Forty-six years ago, Kay Cullen moved to Ballymun from Ballsbridge.
“I wouldn’t move out of Ballymun for anything,” she said on Thursday, at a roundtable at the Mansion House. “It is a fabulous community,” says Cullen, a small lady, with short reddish hair and a red top.
“My ma says that too,” says Karla Concannon, a young woman, with straight blonde hair and long eyelashes. “If she won the lotto she wouldn’t move out of Ballymun.”
Concannon, Cullen, and others from Ballymun had come to the Mansion House to talk about community safety, as part of a six-week pilot project to find ways to improve community connectedness.
The event brought younger and older generations together – and they found out that they had lots in common.
“When you create connections between generations, global research shows that anti-social behaviour can decline,” says researcher and criminologist Trina O’Connor, who is organising the programme on behalf of Dublin City Council.
It was blustery and wet outside when a group of students, who are studying customer service and beauty in Ballymun Youthreach arrived in the Oak Room in the Mansion House.
A while later, the ladies from the Burren Court Senior Citizens arrive. O’Connor, the criminologist, made three groups with a mix of ages, and sat them around the round tables.
Over tea and small pastries, they brainstormed ideas of what a safe community feels like and how a safer community could change your life – with the responses collected on a large flip chart.
“Growing up in the flats it was great,” says Lauryn Melia, in her 20s, wearing a black coat with a furry hood. “You were always outside playing on your bike or your skates.”
For her, a safe community is one where children can play outside. But some children’s play is dangerous now, she says – as young children are driving motorised scooters.
That goes up on the board.
Ballymun could feel safer at night if cafes and community centres were open, say many others.
The area needs more homeless facilities to get people off the streets, say others. Several people say that the open drug use in the community makes them feel unsafe.
Cullen says she feels safe in Ballymun. Groups of young men who take drugs might appear intimidating at first, but “when you walk past them they say hello …”, she says.
Says Cullen: “They need help. What made them become drug addicts? What is the root of it?”
Many people said they think that better connections between the community and the Gardaí could make Ballymun feel safer.
But, at one table, people of all ages agreed that if they witnessed a crime they wouldn’t pass on any information to the Gardaí – unless it were a rape.
The issue of co-operating with Gardaí in some communities can be very complex, says O’Connor. “Communities feel let down by Gardaí,” she says.
But from the Gardaí’s perspective, it can be challenging to police an area where there is a lack of co-operation from residents, she says.
Gardaí are often under-resourced as well, she says. “They haven’t had the numbers to deal with the escalation of criminality, or the appropriate training to deal with the changing nature of criminality.”
Chloe Williams, a beauty student who also writes poetry, says that some gardaí – not all – abuse their power. “I know people who have been battered by police for no reason,” she says.
Gardaí “need to stop tarring all the young people in Ballymun with the same brush”, she says. “They think we are all delinquents.”
But the teenagers should show respect for the Gardaí too, she says. “Young people are calling them pigs and bacon,” she says.
It contributes to bad rapport. “We need to break down stereotypes on both sides,” she says.
Everyone agrees that a safer community could transform people’s lives. “Children would be able to experience an actual childhood,” says Williams.
Creating an enhanced sense of connectedness has lots of benefits for individuals and communities, says O’Connor. She hopes that the six-week programme will build connectedness across the generations and also community spirit.
Different generations have much in common, but also “we do live in different worlds”, she says. “The fears, hopes, aspirations and dangers can be different, depending on your age and generation.”
The plan is for older and younger Ballymuners to design and build a photography exhibition together. That will be launched by Lord Mayor Paul McAuliffe, a Fianna Fáil councillor who is also from Ballymun.
The elders will choose old photos from Ballymun in their youth to blow up and frame for the exhibition.
Together with their younger neighbours, they will learn how to make photo frames, says O’Connor. “The photo for the elders, gives them a voice and a place in their community.”
It is also positive for younger people to see Ballymun as it was 50 years ago, she says. “It was really the place to be back then.”
There’ll also be other skill swaps in both directions: some IT skills, or cooking traditional dishes such as coddle.
Cullen says she is already impressed by the young people she has met. “These girls from Youthreach should be celebrated,” she says. “It should be broadcast what they are doing, they are wonderful.”
After the pilot, they’ll evaluate how it’s gone, learn from that, and look to roll out similar projects elsewhere in the city, says O’Connor.