Infrastructure, jobs and training: fixing Creggan needs big thinking

As Creggan Enterprises marks its 30th anniversary, CONAL McFEELY says the next three decades must be about sustained social and economic community wellbeing

Rathmor Shopping Centre, Creggan.  DER2126GS - 054
Rathmor Shopping Centre, Creggan. DER2126GS - 054

When we started, we had nothing. Nothing, that is, apart from a massive community spirit and a determination to deliver a better future, writes Conal McFeely.

That has carried us some of the way – but, in spite of our successes, there is still so much more we need to do.

We can argue all day about why Derry didn’t get the peace dividend enjoyed by Belfast. And we can then argue all night about why Creggan still has some of the worst social indices on these islands – as regards health and mental health, education, joblessness, poverty and premature death.

Conal McFeely.

But if we are to shed the unenviable title of the North’s economic blackspot, our energies have to be focused on where we are going next.

We have had our fill of piecemeal solutions – flash-in-the-pan election promises or City Deals that our neighbourhoods were somehow excluded from.

The answer, as we have discovered over the last 30 years, is quite simple – we need to take community ownership and our own lead and not wait for others to do it for us.

We need long-term, workable solutions – led not by fickle, political power- players but by the whole community. We need to unite to deliver a fundamental shift in our social fabric.

And, to do that, we need to get back to brass tacks. We need to complete an independent and inclusive audit of our community’s needs – as was last carried out some 30 years ago by Creggan Enterprises - and, then, we need to deliver for the future generation.

Until we have proper infrastructure, and job and training opportunities, we will remain a community on the margins.

Our manifesto is simple – if we want to keep our young people on our shores, and we want to keep them happy, we must build a society that is fit for them.

To that end:

• We need to develop our own community models for economic regeneration and then bring it into being – a Community Deal rather than a City Deal.

• We need to develop and tap into the opportunities and benefits of the green economy.

• We need sustained investment in skills and training and we need our own university.

• We need a programme of investment that will grow the existing community infrastructure, grow new community owned business, create new jobs and target economic exclusion.

• We need to support social enterprise; Ráth Mór has already helped to create many sustainable job opportunities in Creggan – we need many more.

• We need development to be inclusive and led independently.

• We need to support employment by growing intermediate labour market schemes.

• We need to support sustainable health initiatives.

• We need to support families, and enact targeted and focused youth intervention strategies to engage those who are excluded.

• We need to support inclusive community dialogue as a means to heal our fractured community and wider society.

• We need to support new educational and cultural artnerships and initiatives which deal with the past.

To deliver this, we have to think in terms of a long-term community economic development plan; to instil hope, provide targets and build resilience.

Integral to this will be a new independent university, and greater investment to develop and enhance our shared public spaces to tap into benefits of the green economy.

We need everyone out of their silos and pulling together. We need to forget the fiefdoms and work as a community.

We must, as a bloc, acknowledge, challenge and counter the narrative of negative profiling of our community due to the legacy of our past by developing an agreed shared vision, community masterplan that benefits the needs of residents, all community groups, schools, social enterprises and local businesses.

We must ensure that our resilient and proud community needs to be sustainable for the benefit of the next generation to come.