efforts to promote health and well-being, to improve communication and enhance knowledge of available services amongst residents of The Aran Islands (Inis Meáin, Inis Mór and Inis Oírr) and Inisbofin.  The project featured free activities and resources for more than 200 participating residents to promote health and wellbeing across all the islands, including pulse and blood pressure checks, healthy cooking demonstrations workshops, a community fun-run, yoga, relationship and sexual health education, citizen information advice, and exercise and fitness tips.

Meanwhile, Galway County Council’s Garraí Ghuaire social housing development in Kinvara was shortlisted in the ‘Best Housing Regeneration & Urban Planning’ category alongside entries from Dún Laoghaire-Rathdown, Fingal, South Dublin, Clare, Cork County and Wexford. The development, comprising 10 detached and semi-detached homes, was completed in January 2023.

Corofin-based Heptagon Houses Ltd. also was shortlisted in the ‘Best Micro Start-Up’ category alongside The Smooth Company (South Dublin), Farmteam (Wicklow), Quickcropt (Sligo) and Nualach Automation (Cavan). The company, which has benefited from supports provided by Local Enterprise Office Galway, has been lauded for its innovative business approach that has seen the family-run enterprise thrive as Ireland’s sole manufacturer and installer of Timber Framed Greenhouses.

Cllr. Liam Carroll, Cathaoirleach of Galway County Council, accepted the awards on behalf of the Local Authority.

Speaking following the ceremony he said, “It is wonderful to see the range and breadth of the Local Authority’s involvement in the day-to-day social and economic development of communities across County Galway being showcased on the national stage. I am very proud of the staff of Galway County Council for their steadfast commitment to making a positive difference to the lives of those who live and work in County Galway. These award wins are testament to their hard work.”

Liam Conneally, Chief Executive of Galway County Council, commented, “I am very grateful to the Local Authority Members Association and the adjudicators for recognising the great work being carried out by local authority staff across the county. This work is not always given the recognition it deserves, which is why I am delighted that the Galway County Council has received the top award in three different categories covering the areas of economic development, sustainable energy, and rural and community development.”

“Galway County Council is proud of its central role in developing the BIA Innovator Campus in Athenry,” he added. “This important facility is a driver for the food industry for the region and through the Galway Local Enterprise Office, will position Athenry as a centre of food innovation for the future.”

Commenting on the Healthy Islands initiative, which was coordinated by Healthy Galway County under Galway Rural Development’s Social Inclusion Community Activation Programme (SICAP), Mr. Conneally said, “Receiving national recognition in this award scheme so soon after the initiative was named winner at the National Age Friendly Awards is testament to the efforts of the various community and economic development groups on the islands who played a vital role in the success of the project.”

Speaking about the background to the ‘Heat Pump Remote Access’ project, Mr. Conneally stated, “Galway County Council has retrofitted approximately 300 houses to achieve a BER A rating through the Local Authority Energy Efficiency Retrofit Programme. The installation of Solar PV panel with heat pumps on all retrofit houses to provide a free source of fuel for has greatly reduced annual energy costs for the occupants of these homes.”

“The Heat Pump Remote Access project seeks to maximise energy savings and speed up maintenance responses by rolling out a project whereby the pumps are monitored remotely. We will be able to identify potential problems prior to site callouts as well as advise the dwelling occupants about how to maximise the efficiency of their heating pumps. This will form an integral part of the Housing Planned Maintenance Programme generating cost and time efficiencies for both the Local Authority and the occupants,” he added.

In relation to the award picked up by Heptagon Houses Ltd., Mr. Conneally said, “Through the broad range of mentoring, upskilling and practical supports provided by Local Enterprise Office Galway, we are seeing a growing number of micro start-ups like Heptagon Houses Ltd. making a real impact. Galway County Council will continue to provide the launchpad for such enterprises to take the next step in their ongoing development.”

Visit www.lamaawards.ie for more on the 2024 All-Ireland Community and Council Awards.