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Dublin: 8 °C Friday 6 December, 2019
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Opinion: Once the bricks and mortar are in place, let's encourage communities to develop

‘Building sustainable communities’ may not sound very exciting, but the truth is that strong communities create the foundation for generations to come.

Lucinda McNally

HOUSING PROVISION HAS received a lot of attention in the news recently, and rightly so. Our housing managers will tell you that nothing beats the thrill of handing over keys to a family who have been waiting for a home of their own for years. But the part that comes next receives much less interest.

‘Building sustainable communities’ may sound a little ‘fluffy’ on the outside. However our experience over the past 20 years is that strong communities create a foundation for generations to come, carry huge cost savings, and play an important role in preventing future housing problems.

So how do we encourage these communities to develop once the bricks and mortar are in place? We believe it’s a lot like the ‘teach a man to fish’ philosophy – give a man a fish and you feed him for a day; teach a man to fish and you feed him for a lifetime.

It’s not about imposing a concept on a neighbourhood. Rather, it is about empowering people to take ownership of their surrounding environment. Often this requires a small enabler – the jerseys we sponsored for the children’s football team in Waterford; the orchestral equipment we funded so children from the regeneration areas in Limerick could learn to play an instrument; the community centre we built where our older residents volunteer their time to help children with homework.

Cúirt An Rí: an example to others

One estate in Clonmel, Cúirt An Rí, suffered from a very common problem. Ninety-six residents living in this 41 unit estate were children, and as they grew into their teens, anti-social behaviour began to emerge. When they were asked, they said they were bored and had nothing to do.

We invested a lot of time and resources in building relationships with parents, children and teenagers to find a solution. Our goal was not to do the fishing for this neighbourhood but to enable the residents to get active and involved in becoming part of a solution. After consultation, a core group of teenagers emerged (‘the Jump Start Crew’!) with their own vision:

  • “To have a sense of pride in my estate and showcase what I can achieve to the wider community”
  • “To bring the community together to have fun”
  • “To unite my community and make a peaceful and playful environment”

We encouraged the Jump Start Crew to set up an alternative youth initiative for teenagers and children on the estate. Art for Us became a fun and appealing programme of street art projects for younger people. Through popular art and a strong educational approach, the programme channelled their energy into something positive for the whole community. Supported by An Léargas and artist Jessica Carson, projects completed in the last year have included a choreography programme on the estate and a Banksy-style mural on the walls of Clonmel library and Denis Burke Park.

A great sense of pride

Art for Us has provided a purpose and the sense of completion of the projects reinforced drive, commitment and determination in the young people. The associated press coverage which followed led to a great sense of pride in their home estate and improved perception outside the estate.

This community initiative has brought younger residents on the estate together, promoting friendships, camaraderie, and respect for each other. Relationships between residents are positive and anti-social behaviour complaints have dramatically reduced. Numerous tenants commented that last summer was “the best summer ever”!

Creating a community isn’t just a fluffy vision. It is a solid reality in many of our neighbourhoods across Ireland. Thriving communities are a place where children have a safe place to grow up, where teenagers feel proud of their home, where people of all ages have opportunities in education and self-improvement, and where local businesses can grow. These communities have an extremely positive impact on the lives of people – on older people who might otherwise feel isolated, on teenagers who might otherwise experience boredom and on property owners and neighbouring communities who might otherwise suffer the effects of anti-social behaviour.

One estate can have a profound impact which can spread across towns and cities – whether this impact is negative or positive depends very much on a commitment long after the bricks and mortar are in place.

Lucinda McNally works at Clúid, a not-for-profit organisation with a vision of a society where everyone has a great place to live. 

Clúid Housing Association and neighbours of Cúirt An Rí invite all budding artists to join them for CHALK IT UP, a celebration of community creativity and participation, as part of the Clonmel Junction Festival. This will be the grand finale of their wonderful community initiative which has transformed Cúirt an Rí, has benefited the wider community, and celebrates creativity and participation. All are welcome.

Chalk it Up!
Wednesday 9th July,
2pm-5pm,
Mick Delahunty Square, Clonmel.

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About the author:

Lucinda McNally

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