Rock concerts, scout meetings, bingo, dancing lessons and community meetings, the ‘Corned Beef Tin’ in Creggan saw it all.
The building earned its name because of its unusual shape and after 40 years serving the residents of Creggan, it was demolished on Thursday.
End of an era? Most certainly, but it’s a case of onwards and upwards as far as the local community is concerned.
Work will commence on a £800,000 re-build project in early 2014 and it’s expected that a new state of the art ‘Corned Beef Tin’ will be ready for public use in time for the area’s annual feile celebrations in August 2014.
The building has long been the home of the Creggan Neighbourhood Partnership (CNP) and a few weeks ago it moved to Cromore Gardens where it will continue to operate out of until the new building is ready next year.
The ‘Corned Beef Tin’, located opposite the Creggan shops and the Telstar Bar on Southway, saw its fair share of joy and happiness and sadness and despair.
The building was the go to place for residents who had concerns about something as straightforward as the bin collection to an issue as important as welfare rights.
The ‘Corned Beef Tin’ was also the place where thousands would gather before taking part in the annual Bloody Sunday march at the end of January.
To describe the building as an iconic local landmark would be an understatement.
Creggan woman Finola Millar recalled a time when she would teach the young children of Creggan to dance in the ‘Corned Beef Tin’.
“I remember on a Sunday afternoon there used to be a mini disco for children in the ‘Corned Beef Tin’, I think I was about 14 or 15 and I used to go in the afternoon and show the wee ones how to dance, it was great fun.
“Then we would clean the place up and get it ready for the big disco at night.
“I think the disco ended at about 11 o’clock and there was no alcohol allowed, just a sweet shop which sold lemonade and it was fantastic, everyone just went to dance and chat and there was never any fights or anything like that.
“I remember going to Radio Foyle to speak on a show promoting the disco (Radio Foyle was on Duncreggan Road then).
“It is one of my fondest memories and it would be great if there was something like that on now for the children and young teenagers. Thank you for the memories,” said Finola.
Julia McGuinness from Creggan said she has so many childhood memories of the ‘Corned Beef Tin’ that she will find it strange driving down Southway and not seeing the uniquely shaped building.
“I went to playschool in ‘Corned Beef Tin’, the scouts, bingo and lots of other childhood memories - it’ll be strange not seeing it.”
The ‘Corned Beef Tin’ was erected in the early 1970s and one of the first services to be housed in the building was a nursery school but in the evenings and weekends it could be used for virtually anything that would benefit the local community.
“It really is the end of an era but without sounding corny, it is onwards and upwards for the Creggan community,” said Kevin Campbell from Triax Area Management Team.
“It’s sad to see the old building go. People have a lot of good memories associated with the place but the new building will be state of the art, it’ll be two tiered and it will continue to address the social and economic problems of the area.”
In the late 1970s two British Army Saracen vehicles were travelling across Southway and as they approached the ‘Corned Beef Tin’ the IRA attacked the patrol with an RPG (Rocket Propelled Grenade).
“It’s a story that many people in this area will remember,” said Kevin.
“The RPG hit one of the Saracens but because of the way they were designed it deflected off the side of it and hit the ‘Corned Beef Tin’.
“Luckily, there was no one in the building at the time but the rocket went through the side wall and caused a considerable amount of damage.”
As the Troubles came and went the ‘Corned Beef Tin’ continued to be a place where the plans were hatched to try and improve the quality of life for residents living in the area.
Several years ago and in the middle of one of the worst winters Derry had seen for a while, community workers, volunteers and residents came up with an idea of how to help the older people in the area during the extreme cold.
The plan became known as ‘Operation Snowball’ and saw countless workers and volunteers check in on elderly and housebound residents.
“The brilliant thing about the people of this area is that they are remarkable at dealing with evolving situations,” said Sean McMonagle from Creggan Neighbourhood Partnership.
“We had nothing to refer to when it came to ‘Operation Snowball’ but because of the meeting in the ‘Corned Beef Tin’, we were able to help the residents who needed assistance in the area.”
‘Operation Snowball’ is without question one of the best stories to ever come out of Creggan but when tragedy struck in area the ‘Corned Beef Tin’ was used as a place for young people to come and talk about their feelings.
“Without going into too much detail there were two instances here in Creggan over the last few years where young people lost their lives,” said Sean.
“The CNP opened the ‘Corned Beef Tin’ for three full days and brought in counsellors. There were a few of the young people who were friends with the young ones who died and we were able to provide them with a place where they could come and talk to someone.
“The ‘Corned Beef Tin’ being demolished might not be a big headline for the rest of the world but to the people of Derry and Creggan it’s the end of an era.”
The new ‘Corned Beef Tin’ will be built by Lisburn based property developer TAL Ltd and the project is being funded by the Department for Social Development and Derry City Council.
“It’s important to stress that all of the services that the ‘Corned Beef Tin’ provided for will continue to be in operation and once we have the new building up and running the local residents will notice a big improvement,” said Sean.
“We will continue to develop our adult education scheme and there will be a new computer suite to help people learn new skills.
“Perhaps one of the most important new additions to the new build will the welfare advice centre. We are working along with Dove House in the Bogside to deliver this one and we think it will be really beneficial to the area.”
The Creggan Neighbourhood Partnership and TRIAX Area Management Team will operate out of 33 Cromore Gardens (just down the street from the building site) until the new ‘Corned Beef Tin’ is ready next year.
“Should anyone have any issues they want us to address between now and the new building opening all they have to do is call the same number or drop into the office here in 33 Cromore Gardens - we’ll only be too happy to see them. It’s still business as usual for the people of Creggan.”
For more information contact the Creggan Neighbourhood Partnership or the Triax Neighbourhood Management Team on 02871 281 900.