‘Ballycastle fridge is just the start of bigger and better things for the community’

‘Ballycastle fridge is just the start of bigger and better things for the community’

Dessie Smyth pictured with his wife Jeni at the official launch of the Community Fridge

Lisa Gregg

Reporter:

Lisa Gregg

Email:

lisa.gregg@thechronicle.uk.com

Friday 22 July 2022 12:42

WITH the recent launch of the Ballycastle Community Fridge, Dessie Smyth BCWS Community Development officer, the man behind it all, explained how his own background provided a catalyst for him to help other people when they're in need.


Dessie explained how just six months ago he was recovering from a mental health breakdown.
He told the Chronicle: “I was sitting in my kitchen and realised whilst I was getting back on my feet I knew I wanted to help people out myself, I wanted to give back.
“During my younger days I struggled to cope with life and for a long time I was homeless. Thankfully due to great support in Belfast I was able to turn my life around and moved to Ballycastle to work at Corrymeela.
“There I found a strong support system and uncovered a great love for helping the local community but I never really knew how to action it - until now.
“It was also in January 2022 when I started my new role at BCW Training as the student mentor and Community Development Officer, when I saw that our local Co-op in Ballycastle was looking for a food share partner to team up with to help stop food waste.
“I wanted to help straight away and wondered how I could tie the food share into what the students needed at BCW.
“So, we created a breakfast club and a week day 'Pause and Connect' lunch club. We have made so many great meals and fed so many people with the food that would have normally been thrown out due to short dates or damaged packaging.
“On my first night of collection I realised how much food waste there was and how potentially big this project was going to be so I encouraged learners, families and staff to take food home with them.
“As the weeks went on the food collections got bigger and the current state of our country got worse and the word started to spread about our project, we found ourselves responding to needs in the community, the biggest one being 'heat or eat'.
“The cost of living is rising and local people are struggling whilst the amount of food being wasted is crazy.”


So, Dessie and his team decided they needed to stop food waste and encourage food redistribution and respond to their community’s needs. But how would they do this?


Dessie said: “I put the word out on social media about what we were doing and the response was very positive.
“I had been told about a project in Cloughmills where they had a community fridge so I did some research and met a very informative man who oversees the project out there and thought about how we could replicate this in some way in Ballycastle.
“We had no funds as such. I brought all these ideas to my manager, Anne Marie Doherty, who agreed to give us some space in one of their training units.
“The Co-op Manager Nicola Norcott supported us in our funding application and it was then like magic, when the Chronicle reached out to me about highlighting our efforts in the paper, that things started to move.
“We were featured on the front page of that week’s paper and days later my phone hadn't stopped.
“I started a Crowdfunding page and Ballycastle Credit Union and Ballycastle Rotary Club offered us their support, I was blown away by their kindness.
“We are now a registered fridge with Hubbub and the Co-op and we are the first fridge in Ballycastle.
“We have now been doing this from my house for six months, supporting the whole community, including local schools and playgroups, and now we are responding to the local Ukraine community and trying to meet their needs.
“I never imagined that a small idea would grow into something so big and that we would help so many.
“Our message is and always will be about food waste and food redistribution and stopping perfectly good food going to land fill and helping people access that.
“We are open to everyone and any one and we are much more than a fridge we are a support hub.”
Dessie told how they supply lots of fresh stuff and with the support of recipe cards from the local Council, members of the community will be able to make many a meal out of the food they pick up.


He continued: “We are working with the Causeway Coast and Glens Council to stop food waste and they have provided us with fabulous recipe cards and different tools to stop us wasting food and get us thinking about recycling our old food into to new exciting meals.
“We now have a team of volunteer drivers and volunteer support on hand to be there and help if needs be.
“We don't ask details, we don't hold names, all we ask is you take the food and make good use of it all.
“We do have tables of support information and resources from different groups in our community.
“My biggest lesson with my mental health battle was not asking for help and waiting until crisis point to get help.
“I don't want that for anyone else so we have trained volunteers and staff of BCW on hand to guide and support anyone who needs it.
“We love that it’s all revolved around food and wastage and support.”

UMBRELLA OF SUPPORT

Dessie explained that when organising the Community Fridge it became clear that there was a greater need in the community, and that his team can’t do it all alone.


He said: “We need financial support and need local backing.
“We are responding day in and day out to the needs of the local community of all ages and coming across issues of food poverty, rising living costs and loneliness in all ages with a lack of government support.
“We now want to create something bigger and very important for our community.
“With the support from BCW and the other local stakeholders we are now aiming to open a Community Support Hub for all which will include a Social Supermarket, a chatty learning honesty café and a plot to plate food project.
“This will be an umbrella of support and hope to work with some amazing groups in the town to deliver an all-round project for everyone.
“We can’t do this alone and we need your help to make this happen.”
If you want to get involved then you can contact Dessie on the community fridge Ballycastle social media page or email him on d.smyth@bcwtraining.co.uk
For more photographs of the launch of the Community Fridge, see page 8.

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