A Ballymagroarty community group, who turned a site plagued by anti-social behaviour into a prospering, flowering, vegetable producing, community garden have set their sights on an even larger prize for local residents.
The self-funded Springtown Activity and Horticultural Group are entering discussions with Derry City Council on the re-development of the Marianus Glen.
The 200 acre site which lies between Ballymagroarty and Hazelbank is also often the scene of anti-social behaviour. The southern end is littered with debris and burnt cars often blot the otherwise picturesque landscape.
The Northern end however is a beautiful untapped gem, with swathes of wild flowers, fresh streams of mountain water and pockets of land suitable for community gardens and vegetable patches. Its open vistas allow for unobstructed views the length of the Glen and clear to the North and the Foyle basin.
The Springtown Activity and Horticultural Group are a 16 strong group of friends and amateur gardeners. In addition to running various community horticultural classes, the group have turned around the Shaws Court area which frequently hosted fires and underage drinking.
The classes, hosted in the Ballymagroarty Community Centre, Dunluce Court, on hanging baskets, window boxes, planters and edibles have gone a long way in brightening up every street in Ballymagroarty.
The group’s garden at Shaws Court is proving an oasis in the middle of the red brick estate. Blossoming with flowers, vegetables and berries, rows of discarded car tyres are used as plant pots for herbs. James ‘Banty’ Nash explains: “The group members find the tyres and bring them here for recycling, otherwise they’d end up getting burnt. We work one day a week in the garden and one day a week in the community helping pensioners with their gardens. We do that one day per week but we could probably do it seven.”
John O’Hagan, who has been living in Ballymagroarty for 32 years, recalls the moment he knew the area had to be re-developed.
“There were often fires on what was then wasteground, people drinking and children ditching school or hiding for a smoke. One day I had to jump the fence with a water hose as there was a large disused paddling pool on fire. I couldn’t get within twenty feet with the smoke and fumes but young children thought it was an adventure.”
Residents then approached the Housing Executive who erected a fence at the site and the group and garden were born.
“We’ve never had any trouble here since,” sad John.
“Youngsters often help out and we hand out the produce within the community. In fact, since we started I’ve seen kids clearing up the lane after they finished playing and pedestrians lifting litter which they didn’t discard.
“There is a real sense of community ownership. We owe a big thanks to gardener Gareth Austin and the Housing Executive for their help in making it a success.”
The group invested their own money in the seeds and soil for the project but it has been their care and attention which ensured it has flourished.
The horticulturalists are now in discussions with Derry City Council and other community groups and leaders in order to make the Marianus Glen blossom in a similar fashion.
Mr. O’Hagan recalls when the Glen was a working farm. “I came out here to work on the farm as a young man, before Ballymagroarty was built. It is a great space which the full community should be allowed to utilise.”
Mr. Nash, said. “We’ve identified the Marianus Glen as a natural resource, one which has totally been ignored. We don’t think you could get a better legacy programme than this one.
“Council are developing a temporary structure at Ebrington, it will cost millions and while we’re not begruding that, as it is good work, imagine how we could utilise this space for future generations for a fraction of that price.
“We envisage flower beds, butterfly gardens and picnic areas as an easy first step. There are 30 butterfly breeds in Ireland all of which are in decline. We could, with the right planting, encourage them to breed here.
“We also see a maze of paths across the site. That would bring the power walkers and joggers out in force. We understand that the Council have spent in excess of £30,000 removing burnt out cars from the Glen, so a small investment would reap massive rewards for residents.
“It would benefit all the communities which stride the Glen. It really is perfect for eco-development.”
Mr. O’Hagan added: “Imagine the three local schools walking around a nature reserve, studying flora and fauna, butterflies and even a bird sanctuary, or planting their own garden.”
If you wish to contact the Springtown Activity and Horticultural Group contact http://www.facebook.com/pages/Ballymagroarty-Community-Garden