COMMUNITY IN FOCUS: Championing change in one of the city’s largest and youngest communities - Strathfoyle
Ten years ago the Enagh ward on Derry’s northeastern outskirts was one of the most populous in the city.
According to the last census, 5,745 people lived in the semi-urban estates around Strathfoyle, Maydown and Campsie, as well as throughout the rolling countryside enveloping them.
Back in 2011, 26.74 per cent of residents were aged under 16. The average age was just 32 years. Earlier this year, a new census was conducted. When the results come in next year the local population will have grown and its demographic profile is likely to be as youthful as ever.
Around about the time of the 2011 census the Enagh Youth Forum (EYF) was founded with the explicit aim of making a positive contribution to youth and community development in the rural Strathfoyle area.
It’s been a non-stop decade of activity since with EYF complementing the work of the Strathfoyle Community Association (SCA) and other like-minded groups like the Strathfoyle Women’s Activity Group.
Paul Hughes, a community worker with EYF, said the organisation’s ethos is about involving young people in community planning and helping them make Strathfoyle, once viewed as a ‘place apart’, as a ‘destination’.
In the early days EYF was based out of two bedrooms at the community association’s Lisahally House in Bawnmore Place but after securing funding from the National Lottery Community Fund in 2017 and working with the Housing Executive they moved into the old Strathfoyle Post Office in Parkmore Drive,
“In implementing a youth-led and rights based model of practice EYF has learned what’s important to us is ‘what we are for’ rather than ‘what we are against’,” said Mr. Hughes.
“It is through this social justice approach that we have achieved so much over the past ten years,” he added.
Achievements have included successful campaigns against incineration and over-industrialisation, zero waste initiatives and road safety, anti-dereliction and environmental interventions.
The drive for inclusive play provision and the ongoing demand for the completion of the Strathfoyle greenway are flagship activities.
“All of these campaigning actions have helped put a renewed focus back into the regeneration of Strathfoyle and the greater Enagh area. They have helped to persuade and convince statutory agencies including Council, NIHE and elected representatives that Strathfoyle is worthy of investment and to help advance the delivery of community planning in Strathfoyle. This has enabled a ‘turn around’ for the local community and helped to address what was a legacy of neglect. Strathfoyle today has a new lease of life and local residents and young people have become more confident, resilient and forward looking.
“This is testament to the good work done by all local community groups, all local elected representatives from all political parties and independents to whom we will always be thankful for their continued help and support,” said Mr. Hughes.
Over the extraordinary year that’s just over us both the forum and the Strathfoyle Community Association have used their structures and capacity to meet the unique community needs that have been engendered by the coronavirus pandemic.
“Strathfoyle today is very fortunate to have an active vibrant community infrastructure.
“This includes the long-established SCA, originally founded by Gus Hastings, Eugene McStravick and others in 1972, the well-established Strathfoyle Women’s Activity Group founded in 1986 by Sister Gertrude Gallaghley, Philomena Coyle, Margaret Duffy and others and Tiny Tots Community Play Group established in 1996 by Noel O’Donnell, Sister Gertrude Gallaghley and others. EYF is the youngest of the four groups established in 2010 by a group of young people themselves.
“Over this past year which has been a very challenging time for everyone, all of these local groups have stepped up to the mark and collectively worked together to provide support to hundreds of families and service users with care packages, food support, positivity packs and a listening ear service.
“All of this combined effort has made a real difference to people’s lives and helped put people first. It’s also important to acknowledge the partnership working of all local groups with the Faughan Strategic Growth Board and our continued working partnerships with Strathfoyle Youth Centre, Maydown Community Association and the Enagh Seniors Group who have also made a significant contribution in supporting people in Strathfoyle and Maydown over this past year,” said Mr. Hughes.
Alex Duffy, of the SCA, said: “This past year has been very difficult for everyone. Throughout what has been a challenging time SCA continued to provide vital essential support to the local community through our meals on wheels programme supporting the most vulnerable within our community as well as supplying local families in time of sorrow. Our volunteers also helped deliver hundreds of food packs and we did a superhero parade for the children of Strathfoyle and Maydown.
“We have also been busy working with Council and other local groups on securing the long awaited green walkway that will connect us to the city and have great health and emotional wellbeing impacts for our local residents.
“Presently we are busy working on what will be our 49th annual Strathfoyle Community festival in partnership with Strathfoyle Youth Club and EYF. We would like to offer our condolences to all families who have lost loved ones throughout the last year. Our thoughts and prayers are with you all.”
With hospitalisation rates and case numbers now falling and the vaccination programme advancing at pace it is hoped the community network in Strathfoyle can now start getting back to a full programme of events and begin concentrating once again on the ‘bread and butter’ issues it normally deals with.
At the core of EYF’s journey is the local young people who make it what it is.
One member, Saoirse Bamford, aged 15, says the EYF has been a brilliant outlet.
“I joined EYF the first day I moved to Strathfoyle and it helped me to make friends and integrate into the community. I loved all of the activities and courses over the years and they really helped me.
“When we were out and about with EYF I noticed all the other areas in Derry had Christmas trees and I wondered why we didn’t so I asked the youth workers about it and they told me to write to the council and councillors about it, so I did and I couldn’t believe it when it was brought up at a council meeting and we ended up getting one.
“But then we all had to vote on where the tree would be located and we did a consultation. I was happy that it ended up outside EYF at Parkmore Drive as that’s where all my friends voted to put it too.
“The Christmas event to turn on the lights was really good with hundreds of people turning out and it was a really good event for our wee community.”
Mr. Hughes says a lot has been achieved by the group over the past decade but there’s more to be done.
“Whilst it cant be denied that Strathfoyle has and continues to make good and steady progress we do acknowledge that there’s a lot of work still to be done with local young people.
“This includes the need to reach out and include the young people who are still on the margins of society and those who have been greatly impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic.
“We are delighted that over recent weeks we have re-opened our centre and are back re-connecting, re-engaging and re-starting which is crucial in these challenging times.
“Young people at EYF are currently busy helping to plan new group work programmes and a timetable of outdoor activities and events in line with the continued lifting of government COVID-19 restrictions.”