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Cooleens Community Project — South Tipperary Development Company

In June 2012, South Tipperary Development Company (STDC) began working on an ambitious project to engage with the disadvantaged Cooleens Community in Clonmel. The community suffers from a number of systemic problems including a lack of  engagement in community structures; a lack of community facilities and youth work provision; high levels of anti-social behaviour; high unemployment; and low education and skills levels with little engagement by the community in training and education opportunities.

The project aims included:

  • To rebuild their community structure, increase civic pride and to re-engage them into Clonmel RAPID AIT.
  • To increase capacity through community activities, leadership training and engagement in planning processes.
  • To increase ownership and provide for sustained development of a community resource.
  • To cultivate a physical space and infrastructure to act as a gateway for other service providers and agencies to engage with the community.
  • To increase access and uptake of Community and Accredited Education by this community in order to improve skill levels and employability.  
  • To encourage progression of individuals into continuing adult education, training and employment opportunities.

The starting point for the project was to engage with the community around a neglected field which had become overgrown and site for anti-social behaviour and dumping. In June 2012, STDC met with the community and supported them to consider how they might take ownership and engage in reclaiming and developing this resource.

The field pre-June 2012:

The community immediately came on board and through strong and consistent support from STDC, accessed a host of resources to develop their project including:

  • A community work placement for a member of the community as a grounds-person under the Tús Programme,
  • An equipment grant and expertise from the Borough Council,
  • Funds from DSP under the Activation Fund.
  • On site workshops by HSE and Community Drugs Project.

Within 3 weeks, with mammoth effort by the community and the combined support of these agencies, the ‘Field’ was restored to a useable state.

The site today:

This was not the end for this project – in fact it was only the beginning. From here the restored field became a hub for further education and training initiatives and community activities including:

1.  Training Initiatives

South Tipperary VEC (STVEC) were introduced to provide Community Education and an accredited Back to Education Initiative (BTEI) for a Community Allotment Project. Community Education was delivered for 8 weeks in Organic Horticulture.  This was followed with 12 weeks of BTEI FETAC Level 3. This was a huge success and highly innovative in that the BTEI portfolios were developed through mixed media to overcome literacy issues.

2.  Involving Young People

A number of young people became involved in the Community Allotment Project and formed a new youth group ‘Cool Teens’. This group were supported by STDC to design and deliver a Mental Health Project as part of the O2 Think Big Programme.  This project included a Family Field / Sports Day, the creation of ‘miles’ of Community Bunting used on the day, a Mural project depicting a ‘Positive Thoughts Tree’ and the making of ‘Happy Hoodies’. 

3.  Community Events

The Residents’ Group and the Youth Group together held a Family Field/Sports Day in September 2012 – actively supported by STDC and a host of agencies and enjoyed by over 150 people. The community also developed a Memorial Garden and Wall and this was formally celebrated at a very poignant ceremony in September 2012.

At Halloween the field again provided a focal point and venue for a celebration and a starting point for engagement in the town-wide Zombie Walk for which the group won an award.

At Christmas, the field provided the space and the opportunity for collective celebration.  A real Christmas tree was planted, decorations were made, carol singers visited the elderly in their homes and a party was held for the children of the estate. 

Building on early successes:

South Tipperary Development Company continues to support a number of initiatives to build on this success in the community including:

  • Youth Leadership is being delivered by Foróige, funded by STDC.
  • Community Leadership and Planning are being delivered by Limerick Institute of Technology (LIT) and funded by STDC. As part of this process, the community has visited other community allotment and men’s shed projects. They have also showcased their work at a Community Networking Event for all community groups in South Tipperary.
  • The community was supported to develop its plan for 2013 which includes the development of their own Men’s Shed and further education under the Back to Education Initiative and Local Training Initiative. The community will reengage with RAPID AIT in early 2013 and present their plan.
  • A significant number of the residents have engaged with STDC’s COMPASS Employment Support Service to progress their individual options including uptake of training, education and employment.

While the project has seen great community activity and development it has also built trust and mutual credibility, created an active environment and a new opportunity for engagement with individuals by agencies and service providers. 

The BTEI project has been nominated for an Aontas Award and the project video can be viewed at the following link:

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