“I’ll be honest. When we started I was very naïve. I thought we’d have a playground by Christmas.”

– Maria Fleming, Moate resident

WHEN ‘Changing Ireland’ asked for photos of the newly-opened playground in Mount Carmel Drive, Moate, Co. Westmeath, we received 26 to choose from. It was clear there is great delight in the new facility which officially opened this summer. So how does a community go about getting a playground?

Months earlier, we met members of the local residents’ association when their grassy patch was all dug up. The diggers had just gone in. The playground was four years in the making at that point, but all agreed it was worth it.

“I’m here 38 years and this is the best thing to happen here,” said Marie Fleming, pointing to heaps of muck, gravel paths and new concrete kerbs. 

Naïve starting out

Marie, a committee member of the residents’ association, thought the playground would be “easy-peasy”. 

“I’ll be honest,” she said, “when we started I was very naïve. We started in March 2018 and I thought we’d have a playground by Christmas. I learned that nothing happens that quickly. For three years, we were saying that Mount Carmel was getting a playground. We had Covid in the middle of it, but it was worth it.

“The cost was €80,000 in all. The groundworks cost around €36,000. Equipment cost about another €40,000. It’s not cheap, but at the end of the day it’s here for life. When I’m dead and gone and my grandchildren have grown up – whoever’s living in Mount Carmel then – if they mind it they’ll have it for their children as well.”

Happy Children

Mary Greally, chairperson of the residents’ association, said: “Our goal was to get a playground for our children and grandchildren and somewhere nice where we can sit and have a laugh and relax while watching our children and our grandchildren play.”

Marie explained: “About 30 children live in the area, but you have grandchildren coming in as well and there wasn’t really anywhere for them to play. There is a lovely amenity park on the Lake Road in Moate, but that’s a good mile from here.”

There are 44 houses in Mount Carmel Drive.

“This is definitely the best thing to happen in this area. The kids play football on the green, but this is the best ever,” she said.

Mary agreed: “I’m all my life living in Moate and it’s great to get this done – through the council, SICAP, and LEADER. We had great support.”

Local development company

It wouldn’t have happened without the residents, but they in turn grew with support from the local development company.

As Mary said, “We’re lucky to have Westmeath Community Development (WCD). Linda Jo Quinn and Caroline Lawlor give great back-up. It started with them. They helped us get on track.”

Through WCD, the residents’ association began to receive a small annual grant which came through the Social Inclusion and Community Activation Programme (SICAP).

“SICAP is very good,” said Mary. “It gives €1,500 of a grant for your community group each year.”

Marie added: “You decide what you spend it on. You agree on what you need. You buy it – and you make sure you keep your receipts. We’ve everything accounted for.”

“So, we now have a shed to store our lawnmower and tools. You can’t fundraise for that kind of thing – sheds and lawnmowers. SICAP gave us the funding. It’s brilliant.”

A lot of anger

Development worker Linda Jo Quinn revealed: “We first met Mount Carmel Drive in 2018 and there was a lot of anger then from people who felt there wasn’t enough being done in the area.”

As Mary recalled, “We might have had some argy-bargy, but now we’re all working together. As a community the whole lot of us are working together. Now people living up here say, ‘It’s great to see something happening’. That’s great for us (volunteers) to hear.”

Linda Jo recalled: “We organised meetings in the Carmelite Centre and helped to get a residents’ group together. We got training for them and they worked on a plan – all through SICAP support.”

“What happened was that, under SICAP, a number of estates in Co. Westmeath were earmarked in 2018 for special attention by the Local Community Development Committee. Mount Carmel was one of them. We only work in certain designated areas. We can’t be all things to all people.”

“And early on it became really evident how enthusiastic the residents were. There were many meetings and volunteers put in a lot of time”

An opportunity to increase the funding support soon became apparent.

LEADER opportunity

“When we saw they wanted a playground, we realised there was the potential for LEADER funding,” said Linda Jo, “but that would also mean the residents having to raise match funding.”

“We asked our colleague Peter Ormonde to meet the residents and develop the idea. The residents’ group were fantastic. They ran three or four indoor markets each year. They were packed out and that’s how they raised their match-funding to qualify for the LEADER grant.”

“Then Covid hit and everything stalled, but here we are today,” she said.

The residents also received strong support from a number of councillors on Westmeath County Council. They named Tom Farrell, Vinnie McCormack and Frankie Keenan in particular who helped out when the residents needed something.

“I’d say they probably hide when they see us coming now,” laughed Mary.

Previously, the council had put up basketball hoops and laid down a footpath through the green for older people walking to the bus stop.

COVID made us stronger

Mary added, “This is phase one. Hopefully, we can develop on it. We want to get football posts up for the boys and girls.”

The residents also have a vision for “a better Moate” with their playground playing its part in improving the town.

“We have a great committee,” they both agreed. “We are all from Moate and know each other for years.”

They listed out committee members Carmel and her husband Ross, Annie the treasurer, Catherine the vice-secretary, Michael the PRO. No doubt the list goes on.

They feel the pandemic made them stronger.

As Linda-Jo said, “You have to think of the positives of the whole pandemic. It did make people rethink what’s important. And it was brilliant the group stuck together through Covid. We all learned how to use Zoom and once it was safe we started having outdoor meetings on the green. We had to think outside the box. Community development is always about thinking outside the box.”