Chicken pens less than a mile from O’Connell Bridge-now that’s progress!
Bridgefoot Street Community Garden is located right in the city centre, on a 2 1/2 acre site between Thomas Street and the Quays, in the Oliver Bond area here:
The site was zoned for development when the 1960’s flat complexes were torn down in 2003. A Public Private Partnership (PPP) deal was struck between the city council and a developer to build 200 apartments in a 13 story tower block. A community centre and internet cafe were also to be built as part of the development and residents and students from the local area had worked closely with the developers in designing the site. Once the economy went bust, however, the PPP was cancelled and the site left derelict. In the meantime representatives of the local community had formed a Community Development Project (CDP) in 2002 and got funding for a roof garden for a near-by building; but the project stalled and they decided to approach the council about using the vacant land for a community garden instead.
This is what resulted. A thriving garden has emerged. The plots here are individually owned and local residents are growing food and flowers and tending their animals (chickens and pigeons for the moment) at the once derelict site. Some gardening expertise, both from the council and other dedicated gardeners such as Tony Lowth, are available if people require; and through involvement with the garden the local school is well on its way to gaining Green Flag status for environmental sustainability. Some problems reported were that some raised beds had been damaged and plants pulled up by local kids. Although the site is fenced, it includes a play area for kids which is very busy in the summer. Tony O’Rourke, one of the founding members, and the guys at Robert Emmet CDP are trying to include the local kids as much as possible to discourage vandalism. The ongoing interaction with local kids has also meant that anybody working in the garden has to vetted by the Gardai. Another anomaly reported was that some local people who grow here don’t harvest and use the food. This came up in the SCR community garden visit also and to me it suggests that cookery classes might be a way of encouraging people to change their food purchasing habits and diets.
Despite the teething problems, much has been achieved at Bridgefoot Street. The project provides an educational resource for the area; as well as the local school kids, groups in the area such as Focus Ireland, Crosscare and The Simon Community all have plots which they use with their groups. Of course the garden can also provide a connection with nature for residents of city centre flat complexes. There are chicken pens less than a mile from O’Connell Bridge! Bee-hives have been built on the roof of the adjoining Mendicity Institution; and a fox, bats and sparrow hawks have all been attracted in to the area. As well as that, a community space has developed which hasn’t been at the expense of a towering block of new apartments. Allocation of new plots is the responsibility of the Robert Emmet CDP and the fact that there is already a waiting list and the great success of the recent Halloween parties held at the gardens speak to the popularity of the project with the local residents. All of this on top of having the freshest eggs in the city!