Early on in its genesis, the Ballymagroarty & Hazelbank Community Partnership (BHCP), working alongside other local groups, recognised that including young people in making decisions was crucial to creating a better future.
Mark Doherty, a long-standing member of Community Restorative Justice (CRJ) and a director of BHCP said this partnership work has been key to the successes achieved, especially over the summer months during bonfire season.
Central to this has been the co-ordinated work of grass-roots organisations such as the BHCP, the Ballymagroarty Community Association and CRJ, backed with vital funding for programmes and initiatives from agencies such as the Education Authority, Derry & Strabane Council and the Housing Executive.
Fast forward to today and the fact that the local estates were among the very few where no bonfires were lit last year, bears testament to all the work that has gone on.
“It didn’t happen overnight,” Mark said. “Six, seven years ago, some of the first engagements we had over bonfires was sitting down with young people in September/ October following a tough year in Hazelbank with all that went with bonfires. We chatted to them, and within months they were engaged in a programme and the following year there was no bonfire.”
The process had involved a survey of residents, which showed they preferred alternatives to bonfires. “These young people were doing what young people had done for many, many years but when they realised it was against the wishes of the community, they abided by it.”
Mark said the roll out of Youth Outreach Workers over the past eight years has proved crucial to ironing out any youth-related issues.
It’s all a far cry from the riots of the early days of the estates at polling stations. Jim McColgan, BHCP Board Director, recalls: “I remember the army coming in with tanks and guns, whatever, and the police coming in and the school was bombarded with paint on the road and everything. And this went on for years. And then there was an initiative between ourselves, Creggan, Bogside, and Shantallow. We came to an agreement that the police would stay outside the areas when the election boxes were to be collected. It was a very tense period, a lot of the lads in the area would have been stacking petrol bombs in bushes and trees around here. But with all that co-operation going on and Sinn Fein were very much supporting in the background, the mould was broken, and once you break the mould and the regularity of it, then you can move onto the issue of why are those young people rioting - lack of jobs, lack of skills and so forth - and then you begin to put your efforts into that.”
The Outer West Neighbourhood Safety Team meet once a fortnight, with broad representation from local community and statutory organisations, including CRJ. One of the very successful projects to emerge from the partnership work has been the North West Community Motorcycle Project, providing a safe space for young people with quad bikes at Nixon’s Corner. Mark said: “It’s allowing them somewhere to go that is safe and is not going to cause an annoyance.” Another project is Teamworks, co-ordinated by CRJ and which aims to fill gaps in terms of upkeep within estates, with home maintenance and home safety also part of the service.
Christy Daniels, Chair of Ballymagroarty Community Association, based at Shaw Court, who is also a board member of BHCP, said developing community provision and events has also proved crucial for local people, with a new investment planned for 2017.
Christy said: “We have a youth club that use our building and we would put on events ourselves, events at Christmas, Hallowe’en, Easter to bring the community together and provide somewhere for other groups to use as well. Over the last couple of years we have actually got bigger, more groups, more people coming through the door, aged four right up to pensioners. With the youth club, the numbers have gone through the roof. We’re talking 65 people in one session now.
“Our building is becoming not fit for purpose and we have secured funding for £1m for Pitch and Play Park, with a revamp of the outside of the building, funded by Executive Office’s Social Investment Fund.”