The Mall has long been seen as Longford’s so-called hidden secret.
Only last January, Minister of State Micheal Ring branded the tastefully landscaped park as possibly one of the nation’s finest public amenities.
A customary talking point at local authority meetings, praise and thank you messages have regularly been hoisted on the shoulders of community employment workers, tasked with maintaining its day to day upkeep.
Last Saturday, members of the public got their chance to express their own gratitude as the sextet were formally crowned Tesco Community Persons of the Year 2013.
The scheme’s supervisor, Ken Shedwell said the Mall has come a long way from the sparse parcel of scrubland it was around three decades previously.
“This (award) is not about me and I don’t want it to be about me,” said a modest sounding Ken ahead of last Saturday’s ceremony inside the Longford town supermarket.
“There is a huge body of work which goes on down there that people just don’t know about. All of the planting, seating, monitoring the outdoor gym equipment and keeping everything neat and tidy, that’s all done by the six lads. The comfort of the people who use the Mall is our top priority.”
Such has been the scheme’s unbridled success, it has helped not just the everyday appearance of one of Longford’s prime tourist attractions, but it has also provided much needed socio-economic benefits.
“These guys would only be getting around €20 more a week than they would on the dole. We even had one fella who came in and literally cried to get on the scheme. He was a printer all his life and now he is a very skilled horticulturalist, he can tile and is very adept at stonebuilding.”
As for his own involvement, Longford town born and bred, Ken first put his name to the then FAS run scheme 10 years ago. When his time appeared to be nearing an end, the trained actor did his level best to extend that stay, a move which was to coincide with his own promotion to scheme supervisor.
“I liked it so much I didn’t want to let go,” said Ken, with more than a tinge of nostalgia attached. “We know what needs to be done down there and at the end of the day all we want is for people to be able to come in, dawdle along, walk, jog, run, bring a picnic down or just to have a quiet cup of tea.”
Over the past decade or so, Ken is of the opinion the vast majority of those objectives have been realised.
A meeting point for casual as well as more taxing forms of exercise, the park has steadily become a popular port of call for clubs as well as young families both during the week and at weekends.
That said, Ken knows all too well of the challenges that are still posed by ensuring those habits don’t fade.
“We are 90 per cent in terms of where we want to be and 95 per cent of the people that come into the Mall are decent, law abiding people, but you will always have a certain percentage of idiots around, he said. “As I have always said to people, it’s your park, not mine. What we need is to stand up together and say enough is enough.”
Based on the large crowds that turned up at the weekend, it’s a rallying cry which was heard very much loud and clear.