When it comes to Upper Ardnacassa, Cluain Ard and Palace Crescent, the area’s reputation precedes it.
Sadly, it’s not a good reputation, with residents being subjected to the likes of illegal dumping, bonfires and anti-social behaviour.
But now they’re fighting back to reclaim their homes and return the area to the family-friendly, safe environment it once was.
Arriving at Palace Crescent on a Thursday evening, I was met by the sight of residents using litter pickers and gloves to gather rubbish from the green. Nearby, a few others were using shovels to clear weeds and grass from the side of the footpaths.
“We were approached by a resident for support in April of last year,” explained Felicia Loughrey of Longford Community Resources Ltd (LCRL), as she greeted yet another resident who had dropped by to help out.
LCRL have been instrumental in getting this “unofficial” residents association set up, and they continue to help with the regular clean-ups and meetings initiated by those living in the estates.
“We had a few meetings first and then we had our first clean up during the summer of last year.
“The residents are fantastic, they really are,” she continued. “The edging is being done, the litter is picked up and the Tidy Towns come later on to pick up all the rubbish and take it away.
The community guards also come around and help out. The council has been fantastic helping out, giving us equipment and then of course, as part of LCRL, the RSS and TÚS give us equipment.
“It’s a real inter-agency effort.”
Felicia is not naive when it comes to the challenges the neighbourhoods face, however. She acknowledges that the high unemployment rate in the area as well as the boarded up houses continue to cause difficulties, but no-one can deny that things have greatly improved.
This was proven by Cluain Ard householders Mark Nallen and Eamon Murray, who, after helping out with the general clean-up, proudly showed off the work they had done with their own houses and grounds.
Two beautiful, well-kept houses were surrounded by an array of brightly-coloured flowers which, as the two neighbours explained, also contain small lights, which create quite the display at night-time.
“You know it didn’t take much effort to do it,” Eamon nodded.
Talking through some of the projects they had undertaken, including powerwashing a nearby common wall, Mark shared his hope that their work “will set a trend and send a signal out that this is our patch and we’re keeping it clean”.
Eamon agreed, adding; “If everyone just did their own patch, it would make it look nice; make people want to come in here - people who never wanted to come in.
“People thought it was an awful spot to be in, but it’s not. It’s how you make it yourself.
“If everyone did a little bit on their own it would be just brilliant.
“It doesn’t take much. And fair play to all the people who are out doing it.”
Returning towards Palace Crescent, a group of young boys, who had earlier taken up shovels, brushes, bags and pickers to do their part, were now gathered around a car where teams were about to be chosen for a football match.
“We have a lot of the young lads from our estate here in a group that meets on a Monday evening down in the Mall,” said Mark Noble, Acting Co-ordinator of LCRL's Co Longford Youth Service, as he and his colleague Mícheál Wall gave instructions to the boys to start setting up the goals.
“We know a lot of the lads through this as well, so when we come up to help Felicia out with the community development, most of the lads come out and we do some soccer as well. They do a little bit of clean up and then it’s kind of a treat to do the soccer.”
Mícheál continued; “They helped from the first clean up we set it up. And it was to get them something to do and to get to know them. The soccer is only a sideline, it’s really chatting to them at the same time.”
In the year that Mark and Mícheál have been engaging with the youths of the area, the two reckon that the positive change in the boys and their behaviour is remarkable. They’re making great progress with their sporting abilities too, and, as he and Mícheál set off to pick their sides, Mark revealed that he was hoping to set up a few fixtures for the budding team.
As the clean up drew to a close, a number of the residents gathered with Felicia and her LCRL colleague Mary Mulvey.
One local mother said that she had seen a noticeable difference in the estate over the past year, but still harboured concerns, particularly for her children. Another resident indicated that the community spirit at least, had come on in leaps and bounds.
“When I moved in here it was much, much worse,” she admitted, before laughing; “When we found the house here, our solicitor said we were crazy!”
After speaking to Superintendent Jim Delaney and Sergeant Ken Duggan, who showed up to support the hard-working residents, Olabisi Ogunsakin, who, along with her husband Kazeem, was instrumental in bringing about the current set-up.
“We set this up because we’ve been living here now over ten years, and when we started living here it used to be a very good estate. But I think after the crash on the houses it degenerated and the place was just like a dumping ground.”
Olabisi paid tribute to LCRL, the Gardaí and the council, whom she thanked sincerely for demolishing two particularly problematic houses in Palace Crescent in July 2015.
“It has changed for the better, I’ll be honest with you because before you couldn’t even walk into the place,” Olabisi said, before thanking all who have helped over the past year. “I know we’re not there yet, but we’re getting there,” she smiled.
When asked what their ultimate aim for the initiative was, Olabisi didn’t hesitate for a second to answer, probably voicing the hopes of her counterparts from all three estates.
“The aim is we want to live together as one community. We want the place to be peaceful and we want the place to be safe for everyone to come out, [for kids to] play with one another without thinking of any fear of walking to a place.
“All we’re looking for is a place where people can live together as one and keep the place clean. We don’t want to live in a jungle.
“Everyone when they think about Ardnacassa, all they know about it is its bad name so we want to rename the place.
“We want people to come in and see that it has changed from what it used to be.”
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