In the wake of the Manchester bombing when 22 people, many of who were young children, lost their lives, the news that Causeway Coast and Glens Borough Council were no longer going to plant out a raised bed area which was dedicated to young babies in the Angel of Hope garden came as a massive blow which stunned founder Andrea McAleese, reports GILLIAN ANDERSON.
However, the power of the local community came to the fore with numerous businesses and individuals offering to donate plants and to help replant the area.
The Angel of Hope garden, the first of its kind in Northern Ireland, was designed to be a place of comfort and peace for bereaved parents and family members.
The campaign to build the garden was instigated and inspired by Andrea who tragically lost her beloved three-year old daughter Roma in 2009.
Andrea explained what happened: “I’m in the final for the Spirit of Northern Ireland awards and UTV are coming to film on Monday. Usually the council plant the bed out so I contacted Councillor Trevor Clark who is on our committee to see if they could plant the raised bed as usual.
“On Thursday I went down to clean the garden and Trevor arrived. He had sent and email to the relevant department but they didn’t respond. He had then phoned whoever was in charge and they more or less said they weren’t doing it so Trevor told them to contact me.
“They called me and said because the garden is leased to me, that it is not their responsibility, they never should have been doing it and that they aren’t prepared to do it any more.
“The reason I was so angry was that at Christmas the Mayor, Alderman Maura Hickey used the garden for the picture for her Christmas card. there wasn’t even so much as a donation to the garden which takes a lot to maintain.
“Last year the council used the garden as part of their Britain in Bloom campaign and it moved the judge to tears. It even got through to some award and the council offered to pay for my flights and accommodation so I could attend the awards in England. So if it’s private and nothing to do with them, then why would they want to use if for Britain in Bloom and why is the Mayor using it for her Christmas Cards.
“They can’t have it both ways and use it when it suits them yet not do something as minimal as plant out a raised area in memory of lost babies. The council grow their own plants so it would basically have cost them around £20. Eventually at the end of the conversation they offered to give me a few plants which I was told I could plant myself but I declined.”
Literally minutes after Andrea posted what had happened on social media she was inundated with offers of help from all across the area.
“I have just been blown away by the response of the community. Robert Downes messaged me and by lunchtime on Friday he was at the garden planting out the area with plants he had bought himself.
“I then got a phone call from B&Q who are now donating all the plants, Bushmills Garden Centre and folk who grow plants at home have all offered help which is amazing. We have had people call in at my hairdressers to put money in the box, it’s just been overwhelming to see the way the local community has rallied round.”
When the Coleraine Times contacted Causeway Coast and Glens council they issued the following statement; ‘Council has offered to continue to plant out the raised planter area.’
“If the council are now saying they are going to continue to plant out the area why did they say they were going to stop in the first place,” continued Andrea,owner of Roamya Hair.
“This has been a PR disaster for them, they have been shamed into doing it by people’s response to this. Even some of their own workers have offered to come and help us in their lunch breaks.
“Especially this week after what happened in Manchester, do they not look at their own children and think how lucky they are to have them and be able to spend time with them.
“I could not be prouder to come from Coleraine. That garden cost £82,000 to build and we have spent more since then and every penny was raised in our local community. From businesses to individuals, no one was asked they gave willingly and yet we ask for this small thing from the council and look what happens.
“I would just like to thank everyone who has given me support over this issue and who has offered help whether it is by supplying plants or their time. Thanks to our community’s support we have this raised bed planted.”