Tackling rural isolation with Social Spin

Social Spin is a pilot programme in two Kerry locations designed to help rural publicans help their communities by providing a voluntary taxi service. The VFI is making a video about the programme and while in Kerry talked to publicans running the service.

Publican Sean O’Mahony in the Killarney Country Club

The changes introduced by the Road Traffic Act 2018 have had a devastating effect on rural areas, with many people now afraid to visit the pub. The ‘morning after’ checkpoints have compounded the problem.

Faced with such a drastic scenario, publicans have been asking themselves what can be done to halt the decline of the rural pub.

One possible solution is to be found in Kerry, where publicans in two villages are running transport schemes aimed at getting people to and from the pub. Called ‘Social Spin’, the programme is being run on a pilot basis for 12 months and is supported by both the VFI and Diageo.

Sean O’Mahony runs the Killarney Country Club in Faha, about 10km from Killarney town. Sean says the pub was in a “do or die” situation after the drink driving laws were changed. “We called a meeting of local people where it was decided that something had to be done. The pub is at the heart of our local community and we were determined to protect it.”

Social Spin was born and although it only launched in June, Sean says the results so far are extremely encouraging.

He explains how Social Spin works: “We have 30 volunteer drivers so it really is a community effort. The car is available from 6.30pm to 11.30pm every night. Customers call the Social Spin dedicated mobile number to arrange collection. It’s as simple as that.

“It’s a volunteer service so there is no charge, passengers can make a donation to a maximum of €5 per trip, which goes towards diesel and maintaining the car. Running costs are approximately €200 per week.”

Sean also mentions solving the insurance issue  as a key factor in allowing the service to launch. “I’d like to thank FBD for taking us on board, who worked closely with us while we established Social Spin. In the end we secured open insurance for just over €4k.”

The Faha service is now transporting over 80 people to and from Killarney Country Club per week. “We’re a small rural community so this is a lifeline. It needs to be rolled out nationwide,” says Sean. “The government need to support schemes such as this across the country.”

That’s a sentiment echoed by VFI Chief Executive Padraig Cribben. Speaking in Faha, he said pubs are facing many challenges but the new drink driving laws had impacted rural communities to such a degree that it prevented people from socialising. 

“Social Spin is a community driven scheme that facilitates communities to come together,” he says. “The pub is the hub and the publican is at the centre of many rural communities.

“We see that the local community welcomes Social Spin, which allows people to get out of their homes and avoid rural isolation.”

The aim is to use data from the two pilot schemes in Kerry to create a blueprint for a nationwide service that can be presented to government.

“The message to government is, rural communities are crying out for solutions,” says Pasdraig Cribben. “There’s been no support so far from government except loose talk.”

Constance Balsamo, Head of Alcohol Policy and Public Affairs with Diageo, says the company is happy to support the Social Spin initiative. “Social Spin is at the core of what Diageo does, helping local communities grow. We see Social Spin as a scheme that’s driven by the community for the benefit of everyone.

“Seeing the scheme in operation here in Faha, it’s obvious there is a real sense of conviviality amongst the locals that’s great to see,” adds Constance. 

Further north in the village of Causeway, five publicans have come together to run the Social Spin programme in the area. Richard Keane, one of the publicans behind Social Spin, says that since operations began in June they have secured 42 volunteer drivers, a sure sign of the support for Social Spin in the area.

“The reaction has been super,” he says. “Social Spin has lifted everything in the village. We see the service becoming more popular every week. 

“Rural Ireland is coming up with solutions but we need support from government. We’re seeing faces in the pub we haven’t seen for years. People are depending on the service now – and politicians need to understand that.”