It has been 10 years since Roe Valley Residents’ Association opened its doors, and those who have been involved with the group over the last decade believe it is “changing lives”.
Among them is Roberta Smyth, who was just 10 years old when she became involved.
“I really looked up to the youth worker here when I was growing up. She was a role model for me, and that is what has made me want to become a youth worker,” said Roberta.
The 20-year-old, like many of the youth in the area, participated in youth activities organised by the group over the years. As she got older, she was given responsibility as a peer leader and went on to volunteer. She is currently a youth support worker in the area, and says it is because of her involvement from such a young age she has chosen to study youth and community work at Leeds University in September.
“Roe Valley Residents’ has definitely made a huge difference in the area,” said Roberta. “I think the area would be lost without it. The estate is so much cleaner and many more people are engaging in activities. I remember growing up and all the houses would be boarded up and wrecked but, now, there is only one empty house in the estate. Coming from a deprived area I know people have a perception that it’s a bad place, but everyone here knows each other and people are taking pride in their community. The Association has definitely made us a stronger community.”
Karen Campbell, project co-ordinator at Roe Valley Residents’, said Roberta is just one example of what can be achieved, regardless of where a person comes from or their background. She believes the organisation has, and continues to change lives. In agreement is Jenny Campbell, a committee member and volunteer with Roe Valley Residents Association.
Jenny has been involved since the beginning and said the changes over the decade have been “unbelievable”.
“It has provided so many more activities for people, old and young and, years ago, the houses would have been wrecked, the wains would be out fighting and there were big problems with drug and alcohol abuse in the estate. There was nothing for the young ones. It was grim, houses boarded up and a lot of anti social behaviour, but that’s all changed now.
“I can get involved and do things I never had the chance to do before, and meet new people. It’s changing lives and the funding is crucial. Sperrin Road is definitely a better place now,” said Jenny.
While the area still has its challenges, and there is still much work to do, Mrs Campbell said without funding and the dedication of volunteers, the Association wouldn’t exist. She explained the Association and the seven staff address issues such as low educational attainment, unemployment, poor health, social isolation, crime and anti-social behaviour. The Department of Social Development provides funding of £39,893 towards staffing costs. However, it is up the Association to source other funding.
The DSD neighbourhood renewal funding is the core pot of money, but not the largest pot. However, without that we wouldn’t secure other funding, and we are securing well up on twice that on additional funding. Anti social behaviour was quite prevalent when we started, drugs and alcohol abuse too, and while those issues are still there they are not as severe as they were and I think we should take a bit of credit for that. New residents who have moved into the area have said it’s because of the facilities on offer and programmes that are run.”
Just recently DSD Minister Mervyn Storey met with the Roe Valley Residents to see the work in the area.
Following his meeting, the minister said: “The Roe Valley Residents’ Association delivers programmes which tackle poverty and social exclusion, giving local residents the opportunity to improve their quality of life. The range of services on offer are designed to support the local community and I commend all those involved for the positive contribution they are making.”
Mrs Campbell said they help hundreds of people, and those who seek advice and support place great trust in the staff.
“People can come for a variety of things such as sign posting to different agencies and we might make the contact for them. Self esteem and confidence is a big barrier for people and people trust us and seek advice and support. We are engaging with people who probably wouldn’t engage before but do now, which is great. We are changing lives, I do believe that.”