The decision by Government to abolish Town Councils in 2014 caused a genuine concern that a heritage town like Birr might lose a great deal of voice and influence in the affairs of County Offaly. A series of large and small public consultations demonstrated that there was support for a forum that would facilitate public consideration of issues that would affect the welfare and wellbeing of Birr and its neighborhood areas. From this public consultation Birr 20:20 Vision Limited was established and began regular public meetings in 2015.
Its aim is to provide the conditions in which by cooperation, collaboration and complementarity the interests of Birr can be identified, envisioned and pursued vigorously. It has identified Tourism as a key generator of wealth in the town and district. Early in its activity it reviewed the empty or under-used public buildings in the town and identified the Courthouse and John’s Hall for immediate consideration. It noted the old Workhouse as requiring sustained attention and it sought the goodwill of Birr Scientific and Heritage Foundation to begin to explore in-depth the nature of the current tourism and visitor attraction activity in the town.
As an essential preliminary to purposeful development, Birr 20 : 20 has developed with volunteer input this website, Visit Birr.ie, with an ever-increasing information base of regular and current activities. It has commissioned a scoping study of the Courthouse as a creative space in which many forms of the Arts can be housed, cross-fertilized and flourish in partnership with the existing Birr Theatre and Arts Centre. It has actively supported the development of serious educational tourism in archaeology, heritage and medical services that have been so successful already that a proposal is in formation for the permanent use of John’s Hall and the adjoining former Civic Offices as an Education Centre with exhibition space. With Foundation support it has initiated Animation Residencies in association with the pre-existing Offline Film Festival. Already one of the 2018 Animation Residents has decided to reside permanently in Birr for the practice of his profession. With its capacity to encourage, it has supported the development of the Workhouse as a residential care centre for those experiencing Alzheimer’s syndrome with museum, restaurant and crèche attached.
In all not a bad record for four years of voluntary work and collaboration!