A major new urban retail park at Fort George focused on training young people for real careers and promoting homegrown businesses has been proposed to help address the problems facing the city.
Derry man Deaglan Long (26) has developed the idea of a Derry project along similar lines to the Boxpark developments in London, which have proved hugely successful.
The Boxpark complex features a diverse mixture of businesses and food outlets operating out of refitted shipping containers and has become a bustling retail area and a social hub, with a similar initiative also proving successful in Dublin.
The plans have been backed by numerous local businesses, with many expressing interest in taking units if officials now get behind it and help make it happen.
The proposals have evolved out of discussions held with people working in the youth sector and business sectors around what opportunities exist for young people to stay in Derry and has also led to new research into why teenagers want to leave Derry, and why young professionals have emigrated.
Deaglan said: “We noticed that there isn’t really anything for young people, and that’s part of the reason why everybody in this town wants to get out.
“It’s basically a time now where we have to create something for ourselves, create our own economy in our own community.” Deaglan said that the lack of investment in the north-west was something that has been a major cause of concern for years, and it seems like it is now time to “look and see what can we do here”.
“We started to see how can we link everything together between private and public, and we think Fort George is the perfect site.”
He said that as the former military base area’s dockland topography meant that the lightweight shipping containers would be ideal because no heavy foundations were needed.
“They are cheap to buy, cheap to set up, and if we did get the scheme up and running we can start to involve young people,” he said. “We can get the boys out of the North West Regional College to design them and get the boys out of the Training Centre there to fit them out and they can say, ‘look, I’ve got a bit of experience and there’s a live project I worked on’, which gives them a lift up in terms of employers. At the minute people are coming out saying they have got no experience and because they have got no experience they cannot get jobs.”
A number of businesses and trade professionals have backed the plans, with many expressing an interest in becoming tenants including local barbers, local restaurant and street food vendors, beauticians, a surfer school founder, musicians and DJs.
“They all said they would take on young people from the town who have no jobs and teach them a skill, get them training and get them up and running.
“They would go down there, say a wee boy with no skills, no qualifications, no prospect of a job, nothing to do, there’s an opportunity for them.”
Deaglan said that questions had to be asked over why so many young people in Derry saw only hopelessness in their future.
“Why is that? How can we change that? Do we need to start making these young people get a bit of confidence; get a boost about their morale?
“There seems to be a constant sense of depression in this town, so what can do to get these young ones 16 to 25 getting more confident about themselves and get rid of that hopelessness. Our idea is to get them wee boy or girls who might be going through something to get them down around boys who have made a success of themselves, create positive vibes about themselves so they can start to create something, feel good about themselves.
“They can get a bit of vision about where they could go in life and what they could do instead of being lost.
“These are people who grew up in the same area as them, probably know their brothers or sisters, and it means a lot more than a careers officer coming in and saying ‘you could do this, you could do that’.
“It’s basically trying to get the young people off the streets and doing something that will lead them into actual employment.”
Deaglan said such a facility would complement the recently opened Science Park on the Fort George site off Bay Road, and help boost the social scene and retail offering of the town.
“Brexit has just happened, we won’t be getting the EU funding anymore and this site has laid there for years, is it going to lie there another 10? Or could we as the young people of the town try to create a project in it?
“When you look at Pyke and Pommes we want to replicate that on a larger scale at Fort George with something like the BoxPark. Say if we gave 20 people that opportunity there is no reason those people wouldn’t do that well down there that they wouldn’t end up being successful and taking space in the town.”
Deaglan said next steps would be trying to get backing and support from the local council and other local bodies and has been liaising with youth worker and independent councillor Darren O’Reilly and others across various sectors on progressing the issue.
“Let’s sit down and map it out, how do we achieve it, what are the hurdles and how do we get over them,” he said.