From its early days of meeting in a garden shed, the Ballymagroarty & Hazelbank Community Partnership has come a long, long way after 20 years at the heart of the Outer West community.
So much so in fact, that the group is now running a wide variety of innovative and pioneering projects, some of which are being used to inform other communities across the north and beyond.
Jim McColgan, director of the Partnership’s board, has been there since those early days, when a group of residents met in the shed in the garden of local woman Jean McAdams, who has since passed away.
“I suppose it was a nice, comfy wee group at the time but they understood to take things forward, they needed to form themselves into a company limited by guarantee and structure it better than it was. We then acquired a bit of funding to move to offices in the mall there attached to Dunnes Stores, which was the main facility of the area.”
Jim said that at that time, there was high degree of anti-community activity, and a lack of collaboration, in a fragmented society which had yet to emerge from conflict. “There was a tendency to stay parochial. I think that existed right across Northern Ireland,” he said.
“There was the whole Derry and Belfast thing at that stage as well. We didn’t have a lot of community power and neither did the council. They were given what they were given and that was it.
“There was a great degree of resilience that came about in those days and it was recognised that whatever organisations were in the area, the way forward was to work together. We had Sinn Fein and the SDLP in this area. We had some of the councillors allocated to the area to look at how we move things forward. We started to build groups, continuity within the board.”
Issues with funding and resource networking remained, and lessons were learned from other organisations in the Triax and Creggan. Then a decade ago, the Department for Social Development set in motion a project for Neighbourhood Renewal Partnerships, and while initially excluded, after fighting their case, an Outer West partnership was established for the Glen, Rosemount, Ballymagroarty and Hazelbank. By this time the BHCP group had moved out of Springtown Shopping Centre and Mr McColgan said there was an acceleration then in forging closer links with other groups.
Today, as part of Outer West, BHCP is responsible for leading on health, education and community safety, and thousands of people have been given opportunities to take part in numerous programmes and projects developed locally over the past years.
Looking to the future, the partnership look set to form an important part of the Council’s Community Plan, which will see funds allocated to different areas to help develop them at a local level for the benefit of residents.
Mr McColgan said existing community infrastructure will be key to delivery.
“We’re at a stage now where eight district areas have been identified throughout the council area. One of them is Foyleside, which Outer West falls into. One thing that did come out at the early stages of this process, and it was an example brought from Dundee in Scotland, is you work with what you’ve got.”
Jim said that long-term, he sees Social Enterprise as key to sustaining the community sector and helping to fund community initiatives.
“As more and more demands are put on public funding there needs to be a business acumen approach. In Creggan and Rath Mor they have an enterprise culture there, with units rented out to the private sector and that rent then contributes to the development of the community in terms of funding. It gives you that additional avenue that is going to create additional resources in your area. That’s the way things really should go in the future. If you had that second avenue then it takes away always being as dependent on public funding, and there are excellent examples out there.”
*Next week we look at some of the groundbreaking projects going on in the Ballymagroarty, Hazelbank and Outer West area with BHCP manager Karen Davidson.