It was supposed to last ten years... and, yet, here we are 50 years later
Derek McCauley recalls his years as the driving force behind Shantallow Community Centre
Derek McCauley can remember it as if it was only yesterday.
February 1, 1969: the official opening of Shantallow Community Centre - a day to remember for Derek and his colleagues on the new housing estate’s local tenants’ association. The day when all their dreams came true. The day when years of hard - sometimes thankless - graft finally paid off. It had all been worth it. Shantallow had, at last, established its focal point. A place the community could call its own.
So, it was with a sense of sadness and nostalgia that Derek returned to his old stomping ground on Drumleck Drive this week to see the start of demolition work on the 50 year old centre.
It’s to be replaced with a new £2.4 million facility, scheduled to open in the spring of 2021.
Derek, who lived at Moyola Walk, recalls the official opening as a “night to remember”.
“Brian Friel was there to cut the tape, as it were,” he says. “Getting him to do it was a real coup. You have to remember he was a famous playwright and was here, there and everywhere. But he took time out of his busy schedule to perform the official opening.”
Derek remembers that, in his speech, Friel referred to the community centre being the “hearth and living room” for the local community.
“He was so right,” says Derek. “That was the whole point of having a community centre. To create a focal point for local people. To have a venue where people on the estate could get to know one another.
“Most of the estate’s residents were originally from the town where they had easy access to amenities such as dance halls, picture houses etc. Shantallow was in the middle of nowhere.
“We didn’t even have a bus service. People felt very isolated. That’s where the idea for a tenants’ association came from.”
The first meeting of the nascent group took place in 1967 in a small gun club in the area. Derek was elected as its first chairman. Also playing key roles were Dinny Cassidy, Hugh Doherty, George Cairns, Don Mullan, Davy Breslin, Sally Fleming, Tom Doherty, Jack Jennings, Jimmy Ferry, Danny Cooley, Rory Quigley and Eric Commander.
Not long after, the association met with the Housing Trust and pitched their case for a community centre. When it eventually opened, Shantallow Community Centre was the first of its type to be built in the city and cost in the region of £10,000.
“It was only supposed to last 10 years,” laughs Derek. “And, yet, here we are 50 years later.”
The centre was soon a hive of activity, hosting a range of events such as a children’s play group, Irish dancing classes, piano lessons, indoor bowls, bingo and discos.
Derek retired from the tenants’ association in 1982 but has many fond memories of his time as the driving force behind various community activities.
“It was a great time. The centre never emptied. It was so busy. People from right across the city used it.
“It was a time before mobile phones and Playstations. People had a real sense of ownership of the centre.”