It may be located only a stone’s throw from the headquarters of Ballymena Borough Council, but the residents who live near Smithfield Park feel they are ‘out of sight, out of mind’ when it comes to getting things done.
And, while they admit that Councillors and officers pulled out all the stops to clean up their dog-fouled, debris strewn play park after a glare of publicity last year, they are equally frank in their claims that when it comes to getting a fair crack of the maintenance whip, they are feeling badly let down.
Last week, the Times visited the park area which is at the centre of an overall attempt to harness community spirt in the Princes Street, Cullybackey Road, Clarence Street area.
May Black, Chairperson of the Smithfield Park & Area Association, concedes the unpkeep of the area has improved beyond recognition since the dark days when children could not use slides because of dog dirt and broken glass.
But she and her group fear that if it was not for their monitoring of the situation and regular appeals to council, the area could well end up back in the doldrums.
“Last year we set up as a group in direct response to the state of the park highlighted in the press and social media. We spent the last year working very hard just to get the area to look cleaner which has felt like a fight the whole way. This has, until now, prevented us progressing our main priority of a reinstated park. Our message is simple we would like a restored park, a regenerated area to live in and a rejuvenated community.”
Pointing to the former allotments, taken away from the local public more than 20 years ago and now a field of weeds, May added: “There have been many walkabouts, public meetings and letters written. We have had great support from the community, press and individuals and all help is much appreciated.However, we need to keep the area in the spotlight and we need someone in authority to champion our park and for the council to manage the green space the way it does others in the borough. The problems in the park did not appear overnight, they need and deserve investment, a challenge we are presenting to the old and new council.”
Ann Baon, Vice Chair of the Association said that local people felt strongly connected to the park and only wanted the very best for the area.
“We love our park and we think the people of the town do too, everyone has a story to tell about playing on the witch’s hat! This area is steeped in history from the 1850s when it was one of the biggest markets in Ireland and we believe it deserves better.”
The Association hope that they can be included in any consultations about the area.
“We know there are future plans for the public realm around us and we would urge all the agencies to work with us to get the best for the park and the area,” says May. “Everyone realises the health benefits of living near or visiting a green space and we hope that the wellbeing benefits can drive the council to use this asset to its full potential. We hope you can support us as we try to succeed with this challenge. You can follow us and be our Facebook friend if you look out for Smithfield Park and Area Association.”