There is a great sense of community spirit in Cherry Orchard, says Carolyn Dunne.
It’s the kind of place where people will band together and fundraise to help their neighbours cover funeral expenses, says the blonde grandmother and long-time support worker.
But the years of cuts have taken their toll: the area needs family support workers, educational opportunities, jobs, amenities, she says.
Now, Dublin City Council and the Department of Housing are starting to work on a plan for the future of the area.
Some say though that it will take not only money, but a change of approach from national government after years of austerity in a community that had little to give.
“The people that took the cuts were the people who were already on the ground,” says Dunne.
On the Ground
The suburban estate in Ballyfermot has a population of 8,000 but no centre, and that’s something that is on the agenda.
“We need a shopping centre,” says Dunne. “But we also needs cafes, restaurants and pubs. You need somewhere to socialise.”
Dublin City Council is in the early stages of a development plan for Cherry Orchard, which should touch on more than just what buildings go where.
“We are not just looking for a physical build,” says the South East Area Manager in the council, Peter Finnegan.
“We are looking for the consultants to work on a plan that includes the social, economic and community build as well,” he said.
At the moment, they are carrying out a big community consultation to see what people in the neighbourhood need and want, he says.
The plan could include a new shopping centre, improved transport links, a Garda station, skills training, employment opportunities, and funding for cultural activities, says Finnegan.
One local councillor agrees with Dunne that the problem is the cutbacks. “We are looking for government at the highest level to rethink how they do business in places like Cherry Orchard,” says Sinn Fein Councillor Daithi Doolan.
“The politics of austerity, welfare cuts, job cuts, community development cuts have all had devastating impact,” he says.
Late last year, there were protest and counter-protests by some in the community over plans to build social housing on a patch of land, that some had cleaned and tended and turned into a memorial garden.
Faced with a divided community, Dublin City Council and the Department of Housing put in place a full-time restorative practice worker, to talk to those living there about the future of the area.
“Restorative practice is a whole way of reinventing the community,” says Doolan. It’s a type of mediation process.
That will make sure that the community gets a say and “the opportunity to inform and advise the plan,” says Anne Fitzgerald, CEO of Ballyfermot Chapelizod Partnership, who are also working with the council on the plan for the area.
While unemployment is an issue in Ballyfermot, it is more severely pronounced in Cherry Orchard, says Fitzgerald.
The figures in the live register aren’t broken down into areas as small as Cherry Orchard. So the partnership did its own survey of 460 people ahead of a meeting with Minister for Social Protection, Leo Varadkar, last October.
Of the men they surveyed, 58 percent were unemployed. That compares to 35 percent in Ballyfermot and 17.5 percent nationwide, according to the 2011 census.
Of the women, 31 percent were unemployed in Cherry Orchard. That compares to 21 percent in Ballyfermot as a whole and 10.4 percent nationwide, according to the 2011 census.
The survey found that just 4 percent of people in Cherry Orchard had attended third level education, compared to 18.5 percent in Ballyfermot as a whole.
“Traditionally, these were working class communities where people did work,” says Fitzgerald. But the decline of certain industries led to higher unemployment and that became entrenched, she says.
Not everyone in Cherry Orchard is unemployed but some people are “very distanced from the labour market”, says Maeve Harkin, employment services manager at Ballyfermot Chapelizod Partnership.
Fizgerald hopes that the partnership can get jobs for local people in construction projects that take place in the area. They are already talking with the developer for the social housing project.
“As a partnership, we are very willing to assign resources and if the builder is willing and interested … a free recruitment service,” says Fitzgerald.
They will provide access to safe passes, other training, pre-screening and take all the hassle out of recruitment, she says. “We believe that if local people are in local jobs, it’s better for the community because then there is ownership of it.”
She adds that they will put a “huge effort” into securing apprenticeships for young people from the area.
No Post Office, No Chemist
“You need something that will bring social enterprise and economic life to the area,” says Daithi De Roiste of Fianna Fail, who lives in the area. “There is one newsagent. There is no post office, no doctor’s surgery, no chemist,” he says.
Others list the amenities that they would like to see. “There should be more cafes and probably a shopping centre, with a butchers shop,” says Abbie Finegan, a social-care student from Cherry Orchard.
“Cherry Orchard is big and you’re thinking elderly people as well, some of whom can’t get to the shops in Ballyfermot easily,” she says.
There is nowhere for young people to socialise and Finegan thinks the neighbourhood needs a night-time youth club for 16 to 21 year olds. “Playstation, take-away nights, a bit of music and let their hobbies come into play,” she says.
The area could also do with investment in family supports and local leadership, and more funding for existing services, which often have waiting lists, says Laura Grandon, another social-care student from Cherry Orchard.
Dublin City Council’s Area Manager, Finnegan, says he is waiting for the results of the community consultation but he expects that the plans will include a shopping centre.
“We then have to source an anchor tenant who will attract in people. A Lidl or Aldi would be ideal. It could be Supervalu as well,” he says. He is determined that any such development would include jobs for locals, he says.
Finnegan also wants to examine the idea of dedicated bus routes to places like the Liffey Valley, to link with possible work opportunities.
Alongside facilities and measures to tackle unemployment, he wants funding for cultural and community-building activities, such as the recent Passion Project, which explored social issues through drama.
Dealing with Crime
Many people in the area are “working extremely hard to improve the quality of life for themselves, and their neighbours and children,” says Sinn Fein’s Doolan. But there is also an issue with crime in the area which needs to be recognised by central government.
“The Minister for Justice needs to wake up and realise that the needs of Cherry Orchard need to be met by her government,” says Doolan.
Fianna Fail Councillor De Roiste agrees that crime and anti-social behaviour are a substantial problem here.
An increased Garda presence is required in Cherry Orchard, says Finnegan, and preferably a Garda substation would be placed there, an idea that the local representatives would support.
“We would argue that there is a shortage of Garda resources in Ballyfermot generally and that is something that the commissioner would need to address,” says Finnegan.
Show the Money
It isn’t the first time there has been talk of a development plan for Cherry Orchard. An earlier development plan never made it off paper, though, due to the economic crash of 2008, says Fitzgerald.
“People had their hopes raised, and then dashed, due to circumstances beyond anyone’s control, locally or in the council,” she says.
This time, however, she is confident that it will happen. The fact that the government has put in place a full-time restorative practice worker is evidence that there is a commitment to the plan, she says.
“The focus is a strategic plan to deliver housing services, jobs and education for people who for many years have been given false hopes,” says Doolan.
But it is not just about how much money should be made available, he says. It also requires a change of approach by central government.
“This is about changing government policy which has had a big impact on places like Cherry Orchard,” says Doolan.
Any plan must be one that draws in several agencies and has them work together: the Gardai, Tusla, the Department of Education, Dublin City Council and the Department of Housing, says De Roiste.
As the extra houses are built in the area, it is widely accepted that facilities will need to be improved, says Finnegan. “There is an understanding with senior management that we will find the money that is needed to improve the conditions in Cherry Orchard as it was found for Ballymun.”
He expects to have an outline plan by October or November 2017, including a timeline for the development.