Whatever you think you know about Ballybeg, if you’re not from Ballybeg or if you’re not working there that is, the chances are that such notions are both misconceived and misplaced.
It’s a similar story for those living in, for example, Fatima Mansions in Dublin and several estates in both Cork and Limerick.
But here’s the thing. By travelling to Ballybeg, by rejecting the sensationalist aspersions of Dublin-based news editors, by talking with residents and community workers, one discovers that the reality of life on the ground is somewhat different.
Are there problems in Ballybeg? Sure there are, but name an area of the city that doesn’t have bugbears, irritants or disappointments: a certain vacant filling station on the Dunmore Road springs to mind.
The positives in the area greatly outweigh the negative: that was the over-riding sentiment expressed to The Munster Express at the Ballybeg Community Development Project (CDP) during a recent visit.
Take, for example, the Ballybeg Positive Project, a group which truly lives up to its title.
Founded by a group of locally unemployed people, the project provides its members with an out of home activity and the opportunity for those who wish to return to education, re-train and seek employment.
The motivation to get this group off the ground came from within, reflecting the self-reliance and pride of place that CDP coordinator Liz Riches and her colleagues commented heavily upon.
“There is a very strong sense of community in Ballybeg,” said Ms Riches, who assumed the position last year.
“There is a great sense of active citizenship throughout the area. I think there’s been a great realisation here, built up over many years, that if we as a community pull together, then we can get things done, we can make peoples’ lives better, and that’s very empowering.”
Established in 1991, Ballybeg CDP’s mission statement is “to reach out to all in the community, encouraging people to believe in their own uniqueness, dignity, equality and potential within themselves, their families and the community”.
The project’s bustling office certainly reflects that sense of togetherness, of a collective willingness to turn a fresh page and tell a story that is at odds with outdated notions about this part of the city.
It’s a message that certainly appears to have been successfully transmitted, with the days of burned out and boarded up houses now happily a thing of the past in Ballybeg.
As referenced in these pages last week, the Community Garda has proven a big hit with residents in recent months while a City Council office in the estate has become a useful point of contact for locals.
“People want to come and live in Ballybeg, and that’s reflected in the waiting list for housing in the area,” said CDP director Willie Moore.
“That in itself proves that this community is moving forward positively and it’s taken a lot of work, much of it voluntary, to bring that about, but it shows what can be achieved when people work together.”
The CDP office, funded by the Department of Community, Rural and Gaeltacht Affairs, acts as a hub for the many projects and activities which serve the local community, including:
* The Comet Group:
This body aims to develop and provide facilities for Ballybeg, thereby improving the quality of life for residents.
* Ballybeg Action Group:
This was established to identify and address issues which affect residents on a daily basis.
* Women’s Development Group:
The group was set up to meet the needs of local women and to seek how best to address issues relevant to women and their families.
* The Key Project:
Now 13 years old, the FAS-funded project provides information and a range of services, such as CV preparation, the printing of business cards, etc.
In a nutshell, there’s a lot going on at Ballybeg CDP: some 108 people passed through its doors in 2008 having availed of the courses which are available there, with a number exceeding that likely to be recorded by the end of this year.
Ranging from woodcraft to childcare, the project is doing all it can to provide men and women with the tools they need to better their lives.
“Things don’t always run smoothly,” said Liz. “This week, we received notification of a further budget cut, our second this year, which has us down 10 per cent on last year’s funding.
“This will impact significantly on the level of programmes and services that are developed with the community and is further indication that those with the least are paying the most to deal with the failures of the state.”
She added: “The funding from the Community Development Programme enables the running of resources centres in communities of need which in turns attracts other areas of funding to run programmes such Community Employment, after-school programmes for young people, training programmes, work with residents, etc.”
The latest cut is across the board and will affect all Community Development Projects in Waterford city, the south east and across the country.
“That of course makes what we’re trying to achieve that little more difficult,” added Liz.
“But that’s where pulling together comes to the fore again. There are always hurdles that need to be negotiated along the way, but that doesn’t mean you give up on an idea.”
Example? “We would like to develop a community garden on a piece of land right next to the centre here,” said Liz.
“At the moment, it’s an untidy, unkempt area and it’s an eyesore we’re keen to see the back of. Given that the idea of a sustainable community is something that’s going to spoken about widely over the next few years; we’re keen to make a start by getting this garden in place.
“A garden like this would provide us with a new community focal point, encourage vegetable growing, further develop the horticulture training we provide here and would also serve to put a long-standing derelict area to good use.”
However, the City Council has earmarked other lands in Ballybeg for allotments, despite the CDP’s preferred plot being zoned as community.
“We’ve been told that this piece of land is considered too valuable to be used for something like this,” added Willie Moore.
“Considering that it’s right next to the proposed new graveyard for the city, we would have thought that using it for this purpose would have made perfect sense. And while we know the allotments are coming, that doesn’t mean we’re about to give up on the idea for next door.”
Greater space at the CDP is now badly needed given the level of daily activity at its office but given the recession, it’s unlikely that any expansions will be soon in the offing.
Speaking of expansion, The Local Economic Development Company (LEDC), established by the CDP and the ‘old’ Waterford Crystal has four key projects in mind, namely:
* A Social Economy Enterprise Centre which will provide industrial/office space for business and private enterprises drawn from across the city
* A Community Sports and Recreation Centre (including a badly needed café) which will provide a further focal point for socilaising, health and leisure
* A Community Education Centre which will be supported by FÁS, WIT and Waterford VEC, and
* The establishment of a social investment fund that will provide social finance to future community based organisations.
It’s impossible not to pick up on the scale of ambition circulating through Ballybeg, all of which points towards a bright civic future for the estate.
“There are other things we need, such a doctor’s surgery, a large supermarket which we ought to have sooner rather than later and a post office would be welcome too,” said Willie.
“But we’ll get there eventually. There’s a good few things ticked off the list and a lot more to be ticked off yet, but we’ll get there because we are all in this together.”
The last word from a tremendously positive afternoon of discussion was reserved for Community Development Worker Una Ryan.
“Ballybeg is growing positively. This is an energised community full of pro-active, ‘can do’ people with a deep pride in their area and I for one love working here and working with them.”
Those working to better Ballybeg have no reverse gear and thanks to their industry, energy and endeavour, it’s difficult to conceive the story that they’re writing can conclude with anything other than a happy ending.