Celebrating community spirit Dubbed the Oscars of the community sector, this year’s Pride of Place ceremony takes place on Leeside for the first time with over 800 entrants vying for glory, writes Helen O’Callaghan
Dubbed the Oscars of the community sector, the all-island Pride of Place Awards will be presented this month. And the awards ceremony takes place for the first time ever in Cork.
Pride of Place acknowledges the work communities are doing on both sides of the border, celebrating those who come together to shape, change and enjoy all that’s good about their community and environment. In particular, it rewards specific initiatives with long-lasting, positive community impacts.
Here we profile four of the Cork entrants among the 800 plus community groups vying to win Pride of Place gongs on November 17 in Cork City Hall.
“If it was our kids, we’d want them to get home safely,” says David Hoey, a volunteer with Cork Street Pastors, a multi-denominational organisation caring for people socialising on Saturday nights between 10.30pm and 4am.
In the late-night entertainment areas of Cork — as in any city — young revellers emerging onto the streets can suddenly find themselves in vulnerable situations. Cork Street Pastors help — with flip-flops, bottles of water, blankets and brushes and pans to sweep up broken glass.
“In the past six years, we’ve picked up just under 21,000 whole glasses and bottles on Saturday nights — which can then no longer be used as weapons and they’re not there for people to fall and cut themselves on,” says David.
The group has handed out just under 3,000 flip-flops to girls who come tottering out of night clubs and — unable to stay on high heels — try to pick their way barefoot amid broken glass and pools of urine. “Flip-flops help girls walk safely to a taxi and get home.” Cork Street Pastors has 18 volunteers from eight Christian churches — they provide their night-time assistance in teams of three to five.
The group is also on the streets on special occasion nights: UCC Rag, Freshers, Leaving Cert results night. Each volunteer has a rucksack with thermal blankets (“for someone lying on the street, the alcohol has worn off and their temperature is dropping”), bottles of water for the dehydrated and lollipops, which have been known to defuse a fight if given at the right moment (“it takes 30 seconds to open the wrapper — sometimes just enough to calm things”).
Cork Street Pastors get feedback: “People come back to us, saying ‘thanks for looking after me — I was in a bad way last night’.”
Conversations happen that would never happen. This, says Annagret Winkel, is the biggest benefit of Africa Day, an annual celebration of the African continent’s unity that falls on May 25 each year.
While the main public event, ‘Africa Day Family Celebration’, took place last year in Cork’s Fitzgerald Park — it was hugely successful with over 2,700 attending — events happen through the week leading up to May 25: a showcase of films produced by people of African origin, a seminar (last year’s had a migration theme) and an art exhibition featuring work of
up-and-coming African artists.
Annagret, who has been volunteering for Africa Day’s Cork event since 2014, says 80% of Africa was represented in Fitzgerald Park on May 25. Originally from Namibia and in Cork seven years, she says: “It’s a setting of music and fun. People talk who would never otherwise talk. And there was food — a Kenyan food stall — we’re planning to have more next year. For Africans, food is very important in a social setting.” And it’s not just the mingling with Irish and international communities that’s precious, she says.
“The African communities themselves get together. All the African countries have their own culture and traditions and this day reignites our togetherness — it’s like ‘we are not home but this is our new home and let’s make it a home together’.”
It’s a distant memory now, but throughout the recession Douglas Street started feeling very shabby, with anti-social behaviour, drinking and drug-taking.
“It was happening in broad daylight in different hotspots. Everyone was getting fed up. Some of us got together to tackle it,” says Justine Looney, chair of Douglas Street Traders (aka Douglas Street Business Association DSBA).
Instrumental in gathering the group were local GP Dr Sinéad Cotter and Edel Curtin of Coughlan’s Bar. Ten people attended that first meeting, along with the community Garda and Mick Finn, current Cork Mayor. A WhatsApp group was set up with 30 people.
“If something was happening outside the doctor’s surgery [or elsewhere on the street] 30 people would ring Anglesea Street Garda Station. Slowly but surely it became more difficult for [undesirable elements] to hang around.”
Taking back the street — a long one stretching from Nano Nagle Place all the way to Langford Row — led DSBA to see Douglas St’s potential. “We decided to organise a street festival, to showcase the diverse and eclectic group of businesses on the street – everything from sign-writers to silversmiths, from bars and restaurants to brass works, from mechanics to a flower studio.”
Now in its second year, the first AutumnFest took place on October 1, 2017, with circus performances (DSBA teamed up with Cork Community Circus), music, dancing, pizza-making for kids, street walking tours by local historian and story-telling: older people recounted memories of growing up on the street. This year’s AutumnFest was even bigger, with performances from Rebel Brass Band, AfroLatin Dance School, Joan Denise Moriarty School of Dance, Barbershop Quartet and CIT Samba Band.
In creating their ‘Village in a City’, DSBA got involved in an urban greening project with Cork Healthy Cities and Cork Environmental Forum. The result is a community garden — food forest — at the end of Summerhill South.
Christmas decorations go up on Douglas Street on December 1, there are “bigger and better” plans for greening in 2019, and two new bike stands are to be installed.
The army of guerrilla gardeners and street artists dedicated to the beautification of Cork are hoping bats will shortly take up residence in Shandon Community Garden.
Building roosting boxes and hanging them in trees for the city’s large population of bats is one of the latest projects of the volunteer group, which has breathed life — and gorgeousness — back into previously derelict and unused city spaces.
Mad About Cork spent much of the summer heatwave trying to keep the urban gardens alive. “We were just watering for that six-week period,” says Kevin O’Brien, Mad About Cork volunteer and co-founder. “We’d always be planting,” he says.
On a recent Saturday, 15 of the group’s volunteers did a nature cycle with the Cork Cycling Campaign, cycling to the city’s Western suburbs. “We each brought our own spring bulbs. We did a blitz of planting — 500 spring bulbs in the Lee Fields and in Murphy’s Farm, Bishopstown.”
Having replanted the North Gate Bridge, they now plan to plant up Shandon Pedestrian Bridge. “We’re going to fill it with colourful plants for the winter.” To see the value of what Mad About Cork does is to remember what the place looked like before, says Kevin.