‘We want to be able to sit outside with our friends’

Service users and staff of the Eden Project.  (0603JB73)
Service users and staff of the Eden Project. (0603JB73)

“All we want is to be able to sit outside and have fun with our friends,” says Derry man Christopher Watson.

Christopher, who has learning disabilities, is a user of the Eden Project. Later this month the locally-based charity will go head-to-head with five other charities to see who will win awards of up to £60,000. The winner will be decided live on UTV’s The Big Lottery Fund’s People’s Millions contest between June 27-30.

The Eden Project is managed and run by Praxis Care, who work with adults with learning disabilities. The organisation is based in the Richmond Hall near Eden Terrace in Derry.

Caroline Morewood, Project Manager, said that the fact the project was being nominated for such a prestigious award was testament to its importance to the local community.

“We have been working with and providing a service for adults with learning disabilities for over 10 years,” says Caroline. “We have three main projects here. If the Eden Project was to be successful with the People’s Millions it would mean that we would be able to regenerate the small green area at the back of the building.

“If successful, we’d also like to carry out improvements to the kitchen, which the organisation uses to run education and training courses for people with learning and physical disabilities.”

The improvements will mean people with disabilities would have a safe and accessible venue to take part in activities that improve their skills and self-esteem and help them get involved in community life.

When deciding on what they would do with the money if they won it, the project management team met with all of the project users to hear their opinions and ideas.

“The Eden Project is very much driven by the service users,” explains team leader Louise Lyons. “We’ve been here for quite a number of years and whilst we have made serious progress the one thing our users have always wanted was a BBQ. As you can see, the surrounding lanes and alley ways are very run down and at the minute it’s not very nice. When we asked all of the service users what they wanted they said that they would like to use the money to clean up the small green areas around the building so that they could sit outside with their friends in the good weather.”

Praxis Care run the Cookie Company, Age Appropriate Day Care and the Befriending Scheme. The Cookie Company is in its 11th year and, with a little help and guidance, adults with learning disabilities bake cakes, scones and pies which are then sold on to many of Derry’s local cafes. The Age Appropriate Day Care Scheme provides a social setting for adults with learning disabilities over the age of 50, while the Befriending Scheme is designed to link a volunteer with one of the projects service users.

Louise said that Praxis Care has been a huge success locally over the last 11 years. She explained that if was not for such charities then adults with learning disabilities would become more isolated.

“The reason this place was set-up in the first place was so that we could stop adults with learning disabilities becoming isolated in the community. All you have to do is look around you here today to see the good work that we are doing.” She gestures towards the main hall; “In there is full of laughter and all of the men and women in there are having a good time and that’s priceless.

“We really need the people of Derry come out and vote for us on June 28. It would mean so much to not only us but the parents, relatives and friends of all the people who come here.”

Praxis Care administrator Stella Doran came up with the name ‘The Eden Project’ as the hall the organisation is based out of is beside Eden Terrace. The organisation put themselves forward for consideration when they saw an advertisement in The Derry Journal and since then it has gone from strength to strength.

“We have over 40 people who use our facilities on a regular basis,” says Louise. “We are providing a vital service and if we are successful later on this month then I’ve no doubt that the Eden Project will turn into a even bigger success story.”

The public will be able to register their vote for the Eden Project on UTV on June 28. The telephone number is released on the same day via The Daily Mirror newspaper.