Edel Tobin was the first to look at the New Street derelict site and see something else. She kindly offers some words about the experience:
The New Street Gardens Project is about using a derelict disused space and reenergizing it and reusing it for a new purpose. We wanted to build a garden in this space and we wanted a garden built by the people for the people. And on June 20th 2014 we achieved this vision when the gardens were officially opened by President Michael D. Higgins. From this date forwards the gardens have been open 24 hours to the public.
The garden build took 12 weeks which involved organizing a huge team of volunteers to ensure completion. However, work on New Street Gardens began months before this- way back in November 2013. Meetings were held with the Waterford Council who held the lease on the New Street site and who I asked to partner the project. At this stage also, John Haggis joined forces with me and we met numerous times around suitable site designs, funding applications and also with our architect and the planning section of the council. Once our site plan had been approved and funding assured from the Arts office we knew we could move onto the next stage-organising and planning the garden build.
I met with Mount Congreve Garden Nurseries who agreed to sponsor the planting and Ballybeg Horticultural Group who offered a team of 6 men to build the garden 2 days of the week. Ballybeg Horticultural Group also advised on the different materials needed for the build and also the best companies to approach. When I asked, all of these companies sponsored most of the materials and if not they provided them at a fraction of the cost. Then in March we began the garden build.
The 12 week garden build was the result of a massive outpouring of community support towards the project. The Ballybeg Horticultural Group provided a team for 2 days a week and they were joined by another group, U-Casadh Horticultural Group. However, it was the pedestrians passing by and the call out for volunteer tradesmen and gardeners on our Facebook page which astounded us most. Everyday people came in to lend a hand from all walks of life. And the momentum that the project built in the city was overwhelming. Every help that could be asked for from all the sections of the council was given. It really was a garden project built by the people of Waterford. And we believe this to be the main incentive for keeping the garden safe in the future for the community to be able to use and enjoy.
The highlights have been so numerous it’s hard to single them out. First was finalizing the site plan and knowing exactly what we wanted the garden to look like was very exciting. That was the first time I knew the garden could be built because I could see what we needed to do to build it. Secondly, when the first sod of green grass was laid that was momentous as it really saw the green space emerging out of the dereliction. Another highlight was when the first plants from Mount Congreve Gardens arrived and gave structure to the garden. Another was when we reached our FUNDIT target of €10,000-all of this support from the community. But I suppose the ultimate highlight has to be the day that President Michael D. Higgins arrived to open the WIKed festival and the garden.
The President’s speech was about regeneration and how delighted he was to be opening a festival in a beautiful garden space created out of dereliction. He also spoke about how impressive it was that the garden was built by volunteers and that it should shine as a wonderful positive light in Waterford and beyond. I think it’s safe to say that everyone of us volunteers present that day would have to consider this the main highlight of the project to date.
And there is more to come in New Street Gardens. So far the gardens are being maintained and watered thanks to a rota of volunteers. The gardens to date are being used and not abused which is brilliant. Everyday sees families and individuals coming into the garden to enjoy the space. Now what we are concentrating on is finishing the stage to get ready for live performances, building an outdoor cinema facility and putting on a free summer programme of events. These will include workshops every Saturday and Sunday, music, theatre, film, spoken word and more every weekend. It truly has become a garden with a festival feel and a garden which is being enjoyed by the community and we hope will continue to be enjoyed for a long time to come.