Richard Taplin remembers when his children were small, growing up in a flat in the Liberties –they had no access to greenery.
With no garden and no parks in the area, “I had to spend all my time bringing them to different parks and we knew every park in Dublin. Sometimes we would go as far as Wicklow to go camping,” he says.
As part of the Bridgefoot Street Park Campaign, Taplin has been instrumental in securing recreational facilities for the area.
Now, he is determined that the promised park will be an exceptional facility, including wildflower meadows, and all it needs to become a hub for community activity.
On Tuesday 16 May, the campaign group launched their manifesto, a beautifully detailed document that outlines what they want for the park and provides space for others’ ideas.
They want to encourage as many people as possible to engage with the consultation process being organised by Dublin City Council. Around 40 local people attended the last consultation meeting, but Taplin wants even wider involvement.
“We need bigger support, and more people to get involved to review what is actually being put on the table … so that everyone in the community and throughout the city can play a part in it,” he says.
Taplin, a tall man with grey hair, is passionate about the benefits of gardening, physical work and the outdoors.
He participates in the community gardens and the men’s shed, which make use of a site on Bridgefoot Street, which has long lain vacant.
For years, residents of the area fought to get a park on the site, and in February the council announced the plans. Now, the official consultation process is under way.
“We are getting a park and people have a chance to take ownership and be part of the building of the park,” says Taplin.
Recently he has been flyering and knocking on doors, to get more locals involved in creating the plans.
As well as the local residents, Taplin and the Bridgefoot Street Park Campaign want input from businesses in the area, schools and youth groups, local representatives, people from other parts of the Liberties, and community organisations and environmentalists from across the city.
Maria Corcoran was at the meeting on Tuesday evening. She used to live in Rialto and now lives in Portlaoise. She says she attended the meeting to support the idea of urban wildlife.
“I don’t think there is enough areas for wildlife in Dublin. We were just looking at the birds going into the flowers there,” she says, pointing to the wildflower meadow patch in the community gardens. “It’s just so heartwarming.”
Bridgefoot Street is a great space in the middle of the city, says Corcoran, and she hopes that the idea could spread to other parts of Dublin. She wants to see disused urban space turned into grasslands with wildflowers.
“Nature is so good for our mental health and for our physical health … and it’s something that people in cities are deprived of,” she says.
The Bridgefoot Street Park Campaign have outlined some of their ideas for the park in their manifesto. They want a building with a kitchen, toilets, storage and a tank for rain water.
They want a large, flat paved area, power and lighting, steps arranged like seats, projection facilities for showing films and movable sports equipment.
There is a lack of facilities for teenagers in the area, says Taplin, so he would like to see BMX ramps in the design.
This could lead on to organising trips for young people to Wicklow to use the BMX cycle tracks there, he says.
Change and Growth
“The park is a great place to start any talk and any change,” says Taplin, who began studying community development in 2010.
He has personally experienced the transformative power of being outdoors, he says. “I was out of work after an injury and became housebound.”
He struggled with being confined in his flat, but when he had recovered sufficiently, he took up gardening.
“By getting into gardening I was able to build back up my confidence and my strength, and it was even more about being in the fresh air,” he says.
He has seen cases where men were depressed and taking a lot of medication, but becoming involved in physical work outdoors has really helped them, he says.
“Through the men’s shed ethos we have an idea that when you are working shoulder-to-shoulder you get it off your chest,” says Taplin.
He advocates guerrilla gardening – expanding out into the community. He says wherever needles are found on Oliver Bond Street, they plant shrub boxes and this tends to discourage people using that spot for injecting.
They have planted flowers on the outside of the railings around the site, and this encouraged people to get involved, he says.
“People weren’t talking to us when we were inside, they would walk past and even if we left the gate open, they’d be shy to come in,” he says.
But since they started painting the fence and planting flowers on the outside of the railings, that has helped to draw people in.
“It didn’t look like much last year, but this year we have got the green, the white, the yellow, we have had different flowers coming through including poppies … it’s an on-going art project,” he says.
The community gardeners are hopeful that their space will be retained and the new park will be built on the other larger section of the site.
Events and Activities
The group are organising a series of meetings and events to get people involved in the consultation process.
The next big meeting is on Sunday 28 May at 2pm, at the park. All are welcome.
There is also a big weekend coming up: on 10 June, the Dublin Community Garden Cycle will visit the site.
On Sunday 11 June there is a Street Feast, says Taplin. “It’s a street party, you bring your own lunch, there will be some talks as well as buskers and artists,” he says.
There is an artist coming on Wednesday 17 May, an artist called Bearz is coming to paint murals for the existing shed.
“He did a small exhibition a month ago on Capel Street. I’ve been to a lot of art over the years, but his positive message really touched me,” says Taplin.
They are starting a repair café on the last Sunday of every month, where people can bring their household plants down and get them re-potted.
Then there is the “Art of Skipping”, where people can bring items they no longer use (or find in skips) and swap them for something else.
They have signed up with Change X, also, and plan to roll out meditation and yoga workshops, he says.
The community garden is open to volunteers every Saturday and Sunday from 2pm to 4pm, and Tuesdays from 5pm to 8pm.