Strabane must drive forward in midst of economic challenges - new chamber president

Thursday, 3 August 2017

Strabane must drive forward in midst of economic challenges - new chamber president thumbnailThe president of the Strabane Chamber of Commerce, Mr Martin Gallen

STRABANE was facing many challenges between Brexit and governent cutbacks but the town would find a way to come through. That's the optimistic message from the new president of the local chamber of commerce, Martin Gallen.

The Hollyhill Road man who swapped the building sites for the Uilleann pipes back in 2011, has built up an award-winning company of his own and is now looking forward to the challenges his new position will bring.

However the new president has made one thing clear - he will not be wearing any chain-of-office. He said while he respected the tradition of wearing a chain-of-office, he regarded such things as opulent.

"I have a thing about thing like that. In consider them opulent and I'm not a very opulent person. There's something about them and in a town that has a food bank, I wouldn't feel right wearing such a chain. I've been told I might have to do different but it's my choice and I choose not to," he said.

But the new president also has other challenges on his agenda.

Amid all the discourse and discussion, he is aware that communities along the border are weighing up their prospects and wondering how their future will look. Signs on the roadsides read: 'No EU frontier in Ireland. No hard border. Respect the remain vote. Border communities against Brexit'.


But, he says, the business community in Strabane are realists, they've seen it all before and they firmly believe they have to take matters into their own hands - no matter what comes down the road.

Mr Gallen was elected at the chamber's annual meeting last Wednesday and already he has set the wheels in motion by holding an open meeting in the Masala Restaurant, Castle Street, in the town next Wednesday, August 9, at 7pm.

At it he hopes to outline proposed ideas and events for the year ahead. He also proposes to update those in attendance with the opportunities membership of the chamber can bring and finish with a question and answer session to allow ideas to be fleshed out.

"It's basically an open meeting for business owners in the Strabane and district area to come along and not only hear my ideas but contribute ideas on how we should move forward," said Mr Gallen.

Mr Gallen is an ullleann pipe maker. He took up the profession six years ago after starting out his working career as a architect. He switched when the construction sector dried up as a result of the recession. He always had a love of music but when he discovered the cost of the pipes he decided to try his hand at making them himself and once he acquired the skills, has never looked back.

He is now hoping to 'fine tune' his skills in the chamber and is relishing the challenge to help secure Strabane's place in an ever changing world full of old and new challenges.


"I have an active interest in the town's well being and have been working on events over the past couple of years in conjunction with the council and chamber. I have a few ideas I'm going to announce next Wednesday night, while at the same time encouraging people to either join the chamber or become more engaged.

"It's important now more than ever that border towns like Strabane keep focused with Brexit and the government cutbacks hitting hard. Places on the periphery like ourselves have never fared well. It is up to us to make the most of what we have. Nobody knows what way things are going but traditionally speaking, Northern Ireland hasn't come out of anything too good.

Mr Gallen said between the stalemate at Stormont and the uncertainty of the direction of the Tory attitude to Brexit, it was up to themselves to carve out their own initiatives and future.

"Whatever comes our way is coming our way anyway and we won't have much say in it so it's important to keep strong. I think we should be looking to establish stronger relationships with people across the border. It's important to maintain those connections and keep afoot in both camps. There's always been a strong connection between the likes of Lifford and Strabane and I wouldn't like to see us lose that no matter what kind of border we end up with."

Mr Gallen added putting his hand on his heart, he could not see the government having the money or willing to spend the money on establishing borders again, but they were going to have to police it or make it work someway.


Despite the uncertainty the new chamber president is confident that the experience and resilience shown by Strabane community over the years will stand to them in these challenging times.

"I think we have faced bigger problems in the past. I remember hard times all throughout my life and the town has a habit of sticking together and coming out in force whenever their backs are up against the wall," he continued.

"I was born in 1975 and grew up through the 1980s when there were bombings and shootings but still the town remained active. There is a resilience in Strabane, that's one thing we have in our favour. I will be hoping the chamber can shine a light and encourage people to get behind it. The support I have received to date has been very reassuring and I'm looking forward to next Wednesday's meeting to get things moving."

He added one did not have to be a chamber member to attend and he was hopeful that people would see it as an opportunity to come along and have a positive input.

"We will have strength in numbers. One man shouting on his own is not going to do much.," he said.

Mr Gallen said there were new businesses opening up in town all the time and it was only proper they all came along and offered their experience and know how to helping to make sure Strabane came through whatever challenges it faced.

"I am very hopeful for the town. If we stick together we stand a better chance. Strabane has probably been on the back foot since the merger of the council, but we feel we have a good relationship build up with the body and other public and private bodies and we aim to cement that for the good of the town. Our chamber has a fantastic networking facility and members are always willing and eager to help one another and encourage new businesses to the town. It's a good point of contact. We always fight out corner and try to get a fair slice of the cake. Success can be built on cooperation and coordination. We must harness the town's talent and potential," he said.

Other officers elected at the Strabane chamber annual meeting were: vice-president, Brenda McGrath; treasurer, David Arbuckle and secretary and administration officer, Leona Gallen.


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