This week we caught up with Brid Ruddy, Founding Member of Nextdoor in Queens Quarter, Belfast.
Brid and her husband live near Belfast University and have been active members of the community for a long time. We popped in for a cup of tea and a chat about Brid’s brilliant local project, which has transformed her neighbourhood and brought people of all backgrounds together.
It started with a plant…tell us about Wildflower Alley and why you started this community project?
College Park Avenue Residents Association is a community regeneration group based in South Belfast Holyland. Ours is an area of high architectural and historical importance that’s been negatively impacted by the over-development of Houses of Multiple Occupancy.
This has caused problems of anti-social behaviour, noise and rubbish pollution. Statutory interventions to address these issues haven’t worked. So in June 2015, local residents from College Park Avenue, University Avenue and Rugby Road clubbed together to launch Wildflower Alley, a beautiful garden developed through neighbours’ voluntary labour, recycling and donations.
You’ve won some awards too, tell us about the development of the project over the years and the future goals for it.
We’ve won nine awards to date for the alley and hopefully the finalisation of the work in the street and road in 2017 will bring an extra dimension to regeneration in the neighbourhood and a model for others to follow. We’ll further extend to the frontages of houses by having flower towers and hanging baskets placed at the front of the streets surrounding the alley, as we have, to date focused on the back of the houses that looks out to the alley.
Getting to know your neighbours and improving your neighbourhood is clearly important to you. How did you come across Nextdoor, and what made you want to sign up as a Founding Member of Queens Quarter?
We learned about Nextdoor through Paul Smyth. He was working with Nextdoor to set up neighbourhoods in Northern Ireland. I had known him for some time and was drawn to the idea of further enhancing neighbourliness in our area, so I agreed to be Lead in Queens Quarter.
You’ve invited a lot of neighbours through postcards. Why do you think this is important?
One of our issues is that we have a large transient population in our area so we constantly need to send out invites to new people, but we discussed these issues with Paul at the start and to date we have continued slow growth that has exceeded expectations.
You’ve posted a number of local events to your neighbourhood and nearby neighbourhoods. How much have you noticed neighbours beginning to connect offline, in the real world?
We have connected offline through group visits to our project as they appeared on Nextdoor. We attend their advertised events and they attend ours, because Nextdoor is immediate and available to lots of people, it seems to work better than posters, word of mouth and so on.
What is your favourite use of Nextdoor so far in Queens Quarter?
Favourite use of the network so far has been for lost pets – I had no idea how many cats went walkabout! It gives a focus for conversation when you meet the owners around the neighbourhood and often the notification ends with cats being rescued. I’ve also been happy with recommendations made for work such as computer repair. I trust the experience of my neighbours and we know there will be follow up.
I also really loved having the launch picnic and think it would be good to have social events in the real world at specific times. We’re having a Big Lunch as part of the UK wide Great Get Together on June 18 and I know many people will come to that through Nextdoor in my locality, I think it would be good if that was promoted UK wide through Nextdoor.
What advice would you give to other Nextdoor Leads across the UK?
I’d been concerned at the start that being Lead would be onerous as I already have a lot of commitments as a voluntary worker, but it hasn’t been, it’s actually been great. There’s always support if issues arise and I just keep on top of things by regular reading of posts on the site!
To sum it all up, we had a project that has enhanced neighbourliness in our three streets. Nextdoor has enabled us to extend this to the wider community and to others in our part of Belfast. I do think it has really enhanced what we do and would recommend others to join!