It’s just after 10am on Wednesday morning when all of a sudden a group of men armed with black bin bags, gloves and fluorescent jackets appear on the Coshquin Road near Ballymagroarty.
The men are members of the Springtown Action and Horticulture Group (S.A.H.G.) and they have come to assist local primary school, Groarty Integrated P.S., with a clean-up of the surrounding area.
“We are all about working with the community,” said volunteer James Nash.
“We are all volunteers but we all want to do as much as we can to help improve our local communities - that’s why we are here today,” he said.
S.A.H.G. originates from the Ballymagroarty and Hazelbank Community Partnership’s Well Men’s Group.
“I have to stress that S.A.H.G. is not a men’s group. We already have a few female members and we are always on the look out for new volunteers.”
The Well Men’s Group was so successful that all those involved decided that they wanted to continue volunteering to help their local communities and so S.A.H.G. was formed nine months ago.
“Like James said, it’s all about helping people in the community,” reaffirmed Shaw Court resident John O’Hagan.
“One of the things that we wanted to concentrate on when setting out was to make sure we helped the old, vulnerable and disabled people living in our communities - I think everyone would agree, it’s been going really well so far.”
In recent months the group acquired land near Shaw Court in Ballymagroarty which up until that time was owned by the Housing Executive.
John said that the land was used as a dumping ground and recalled how he had to put out a fire on the land the week before S.A.H.G. took it over.
“People would dump all kinds of things there and the week before we started clearing it up someone set fire to a plastic swimming pool and I had to put it out.
“It was also used a place for anti-social behaviour but since we took it over it has all stopped and everyone takes pride in how good it looks.”
Along with the help of local gardening expert Gareth Austin, the Housing Executive and Derry City Council, the group cleared the land of rubbish and built 11 raised flowering beds.
“You wouldn’t believe how the place looks now,” said S.A.H.G. chairman Gerry Sharkey.
“The transformation is amazing and in the last few weeks we have started to harvest broccoli, cabbage, potatoes, garlic and onions.
“None of it would have been possible had it not been for the help and guidance of Gareth Austin.
“Many of us who took part received Stage One and Two qualifications in Horticulture, which is always nice.”
In keeping with their community ethos and desire to help others the group cleared part of the Coshquin Road near Groarty Integrated P.S. but because of the speed limit on the road, the children could not take part.
Former Sinn Fein councillor and S.A.H.G. member Billy Page said that although the group was delighted to be helping the local school they would have liked had the children been able to help out too.
“I understand that the road right outside the school has a speed limit of 60 m.p.h. so understandably the school can’t allow the children to take part in the clean-up.
“S.A.H.G. is all about helping the community so if we need to protest to get the speed limit here reduced then we will.
“It’s just not acceptable that a road near a school would have such a high speed limit but we remain hopeful that we will get it reduced,” he said.
Roxanne Nixon, Neighbourhood Health Improvement Project (N.H.I.P.) Health Development Worker for the Outer West, described Wednesday morning’s event as a “success” and added that it was just example of the kind of work that the group carry out in the community each week.
“Today’s been a real success and the work that the group do is invaluable to this community.
“It’s great to see people doing something that they feel passionate about and they are always looking for ways to help improve their community.”
Ten year-old primary six pupil Ceilae McGrory said she was delighted the group were helping out at the school and added that she would like to see the speed limit on the road near the school reduced.
“I would have really liked to have taken part today but because the cars go up and down the road so fast I wasn’t able to.
“The road is always full of litter and sometimes it blows into our school. Mrs. Thompson, the school principal, has encouraged us to keep the school tidy and we are always collecting litter and clear leaves to make sure that the school looks nice every day. Hopefully after this the litter problem will stop.”
For further information or to join S.A.H.G. contact Roxanne Nixon at the Ballymagroarty and Hazelbank Community Partnership on 028 7127 1977.