Stephanie Dickenson sits at a row of empty tables in L. Mulligan Grocer in Stoneybatter. “Reserved” is spelled out in Scrabble letters on one of them.
It’s a few minutes before half eight, the time she’s invited people from various projects in the community for “eco-pints”.
Dickenson got involved in her local community earlier this year, as part of the Kirwan Street and Cottages Residents’ Association, which represents about 140 homes. Recently, she went to a climate-action workshop run by Dublin City Council.
“There was a session where we were all put together in groups to think about what actions our neighbourhoods could take that would help address the climate crisis,” Dickenson says.
An idea that kept popping up, she says, was “the need for forums for communities to come together to talk about these things”.
So on this recent Thursday evening, she has invited a “small group of friends and allies” to get together and talk about “local ways to address the twin climate and biodiversity crises”.
Tonight, there’s no agenda and no “shoulds”, Dickenson says. They’re going to see where it all goes.
The group has a name – formally, it’s the Stoneybatter Sustainability Coalition. Casually, it’s known as “Leafybatter”.
Who’s Out There?
At 8:30pm, people start to trickle in, and soon the tables are full.
There are people involved with the campaign to make Stoneybatter the first village to collectively sign up for the All-Ireland Pollinator Plan; people working on the Greening Stoneybatter initiative; and people trying to reduce restaurant food waste.
“There are quite a lot of people doing things in parallel, not necessarily even knowing who else is out there in our community,” Dickenson says. “For me, it’s about starting to build a network.”
If tonight goes well, she’s thinking about another event, where people would give 10-minute presentations on the projects they’re working on. “That’s one thing we might do next.”
Dickenson says that, in one way, it was the public consultation around BusConnects, the plan to redesign the city’s bus network, that got people really interested in the local environment.
Strangers ended up coming together to talk about their priorities regarding transport, she says.
“I got more and more involved in it and more and more interested. It’s a project that touches on everything … I’m hooked now,” Dickenson says.
Mike Banim is sitting across the table, wearing a new “I Bike Dublin” T-shirt. A pint sits in front of him, and next to that, a stack of papers.
On the papers are pie charts, answers compiled from a survey of the community stemming from the newest iteration of BusConnects, which is out for public consultation until 3 December.
“A group of us came together about BusConnects, just to see if we could engage in a more environmental/green way,” Banim says.
The group decided to gather opinions in the community to work out their submissions, he says.
That involved going door-to-door with a 15-question survey about a month ago. They got over 100 responses.
“Generally, the green things, people were in favour of. The less green things, people were less in favour of,” he says. Air quality, cycling infrastructure, and keeping existing trees and green spaces topped the list of priorities.
One question was about whether people would be open to traffic-calming measures to make the area more pedestrian friendly – things like cul-de-sacs. “People responded quite positively to that,” Dickenson says.
Kaethe Burt-O’Dea, owner of Bí Urban, a shop on Manor street, sits nearby.
Burt-O’Dea has advocated for green spaces in the area for a long time, since the public consultation around the development of TU Dublin’s Grangegorman campus.
“What the community wanted there, which was really interesting to me, was more access to green space.”
They asked for “pocket parks, community growing schemes, allotments, the ability to exercise, a permeable campus, public transport”, she says.
Burt-O’Dea has also advocated for a greenway from the Botanic Gardens to the Liffey, which “would bring nature back into the city for this North Central Dublin community”.
She’s involved with the campaign to sign Stoneybatter up for the pollinator plan.
“Now we’re looking at the old canal route into Broadstone … It’s not terribly wild or biodiverse, but that could change,” she says.
Lemon Oil and Beeswax Wraps
Seáneen Sullivan, co-owner of L. Mulligan Grocer, who looks after the kitchen, is front of house tonight.
She’s working on an initiative called Chef’s Manifesto. It’s a “worldwide movement to institute a practical framework for chefs to align their kitchen practices with sustainable development goals”, she says.
It’s about reducing food waste, sourcing fish from responsible purveyors, and reducing the other waste that restaurant kitchens generate, she says.
“I think a lot of people would be horrified if they understood the true amount of waste that exists in kitchens.”
Sullivan says she knows dozens of people in the neighbourhood who have made and use beeswax wraps at home.
“Yet we have a lot of food businesses in the area, and I’d say, weekly, people go through kilometres of cling film because the food safety laws require things to be wrapped.”
But there are ways around it, Sullivan says. Tight-fitting containers, for one. Or prepping less beforehand so there’s less to store in plastic.
L. Mulligan is also looking to become zero waste, she says. After zesting and juicing a lemon, for example, there’s a lot of flesh left. “We make a lemon oil with ours.”
“We’re locals, I suppose,” says Deirdre Prince, a landscape architect with Dublin City Council. She’s here tonight, too.
Prince grew up in Stoneybatter, as did three generations of her family before her, and one (so far) after.
She’s working for the council on its Stoneybatter Greening Strategy, which is in the midst of a co-design process with local residents.
It’s a different engagement process than the council usually does, as they have no draft designs on paper yet, she says. “We’re waiting for the local residents to come back with their designs, and that’s really exciting.”
Prince says she’d like to see projects around attracting more wildlife to the area, providing places to grow vegetables, and creating more parklets.
“We’re trying to get people to look at their area slightly differently,” she says. There’s an “ecology walk” planned for 16 November, to look at habitats, and what the area potentially could have.
Climate change is topical, says Prince, and it’s at the front of people’s minds.
“We’re talking in pubs about pollination and carbon sequestration, which five or 10 years ago, would never have happened,” she says. “It’s not just tree huggers who think it’s important – everybody does now.”
This isn’t Green Party Councillor Neasa Hourigan’s area (she represents Cabra-Glasnevin), but she’s here, too. She’s been working with local Green Party Councillor Janet Horner, who’s sat at another table.
Hourigan says she’s seen a swing towards environmental issues among residents and Tidy Towns committees over the last 12 months. “We’re trying to work in a very joined-up way about this, because we feel that’s how we’re going to have to work in the future,” she says.
What’s interesting about Leafybatter, she says, is that there might be things happening here that can be used as prototypes across the city.
One example from a different area is a project in Drumcondra to compost fallen leaves.
“That means all of a sudden we have a network of prototypes. And when you get a win in one area, it means you can win in another area,” says Hourigan.