Co-operation Was Key To Progress And Acheivement

WHEN John Hume was invited to officially launch the major expansion of the W.I.N. Business Park in Newry in 2004, the wheel turned full cycle. For the Nobel Peace Prize-winner had been present at the very first meeting of Newry Credit Union, from which emerged the Newry Co-Operative Society, founders of the W.I.N. project, in 1974.

And the former SDLP leader would have been impressed to learn that the site at Canal Quay could now accommodate 100 small businesses, providing over 500 jobs.

What a far cry from 1974, when a visionary group of concerned citizens, including business and trade union leaders, took the major step which led to this crucial initiative. At that time, the Newry region had an unemployment rate of 40 per cent; large areas of the town's commercial centre had been destroyed; politically-motivated violence was at its peak, while emigration had reached its highest level since the 1950's.

The aim of the original directors was to mobilise the community in Newry, to take positive action which would create employment; and to put co-ordinated pressure on the Stormont government to invest in the region.

The board of directors was drawn from all sections of the community, concerned about the welfare of their fellow-citizens, co-operating to create a brighter future for the young; removing barriers of class and creed in order to realise opportunities.

That voluntary band of pioneers was led by Frank Dolaghan, a former Housing Executive manager and president of Newry Credit Union, now in charge of the prestigious Mentor company. Others included Eddie Mackle, president of Newry Chamber of Commerce, as well as the Canal Festival Committee; John O'Donnell was A.T.G.W.U. organiser; Peter Connolly, the shoe-merchant; Liam O'Reilly, furniture; Brian O'Callaghan, contractor. Joe Magill's family had a drapery business on Hill Street, while Myles McCann was managing-director of McCann's Bakery, beneath which Bagenal's Castle was recently discovered. He had been an R.A.F. squad-leader in the last war.

The current board contains John McMahon, chairman; Conor Patterson, chief executive; Joe Magill, Michael Hughes, Peter McEvoy, Kevin Starrs,, Kathleen Magee, Sheila McGuigan, Gordon Coulter, Jim McCart, Ronan Dennedy, councillor Paul McKibben and Kevin Magill.

Conor Patterson declared: "We are determined that Newry will never return to the turbulence and economic hardship of the 70's and 80's. I, along with thousands of others, had to leave the town because there were no jobs here. Hundreds of us have returned to take up the employment opportunities, which the Co-op has done so much to create, and to ensure a stable, prosperous future for our home-town. The Newry Co-operative has also worked closely with similar projects in Warrenpoint, Kilkeel and Flurrybridge at Jonesboro, assisting the local communities to establish Enterprise Centres.

When the Reckitt and Colman's plant, known as the `Jam factory,` closed in 1974, almost 400 people lost their jobs. The Co-Operative Society organised a campaign to raise funds, in order to purchase the site, and convert it into workspace.

Over 600 people from all over Newry, South Down and South Armagh invested in the W.I.N.(Work in Newry) initiative. Those investors included mothers and grand-parents, living in housing estates, the Dominican community in the frontier town, as well as small and large businesses. Indeed, W.I.N. was the first managed workspace in the world. The Co-operative then established an Enterprise Fund, in order to assist those striivng to create new business or industries.

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Fabian Boyle 2001-2008