The announcement last week that The Fountain and The Bogside have been given Urban Village status by The Office of First Minister and Deputy First Minister has been warmly welcomed by Alderman Drew Thompson and community worker Jeanette Warke.
The villages are part of the ‘Together: Building a United Community Strategy,’ which was published in May 2013.
The Londonderry villages initiative is designed to create and stabilise change within, both of which have suffered from deprivation and dereliction in the past.
“I think this is all very positive for The Fountain area and has come to pass because there was a lot of work planned for Belfast in the markets area, Sandy Row and Donegal Pass in Urban Village project there. A conversation took place in Belfast in the Office of the First Minster and as a result of that places in Londonderry were put into an Urban Village Matrix. So what we now have are projects for both The Fountain and the Bogside.
“The main criteria to qualify for consideration for one of these kinds of projects would include levels of deprivation, and the need for social investment and social capital,” Mr Thompson said.
Asked what the aim of the Urban Village project was, Mr Thompson said, where The Fountain was concerned, the idea was to help physically regenerate the whole area.
“The initial thing coming from the Urban Village project will be the start of a consultation process with the stakeholders of The Fountain. This is very important as it is critical that the community have buy-in to the strategic investment process. We will have officials down to do the plan and I am calling for a masterplan to be drawn up for the entire area.
“Then, as a result of the plan, and what’s contained in it, specific improvements can be made. I envisage that after the consultation process that the development and implementation stage will evolve into a three to four year strategy for the area,” he said.
Jeanette Warke, who has been at the helm at Cathedral Youth Club in The Fountain for decades, could not contain her delight at the announcement, calling it “Light at the end of the tunnel”.
“This is a great opportunity for The Fountain and will really help the community there. I am particularly hoping that this project will look at dealing with the dilapidated buildings and how we can enhance The Fountain area, and on reading the documentation about the Urban Village scheme it looks closely at provision for young people and enhancing their environment, which I welcome,” she said.
Stressing the importance of community involvement at all levels, she said: “For me this project will really reinforce the work we have been doing on the ground in The Fountain, particularly where young people are concerned and what I hope it means personally for me and for the members of Cathedral Youth Club is either a major refurbishment or even the possibility of a complete rebuilding of the facility. If not then I would like to see it extended and provision expanded. That is long overdue,” she said.
Mrs Warke said that one aspect of life that was very close to her heart and which she would like to see receive attention and investment was provision for all the young families.
“I would love to see a modern play park and family area built in The Fountain.
“It took us eight years to get the MUGA pitch in and we are indebted to Alderman Maurice Devenney for his input in getting the pitch online and delivered. Only for him it would not have happened,” she said.
Asked what the classification of ‘Urban Village’ meant for her at a personal level, Mrs Warke said: “This for me is just like Christmas all over again.
“I am just so pleased that someone has seen what we need and is willing to support the local people and help develop the amenities of The Fountain and help enhance the environment there for all of the community’s benefit. Look at Wapping Lane. Who wants to walk up there into our community?
“It is a totally run down area. In the past we have tried to do some cosmetic work on it involving the young people in a regeneration project so that we could get some cosmetic work done to the windows and doors.
“We want to send out a positive message and make the community look good in the eyes of everybody,” she said.