Off the Streets and into the garden for Galliagh’s youth

Michael McLaughlin (left) helps Gareth Austin tend to the vegetables in the Off The Streets vegetable garden in Galliagh Park.(2607SL15)
Michael McLaughlin (left) helps Gareth Austin tend to the vegetables in the Off The Streets vegetable garden in Galliagh Park.(2607SL15)

Young people in Galliagh have been grabbing the headlines for all of the wrong reasons recently.

The actions of a few sometimes tarnish the reputation of many but young people involved with Off the Streets in Galliagh are determined to show everyone that not all young people in the area are involved in antisocial behaviour.

Off The Streets children Lee Bradley, Michael McLaughlin and Rhona O'Hagan pictured with, from left, Damien Coyle (Programmes Worker - Off The Streets), Gareth Austin (Community Horticulturist) and Aileen Mellon (Youth Worker - Off The Streets). (2607SL14)

Off The Streets children Lee Bradley, Michael McLaughlin and Rhona O'Hagan pictured with, from left, Damien Coyle (Programmes Worker - Off The Streets), Gareth Austin (Community Horticulturist) and Aileen Mellon (Youth Worker - Off The Streets). (2607SL14)

Off the Streets is funded by the Big Lottery Fund and works with young people who run the risk of becoming involved in anti-social behaviour.

Damien Coyle is Off the Streets Programme Worker and Aileen Mellon is one of the organisation’s youth workers. Damien and Aileen both said that whilst the recent actions of some of the young people in the area was not helpful, it was important to recognise the good work that was going on also.

“The young people in this area are a credit to their communities,” said Damien.

“All you have to do is look at the work they carried out in the vegetable garden just outside. No matter what project we come up with the young people are always there and they are full of enthusiasm. Not all of the young people in this area are engaged in anti-community behaviour.”

Aileen added: “We had an older group of young people aged between 15 and 16 and they worked on a few horticulture projects throughout the area. Our younger group of 11 to 13 year olds saw the results they were getting and expressed an interest in doing something similar. That’s essentially how our vegetable garden here at the Off the Streets offices came about.”

The organisation’s offices are located in the upstairs of what on first impressions looks like a residential building in Galliagh Park.

At the bottom of the stairs that lead up to the offices, there are three bespoke wooden flower boxes brimming with every vegetable imaginable. The area where the boxes are located used to be a run down back yard. Up until six weeks ago it looked grim and dilapidated but when the young people from Off the Streets got their hands on it they changed it into a vegetable garden that even the most ardent green fingered gardener would be envious of.

“It’s been great fun working on this project,” said 12 year-old Michael McLaughlin from Rossnagalliagh.

“The great thing about Off the Streets is that they offer young people like me an alternative - they are always coming up with things for us to do.”

Community gardener and horticulturist, Gareth Austin, described the young people as a pleasure to work with and said the project would not have been possible had it not been for the help and support of the Housing Executive’s Community Education Officer Patrick Campbell.

“The young people in this area are amongst the best I have ever worked with,” said Gareth.

“When you consider that the yard was nothing more than concrete a few weeks ago, you soon realise just how hard they have worked to transform it into what it is now.”

He added: “Patrick Campbell at the Housing Executive has been very supportive. He helped us to locate the materials needed for the project - the Housing Executive’s input was invaluable.”

Lee Bradley is 11 years-old and from the Collon Lane. Lee said that had it not been for the Off the Streets he does not know where or what he would be doing.

“Damien and Aileen are great. They don’t talk down to us and they are always trying to come up with new activities for us to do.

“I think that Off the Streets has steered me away from going down the anti-social behaviour route.”

Eleven year-old Rhona O’Hagan is from Moss Park and she said that whilst what happened in the area recently painted the young people in a negative way she wanted everyone to know that there are young people in the area determined to make a difference to their local community.

“I think our vegetable garden looks great and apparently some of the neighbours have commented on it too. I don’t what I would be doing if it weren’t for Off the Streets.”

The Off the Streets vegetable garden is well underway but Damien explained that it was only one part of a longer lasting project.

“It’s all about keeping the young people interested,” he said.

“In the next few weeks, the young people will paint the yard’s walls with their choice of murals. It will give them the chance to express themselves.”

Aileen continued: “It’s all about making the young people feel part of the community. Most of the young people we work with improve so much and benefit from taking part in Off the Streets activities.

“It’s about showing younger people that there is an alternative out there.”

For further information on Off the Streets contact Damien Coyle or Aileen Mellon on 07789630869