A map of Clongriffin is spread out on Shabina Valentine’s kitchen table. Well, not a map exactly. It’s more a brochure.
But it’s as good a place as any to look to get a handle on how one of Dublin’s newest towns has developed, says Valentine.
“They’ve got planning permission to have a hotel and 16-floor apartments,” says Valentine pointing at an area near the Dart Station, where Gannon Homes has plans for a tall building.
A brochure that Valentine has from Gannon Homes shows different phases of its Belltree development, also planned for Clongriffin, which would be a group of housing estates on Belltree Avenue.
Tatiana Mitrofanova, a neighbour of Valentine, points her finger down the Main Street of Clongriffin, which runs from the Dart Station to Father Collins Park.
You can hear the soft but consistent whirring of the blades of five wind turbines in the park from the front door of Valentine’s home.
“This area is old Clongriffin,” says Mitrofanova, of the housing estates that lie south of Main Street. To the north is new Clongriffin.
Most of the houses in “old Clongriffin” are not exactly old. Beau Park was built in 2006. But the financial crash in 2008 meant that much of the anticipated building of Clongriffin went unfinished.
Both Valentine and Mitrofanova are part of Clongriffin Community Association, set up to foster community spirit. There’s a big barrier to that though, they say.
All the community leaders from here, says Valentine, pointing toward old Clongriffin, had to go to Baldoyle as there was no community infrastructure in place in Clongriffin.
These were the people who managed children’s football teams, gave music lessons, did dance lessons.
“That’s a loss of skills and all that could have been harnessed and used for our area,” she says.
To rectify this, the Clongriffin Community Association want a community centre built in the centre of Clongriffin, to create a place where friends and strangers can meet, kids can hang out, and the town life can grow.
Valentine has lived in Clongriffin since 2005 and moved to the new part of the town in 2015. From early on, she innovated around the lack of social infrastructure in the town.
One day at her son’s school, she spotted a mother struggling to talk to a teacher because she spoke poor English. She recognised the situation from her own childhood, she says.
“I’m an immigrant, I’m from Scotland and I’m the daughter of an immigrant,” says Valentine.
“So my mother couldn’t speak English when she came to Scotland, but we were very lucky,” she says. “When we were in Edinburgh, they offered English classes on the premise that you could bring your children.”
Valentine decided to replicate this in her own kitchen. She invited the woman to call to her house for English lessons, she says. Quickly the one-on-one lesson became one-on-five.
“I realised very quickly, I can talk but I can’t teach,” says Valentine. So she emailed local politicians, got funding from Dublin City Council, and the class moved to the local school – and grew by another 11 students.
The episode showed Valentine how diverse the area was, and also how great a need there was for community infrastructure to nurture and serve it.
Another clue as to how disconnected people were in the neighbourhood – and how great the need was for more community – came when Dublin City Council invited people in the area to a meeting in August 2016 to get to know others living around there.
Valentine was the only person to show up, Valentine says.
“The invitation had gone out and they realised that they didn’t know anyone in Clongriffin and they didn’t have much links with Clongriffin,” she says.
To change this, Valentine suggested throwing a street party. She got a few of her neighbours together, and they knocked on doors throughout “new Clongriffin”.
When they had their first street party in Beltree in 2016, 300 people turned up.
“People here had considered it almost impossible to do something like this,” says Mitrofanova.
But they were delighted, she says, to have a chance to come out and meet new people, and to bond over food.
Building a Town
From Clongriffin Dart Station, perched on a hill, with Baldoyle Bay and Howth to the east, there’s a clear view ahead to Main Street.
Finished apartment blocks mark old Clongriffin. The open spaces with construction material and meshed fences mark the new side.
Down the grey steps that lead from the hill where the station sits and across the open plaza is a jar-shaped glass building, once destined to be a hotel. It lies empty beside a building once earmarked for a supermarket, which is equally lifeless.
Valentine says she cannot see the words “coming soon” any more. She’s had years and years of the sign hung on the front of the glass doors here, saying “Superquinn, coming soon”.
The seeds for the development of Clongriffin were set in the North Fringe Area Action Plan 2000, for the combined development of Clongriffin and Belmayne.
“Clongriffin – Belmayne (Northern Fringe) development area is a very ambitious project in terms of both scale and infrastructure. It is one of the largest urban projects in the state and is also large in European scale,” read a later development plan from 2012.
There were 3,400 homes built in the area, says a 2018 economic and retail study. But the promised supermarkets, pubs, cinemas and restaurants never arrived. The downturn was blamed.
“Effectively, the town was set up to be a town. When the economy stopped, all tools went down but the community stopped and it still needed to grow,” says Valentine, a couple of days later at meeting of the community association.
In recent years, plans to build have picked up again. There are 8,000 homes in the pipeline, says the 2018 study.
But there are still few shops in the area, no supermarket, no cafes or pubs – and, most importantly for the Clongriffin Community Association, no community centre.
The group’s recent meet-up was in the The Olde Thatch pub, 2.5km from Clongriffin town centre.
Among those who attended was Stephen Murphy, coordinator of Clongriffin Residents’ Association. “What the needs are for a community are going to be quite different from that of a developer,” he said.
Residents need a community centre to anchor the community, says Murphy. “It gives us a focal point,” he says. “We can do stuff off that.”
Creating a Centre
Last month, Shabina Valentine and Kim McDonald, another resident of Clongriffin and member of the group, gave a presentation to the council’s North Central Area Committee on “making Clongriffin a sustainable community”.
Clongriffin is expected to grow, they said. It needs a community hub in the town, they told councillors.
In their presentation, Phibblestown in Ongar was put forward as one potential model.
Scoil Ghrainne there shares its campus with the Phibblestown community centre. A school has already been promised for the larger Clongriffin area, but the location has not been decided as of yet.
Residents would feel ownership of the neighbourhood, their presentation said. It could stave off future problems by keeping a generation engaged and community proud.
Not only that, says Murphy, it would also help foster a culture for a town that has not yet arrived.
Towns like Malahide and Howth? They’ve identities and a foundation but this needs to be created in a town like Clongriffin, says Murphy.
This lack of identity is not necessarily a bad thing, says Valentine.
With more than 40 different nationalities at Clongriffin’s last street party, the town’s diversity can be part of this new identity, she says.
Having a street party with 40 cultures is fantastic for the buffet, says Valentine. “Not great on your stomach but just for your children to see this is what you have on your doorstep.”