Challenges, Community, Culture... and the women of Galliagh

Marie Gillespie, chair, and Rosie Doherty, co-ordinator, Galliagh Women's Group, pictured with members of the group at their premises this week. 3010JM22
Marie Gillespie, chair, and Rosie Doherty, co-ordinator, Galliagh Women's Group, pictured with members of the group at their premises this week. 3010JM22

Like most hardworking, self started community groups around the city, Galliagh Women’s Group has been built up, from very little into a vital hub for the area it serves. If determination and dedication were all that were needed for communities to strive, the outer north area, taking in Galliagh and Shantallow would never want for anything.

That’s in an ideal world however, and not a world where the very existence of the welfare state is daily being questioned. Rosie Doherty and Marie Gillespie, who run the Galliagh Women’s Group, say all they’ve ever wanted is community development and with the headlines dominated by cuts affecting the poorest people, in the poorest areas, they have their work cut out for them.

Recently, the group opened a dedicated advice service where members of the public can walk in and get advice about issues ranging from benefits, debt and entitlement. According to Rosie, the one paid worker at the service has been inundated with person after person desperately seeking advice about make or break issues.

“It’s definitely a scary time, and an important time for us to have the advice service,” she says.

“The cuts are here and we’re seeing every single day how people in our community are being affected. We held a protest last week and very few people attended. I think we need to learn how to protest again, I don’t think people realise the impact of what’s happening until it comes to their own door. Fuel poverty is a major issue, as well as people struggling to buy groceries and having to choose between putting oil in the tank and buying Christmas presents for their children. These are the issues we’re here to help with, and we’re glad, at times like these that we can be there to help.”

The Women’s Group is also lobbying to bring the controversial Tesco store to Buncrana Road where they say it will be a massive addition to the local community in terms of creating jobs and convenience for people without their own transport.

“People in this area are entitled to a proper shopping centre just as much as people in the Waterside and those nearer the city centre. We’re in a huge area where the majority of people do not have their own transport and they are outraged that at every process in the planning stage obstacles are being put in the way of placing this store here. City centre outlets will not be affected by people here having somewhere local to buy their groceries, by not allowing people here the convenience of this kind of shopping on their doorstep, it’s just another example of making the people of this community feel cut off and isolated,” says Rosie.

Alongside these vital issues, the women’s group have their day to day running of two centres to maintain. On Wednesday morning alone, the centre at Galliagh Park was filled to capacity while their Knockalla Park office operates as the advice centre, with a huge daily footfall.

“With everything else that’s going on, we also have our usual programme in place, and there’s a great energy around the place. We operate a Core Counselling service for local people with various life issues who can talk to a professional in a confidential, local setting. We have a range of other services as well with visits from a foot nurse as well as reflexology and a hairdresser.”

Neighbourhood Health Improvement worker for the Outer North area Natalie Logue is also based at the Galliagh Park centre where she oversees the promotion of health and wellbeing as well as managing a number of campaigns locally.

She’s delighted with the recent access of Physical Activity Fortnight in the area where people of all ages got involved in physical activity, this too, is a key issue the women’s group is determined to address.

Another vital element for them, says Rosie, is to ensure that they play a significant part in and capitalise on Derry’s year as City of Culture. As part of the city’s shirt factory heritage, Galliagh, like most areas in the North West has its scattering of hugely talented and artistic women who spent their working lives crafting fabrics for the mass market from here in the city.

As 2013 approaches, while she’s remaining tightlipped about the finer details of any plans, Rosie says the women who use the centre are already stockpiling ideas to showcase to the world. They’re hoping to secure a city centre stall as part of the celebrations although plans have not yet been confirmed.

“We have talent here and we want to play our part,” says Rosie.

“The quality of what gets made here on a daily basis is outstanding and we want to have our chance to show that off in 2013,” she adds.

In the run up to next year, the women will continue to work closely with those who need them in the community, and while there’s great need, there’s also great generosity, says Rosie.

“We have people here who have given so much time and effort to the group and we want to pay particular tribute to well known local entertainer, Michael Doherty, who has given us outstanding support recently.

“With help and support like this we’re able to continue the work we do and while we’re operating in challenging times, we’re just happy to be here on the ground, in our community, where we’re needed most.”