Liz Riches considers herself a lucky woman. Appointed Co-ordinator of the Ballybeg Community Development Project last year, Liz’s work brings her into contact with the people of the area on a daily basis.
Theirs is a community and theirs is a spirit which she warmed to instantly. And the feeling is mutual. “She’s a great boss,” said CDP management committee colleague Jane Kavanagh over a cuppa. “We all love her. We’re lucky to have her.”
Liz, who had previously worked in Dublin’s north inner city and with an umbrella group which supported CDPs across the south east, is bowled over by the attitude of the Ballybeg community.
“This is a fabulous area,” said Liz, while children enjoyed some playtime in the crèche next door.
“There’s a great resilience and ‘can do’ attitude here. The willingness to become active voluntary participants through the many programmes that we have running here is terrific.
“People cannot do enough to help when it comes to supporting the community that they live in and I have to say that the people of Ballybeg have been an absolute pleasure to deal with since the moment I arrived.”
Willie Moore, well-known in city soccer circles and a Workers Party candidate in the June 5th local election, eloquently articulated the positive changes that have been brought about in Ballybeg over the past decade.
“We have a list of people who are looking to move into the Clonard Park area, where there are three houses currently available and the demand is exceeding the supply,” he said.
“Now if you’d come up to me 10, 12 years ago and asked me to bring you around Clonard Park, it would have been a totally different story from the one I can tell you about today. Back then, you had between 30 or 40 houses either boarded up or burned out. There’s not a single house there today in that sort of condition. Now that’s progress.”
Liz, adding her two cents, stated: “There is a very strong sense of community participation here, a real sense of active citizenship. And that’s reflected in the level of activity here in the office every day, which I’m sure you’ve noticed.”
It was impossible not to. Classes were being held in a room adjacent to the one we sat in, the only vacant room in the busy facility at the time. Within an hour, the room would also be full for another class.
Some 108 participants, who undertook a variety of courses including woodcraft, horticulture and childcare, passed through Ballybeg CDP last year. Liz believes that number will be exceeded by the end of 2009.
The positive role played by community Gardaí in the area was also praised by Liz, Willie and Jane.
“There’s been a fantastic change in attitude within the kids towards the Guards,” added Willie.
“They stop on their bikes and talk to the Guards these days, and that wasn’t always the case. People know the Guards by their first names and that has made an enormous difference throughout the community. You can’t put a value on a change like that.”
He added: “The community is positively engaging with the Gardaí because the Gardaí, fair play to them, made the decision to get back on the ground.
“The change didn’t come about overnight, but, like many other developments here, it just goes to show what can be achieved by being patient and sticking at something.”
The contributions made by WIT (“fantastic” being the refrain) and the ‘old’ Waterford Crystal over the years were also referenced by the CDP members, whose positive outlook proved irrepressible during our chat.
“Ballybeg is growing positively,” said Community Development Worker Una Ryan. “This is an energised community full of pro-active people with a deep pride in their area and I for one love working here.”
To quote George Bernard Shaw: “I am of the opinion that my life belongs to the community, and as long as I live it is my privilege to do for it whatever I can.”
The fantastic men and women based at Ballybeg CDP are living, vibrant examples of Shaw’s noble mission statement. Long may their good works reap fruit.