Plans are being made to extend ‘Operation Snowball,’ the community response to last winter’s severe weather, across the whole city.
The community-led initiative, which was carried out throughout the Triax area during the extreme cold weather snap in December and January, involved volunteers clearing ice and snow from footpaths and road ways and helping vulnerable people who were trapped in their homes by the conditions.
The team behind the scheme, the Triax Neighbourhood Management Team and community workers from Dove House and the Gasyard Centre, held a meeting on Friday with representatives of various statutory agencies, including the Housing Executive, Road Service, NI Water, Derry City Council, and Apex, to discuss how the operation will be co-ordinated in the Triax area if sub-zero temperatures return this year.
A further meeting will be held this Friday, convened by Foyle Sinn Féin MLA Martina Anderson, to set up a ‘Severe Weather Forum’ to organise a better response to extreme weather on a citywide basis.
Speaking after last Friday’s meeting, Maureen Collins from Dove House said that Operation Snowball will be in place throughout the Triax area again this year and called on local people to help out.
“Considering the effort put in by the staff and volunteers of community organisations right across the community last year, and the amazing response to the call to assist the most vulnerable in the community, we wanted to improve on the situation this year.
“There was a great sense of abandonment among residents in terms of the statutory bodies who clearly did not have in place appropriate plans to deal with the severe weather,” she said.
Ms Collins said she believes the response will be much better this year if the extreme winter weather does return. “Through our engagements we feel a lot more confident that, through partnership, a more effective system will be put in place to deal with severe weather and to ensure that the more vulnerable are protected.
“That said, the community sector across the Triax area will be putting Operation Snowball in place again and we will be calling on volunteers and residents to assist us in that process of befriending older members of our community and vulnerable residents, the gritting operations, and in delivering hot meals over the Christmas period and during any periods of severe weather we may have,” she explained.
The community worker also said the contact number of statutory agencies will be distributed throughout the area. “We will be distributing a leaflet over the next few weeks giving people tips on how to cope with winter weather and providing contact numbers, as well as calling on volunteers to help us,” she said.
Looking ahead to Friday’s meeting, Ms Anderson said a partnership approach between the community sector and statutory agencies is crucial to ensuring the most vulnerable members of society are protected.
“There is a major fear out there, particularly among older members of the community, of a return of the arctic-like conditions we saw last year.
“Among all the causes of concerns at the moment, from fears of benefit cuts to rising heating bills, fear of the snow and being trapped at home is very high among pensioners and vulnerable members of society.
“We want to let older people out there know that they are not alone and that there are people who will be on hand to help. We also want to let them know that we will be putting pressure on the departments to ensure they live up to their responsibilities.
“We want to make sure that across the city no-one will be left sitting on their own without food. There will be volunteers all over the city to help,” she said.
Ms Anderson said that she wants to see an all-emcompassing service on offer this year. “It is my hope that a one-stop-shop will be in place as soon as possible. We are hoping that from Friday we will be able to add to the consensus that we saw last year among the community and voluntary sector and that, through partnership with statutory agencies, that older people across the city will be confident that their needs will be looked after this winter,” she said.
The meeting will be held in the Gasyard Centre on Friday between 1.45 - 4pm.