After returning from a two week meditation retreat, coming across ‘ReImagineCork’ – a local volunteer organisation focused on making Cork beautiful by restoring laneways, urban green spaces and derelict buildings – seemed a little too in my face to ignore, having spent much of the break away, immersed in nature.
The organisation was set up by two friends, who upon returning from Australia, felt the Cork streets lacked colour, brightness and beauty. The collaborative projects are hard to miss thanks to their colourful striped theme – contributions that can be seen at over 20 sites in Cork city centre.
As much as ReImagineCork has done to add colour to the city, they are perhaps more importantly, promoting a philosophy of ‘community’ through their collective – grounded – effort.
The volunteers at ReImagineCork were kind enough to bring me along as they collected supplies for their weekly excursion where I got to experience the people behind the projects. The positivity and shared interests/ideals of volunteers at ReImagineCork have brought together a collection of individuals who otherwise, might not have met – yet, are similar, in o’ so many ways.
I feel the organisation not only represents rejuvenation for abandoned and run-down sites, but also a renewal of the communal bond that can oftentimes be lost in congested cities – a theme I hope is represented in the photos that follow.
With the right balance of work, conversation and humour, it was hard not to sign up for a few duties myself.
The ReImagineCork ‘headquarters’ is located on Kyle Street where the organisation was granted permission to use an abandoned site – where they developed a garden that catches the eye of nearly all those who pass by.
Every Wednesday and Saturday – volunteers who are available, meet at St. Peter’s, North Main Street – first to have a coffee, share some stories and have a few laughs, but then – they get to work. I was incredibly impressed by the number of volunteers that contribute on a regular basis (20-30+).
The volunteers include botanists, journalists, videographers, business entrepreneurs and artists – of whom all contribute with their own unique set of skills to bring together a highly efficient, effective and goal-orientated team.
The bright and colourful garden, smile-inducing artwork and hand-painted plant-boxes are a welcome sight in a city where there are more than 250 derelict or ‘at risk of dereliction’ sites.
The volunteers travel around to local business that might need a fresh coat of paint – both for those who can’t afford it – and for those who have become discouraged by repeated vandalism & graffiti and have quite simply accepted it.
Big or small, each and every project stands to add a positive contribution – for the enjoyment of all who walk by – without any desire or need for recognition or praise.
The ‘community’ aspect of what ReImagineCork are doing is quite apparent and outward. Individuals have come together – to give selflessly – back to the city. Beyond the volunteers alone, the ReImagineCork philosophy has awoken a level of generosity in others who recognize and appreciate the efforts of the group.
It may indeed be the simple contributions that grant the most assistance to their endeavors – such as the willingness of a local cork city resident, Noel, who donated a new drill and jigsaw to the volunteers, as well as allow them access to the outdoor water-tap on his property, having been inspired by seeing the work being done.
As ReimagineCork stated in an online statement recognizing Noel’s contribution – “it’s people like you that make it all worth while! — feeling loved”.
The group water each and every plant, twice a week – making contributions such as access to a water tap in the city center, invaluable.
What’s more to note, is that the tools, compost, bulbs, plants, pots, and all the other essentials, are bought and paid for by the volunteers themselves. On my first outing with the group, we drove to Woodies and Hanley’s to collect supplies which allowed me further insight into the weekly routine. The volunteers pool what they can – whether five or ten euro a head – to purchase materials to brighten up the city streets.
Beyond donating their individual time – to witness them also donate their own money – was extremely admirable and heartwarming to say the least.
One of the most inspiring and practical projects that ReImagineCork decided to undertake, was the restoration and upkeep of Coleman’s Lane. This project has been ongoing since 2015 and is perhaps the groups biggest contribution to date – not only for the restoration work that has been done – but because of the unfortunate nature of the use of the Lane itself – by those struggling with drug addiction.
On Saturday, our first step was to sweep and clean the ally – at which point I was first made aware of issue of drug use in the lane. Using protective gloves, volunteers collect broken alcohol containers, general litter, and a shocking number of needles and glass vials. In the past, local residents used to avoid the somewhat desolate and dreary ally, which is located close to a drug clinic in the city centre.
Although the ReImagineCork volunteers cannot take it upon themselves to help everyone, they are however, deciding to act in a way as to brighten up the Lane and ensure it as maintained as possible, and clear it of needles and other rubbish which may pose a risk to others using the lane which becomes enveloped in darkness at night.
For now, Coleman’s Lane stands as the pinnacle of ReImagineCork achievements – showing their unique and selfless approach to helping others in Cork city.
Just this week, ReImgaineCork were shortlisted for the 2016 Better Together Video Competition, highlighting the contribution the group are making to the city.
Artist Eoin Hurley has added some custom designs, to otherwise boring-looking electrical-boxes – bringing a bit of character and diversity to a collection of the cities street corners.
Everybody’s welcome – community and inclusion – diversity and positivity – that seems to be the message.
Cork has become an increasingly more diverse population hub, which seems to be a phenomenon that is ignored quite often. The art work aims to promote a positive message of welcoming – a kind offering from a county known as the ‘Rebels’.
The electrical-boxes are an example of how creativity, a jolt of motivation, and just a little bit of time, can send out a positive ripple, for months, and maybe even years, to come. No matter how small or seemingly insignificant, if the art brings a smile to a face – at any stage – it has indeed, done it’s job.
I feel this photo represents many characteristics of the group – from their work ethic, to traits that lie much deeper.
Three volunteers, set to leave flowers boxes, bought that day, on a bridge with the hopes of brightening up the city, or perhaps, someone’s day –
A Saturday when most put their feet up, they are all too happy to be out there – without any need for recognition. The RTE billboard in the background – the world of advertisement and viewers – alien to the volunteers.
The philosophy “Be the Change” is one that seems to exist among all the volunteers, which reminds me of my retreat where the ‘Sangha’ (community) would meet and assign duties for the upkeep of the village – as to ensure the tranquil atmosphere.
Similarly, the Buddhist term “Dharma” comes to mind in relation to the organisations unspoken beliefs – of things beyond the self and trying to better that for others and beyond.
During this retreat, I had the great honour of meeting Thich Nhat Hanh, a practitioner and teacher of mindful-living.
Being able to meet him before his 90th birthday considering his ill health – I feel it was his gift to me, to become aware of ReImagineCork so quickly having arrived home.
Thich Nhat Hanh-
“It is possible that the next Buddha will not take the form of an individual. The next Buddha may take the form of a community – a community practicing understanding and loving kindness, a community practicing mindful living. This may be the most important thing we can do for the survival of the earth.”