It's still not too late to sign up for the Laois Gift Card #KeepLaoisinBusiness

Laois Chamber, Laois Tourism and the Laois Enterprise Office urge you to shop local this Christmas

Pat Somers, Editor, Leinster Express

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Pat Somers, Editor, Leinster Express

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news@leinsterexpress.ie

#keeplaoisinbusiness laois

Laois Chamber's Vice President Alison Browne and CEO Bernie Everard brave the elements to urge you go use the Loais Gift Card

That's the message from Laois Chamber of Commerce CEO, Bernie Everard as the Christmas shopping season moves up a gear in the wake of last week's lifting of the Level 5 lockdown restrictions.

Since its introduction, the Laois Gift Card has proved very popular and successful, and in a relatively short period of time.

Central to this is the recognition that it makes the perfect gift in so many ways, and all the while ensuring that business remains in Laois and stays local, a crucial consideration in a time that continues to remain precarious for many businesses.

The idea for the initiative was first mooted in late summer.

"Chambers traditionally do gift cards, and many towns do as well," explains Bernie. "For the past two years, there has been a Portlaoise gift card, for example. This has now been subsumed into the Laois Gift Card.

"We went with the full county, instead of localising it," says Bernie.

The Card covers a wide variety of businesses including restaurants, beauticians, barbers, clothes shops, boutiques, pharmacies, opticians, to name just a few. More below image of card.

The ethos underlying the Card is, of course, the whole idea of shopping local and supporting local businesses.

There has been a great uptake on the Laois Gift Card to date, with over 100 businesses participating.

"Many businesses are now utilising it as a way to recognise and reward their staff, instead of Christmas parties this year," notes Bernie. The Card can be used by employers to give a tax free bonus of up to €500 to employees under the Small Benefits Exemption Scheme. The bonus is exempt from tax, USC and PRSI.

"It is accepted in over 50 retail outlets across the county and the list is regularly being updated. It offers a huge range of options for people, whether it's buying new clothes, a meal in a restaurant or investing in the latest tech gadgets."

It makes the ideal gift also for special occasions like birthdays, weddings, thank you gifts and, of course, Christmas.

"Laois Chamber is not getting any benefit from it, all the benefit goes to the retailer," says Bernie.

Ironically, she points out that if it were not for Covid, the card might not have happened at all. "At least something positive has come out of the whole thing," she states.

The card is emblazoned with the Laois Tourism logo and represents a collaboration between the Chamber, Laois Tourism and the Local Enterprise Office. MORE BELOW.

For Bernie, it has been a great way to introduce herself as Chamber CEO to businesses across the county.

2020 has been an unprecedented year for everyone, and the nascent Laois Chamber found itself facing a set of circumstances it could not have possibly envisaged when it was revived in 2019.

It's first year got off to a promising start with the Chamber hosting the inaugural Laois Jobs Fair in the Midlands Park Hotel in February.

The success of the event was very encouraging and looked all set to drive the Chamber's momentum for the year ahead.

With the onset of Covid all that changed. However, adaptability was the name of the game and the Chamber found itself quickly adjusting to a world of virtual support for businesses by way of zoom calls and meetings.

Many businesses sought advice and help from the Chamber as the lockdown got underway and, critically, the Chamber was there to do all it possibly could to fulfil its remit, particularly from the point of view of support, and making connections and networking.

Throughout the year Bernie conducted zoom interviews with many business owners across the county who detailed how they were managing during the pandemic. There was also a host of mentoring workshops via webinar.

In October the Chamber held its first AGM via zoom, at which Ciaran Finane was elected President. MORE BELOW PICTURE.

The conduct of its mission of support and representation for Laois businesses virtually has proved successful for the Chamber and Bernie believes that elements of the virtual way of doing things will continue in a post-pandemic future. "It will be a hybrid between live events and virtual," she opines.

Now, as 2020 grinds inexorably to its conclusion, the Laois Chamber is busy looking at its tentative schedule for 2021.

Planning is already underway for a second Jobs Fair, most likely in the second half of the year. The Chamber had planned to hold Business Awards this year, featuring a black-tie event. This is now also being planned for the second half of 2021.

Aside from these, there will be a schedule of Breakfast Meetings with keynote speakers, and networking meetings for members.

One thing is clear, Laois Chamber is all set to continue its process of engagement with businesses and individuals across Laois, come what may.

For more information on the gift card, see the website www.laoisgiftcard.ie

For information on the Chamber email: info@laoischamber.ie

The Leinster Express has run a #KeepLaoisinBusiness campaign through the Covid-19 restrictions since November to support all the local shops and businesses and jobs they support. MORE HERE.