Athlone is to have its very own TV channel later this month when Athlone Community TV (ACTV) is launched.
The community-driven initiative will be web-based and currently has some samples of what's to come available on its Facebook page.
The brainchild of Martin Sumner, Athlone Community TV aims to facilitate individuals, groups and communities to tell their own stories and Martin explained this week that it is very much a community initiative - driven by the community for the community.
Explaining how the idea for Athlone Community TV first came about, Martin said: "Community TV is very popular in other countries in Europe and is in service in Ireland over the last 22 years with, I believe, Navan being the first followed by other towns and cities.
"ACTV will be unique in community TV in Ireland in that it will be totally web-based. With the rapid changes in technology it is now possible to go wed-based and still reach an audience both domestic and abroad.
"We have individuals who had to leave these shores for whatever reason who are looking forward to the launch in August. It's another way of staying connected."
While Athlone Community TV will go live this month, Martin expects that an official launch will take place around November, when it will be fully operational. He said Athlone Community TV will allow locals "to tell their own diverse stories, to share experiences and in the media rich world, to become active creators and contributors of media rather than passive consumers. It presents a unique vehicle for the community and voluntary sector, civil society, agencies, NGOs and citizens to work in partnership to make a difference."
It is hoped that Athlone Community TV will provide a record of the lives of people in Athlone and promote the town and the region in a positive light. Most of the content on the website will be pre-recorded but it is hoped to live-stream certain content in the future.
Already, Athlone Community TV has been invited to travel further afield to highlight exciting places to visit and Martin said this week they will continue to do this until they get too busy within their own communities.
The idea of a community TV channel for Athlone first came to Martin about four years ago and he then approached existing services with the possibility of covering costs of a promotional video made by Athlone's youth highlighting all that is positive in town in their eyes.
"For whatever reason these organisations didn't or couldn't support the idea, so I suppose it was then that the seed was sown," explained Martin.
"ACTV will be unique in community TV in that, as I said, it will be totally web-based.
"However, I strongly believe that other wed-based community TVs will follow. There are a number of reasons for this; one is because technology is changing so rapidly and the other is the way people are using the web to view media. There are more and more web-based channels becoming available on the likes of Sky and other digital services."
Martin told the Westmeath Independent this week that there are a number of people from any sectors of society who have contributed their time and effort in recent months in a bid to get Athlone Community TV off the ground. He said there were also people who came forward with great ideas that ACTV was not in a position to implement, but he hoped this would change in the coming months.
"ACTV will not be about individuals, it will be about community and those who contribute the contents to the channels. You will be able to see who has been involved by viewing our contents in August," he said.
Martin explained that while Athlone Community TV won't strictly come under the remit of the Broadcasting Authority of Ireland (BAI), it plans to use the authority's regulations as guidelines in a bid to ensure it is operated to the highest standards, where everyone is given their say.
He said: "For instance in the last referendum earlier this year we had the pleasure of interviewing Lucinda Creighton, Minister of State with Special Responsibility for European Affairs, who, as we know, was on the YES side and on the NO side we interviewed Luke Flanagan, TD from Roscommon. So that's how balanced we will be into the future regarding anything we do."
Martin explained that the service will be free to community groups within Athlone and surrounding areas if they wish to avail of the services of Athlone Community TV, but he said in certain circumstances they will ask groups to contribute to the costs, which are quite low.
He said that in the past six months groups or individuals have rarely been asked to contribute and all costs will be wavered in exceptional circumstances.
"We keep our running costs very low due to the fact that we don't employ individuals either directly or indirectly. We are totally voluntary, which is becoming a rear thing now a days. We have received a small grant of Ä450 from the Arts Council in Westmeath earlier in the year and we will apply for funding from any quarter if funding is made available," he said of how the website will be funded