The Covid-19 health crisis has forced many small businesses to close, while others have had to adapt to survive. It’s particularly challenging for rural businesses. But an award-winning blacksmith in West Clare is now using his traditional skills to make protective screens for small shops and retailers.
Twenty-five-year old Conor Murray is the fifth generation of his family to trade as a blacksmith at his Kilkee forge, carrying on the skills of his forefathers stretching back to the 1800’s and started by his great, great grandfather, also named Connor Murray.
Conor would normally be busy with his iron craft business, combining his forging skills with those of industrial art and design to make bespoke metal sculptures for public parks, large open amenity areas, as well as garden furniture and stairways.
But the pandemic put a halt to demand for such work and he decided to see what needs and opportunities lay in his own rural community that he might meet during this crisis.
Conor was the Co Clare winner of Ireland’s Best Young Entrepreneur competition last year, run by the Local Enterprise Offices or LEO’s.
He said he had noticed that plenty of big supermarkets and shops were being catered for in the supply of protective screens, but that the smaller stores were being left out.
“I decided to use the prize money I had won in the Entrepreneur competition to invest in some new 3D machinery which would allow me to make purpose built ‘sneeze screens’ which could be adapted to the needs of small shops and retailers,” he explained.
And there has been a huge demand for his products from pharmacies, grocery shops and fast food outlets across Co Clare.
One of his customers is O’Gorman’s shop and service station in Kilkee.
Owner Anne O’Gorman said she wanted to get something to protect her family, her staff and customers.
“My husband had been sick, so he was vulnerable and I decided to ask Conor to come up with a protective screen that would fit in my store. He came up with a prototype which was exactly what I needed, but at the same time is designed in a way that it is not too intrusive, but very secure,” she said.
Padriac McElwee, who is attached to the Clare Local Enterprise Office says the coronavirus has made it very challenging for small local businesses to survive.
But he said Conor Murray was a good example of the adaptability of our entrepreneurs and how they can change their business models to meet the needs of their communities and at the same time survive economically beyond the pandemic.
He said LEO’s offer a number of supports, including mentoring to help businesses look dispassionately at what opportunities they can exploit.
In addition they are also providing a ‘continuity voucher’ which is effectively a consultancy service about how businesses can re open, what health and safety procedures they will need and how best to implement social distancing, and win customers back.
“We have a wide range of expert consultants available that can help businesses in these very challenging times, and assist them to rebuild as they get back to business,” he said.