Colin Glen Forest Park (Green Flag)

Colin Glen Trust

Colin Glen is, to say the least, on a difficult site. It is a funnel -shaped glen, with the River Colin running through the middle, and it runs straight on to the Belfast Hills. For many years it was operated as a landfill site — and in the 1990s, 160,000 tonnes of rubbish had to be taken out of the river.

All of this makes the achievements of the Colin Glen Trust all the more remarkable. Where it was once entirely funded by the Northern Ireland Environment Agency, it is now largely self supporting. The trust provides 70 per cent of the funding for the park. Instead of a creek full of rubbish, there is now an exciting community park.

The trust makes money through a variety of methods. There is a nine-hole golf course that generates income. There are also social economy projects, with the trust getting paid for giving people work experience. These are run as separate businesses — one of them does landscaping, another grows grass turf.

The trust also employs staff through various schemes to do work on the park itself. Five staff are employed on the 13-week ‘Steps to Work’ scheme and another three are employed on a six-month ‘Steps Ahead’ course. There are around 1,000 volunteers every year, who come to work on the site. These include corporate groups, such as local businesses, which are keen to shoulder their social responsibility.

A great deal of effort has been devoted to improving the planting on the site. Lori Hartman, the trust’s education co-ordinator, explains: "Many of the trees were cut down in the war. And a great deal of laurel was planted in the 19th century. We want to replace it with more native species."

There has also been a push to get rid of invasive species. Himalayan Balsam has been relatively easy to remove — workers pick it before it seeds. However, the trust is still looking for ways of dealing with Japanese Knotweed. Volunteers have been working to expand the dipping pond and to put in some paths. They are also helping to create a wildflower meadow.

In addition, the trust is being used as an educational resource. Staff from the trust have done outreach work, assisting a women’s group create a kitchen garden in a site about a mile away from the park. The park has also developed a citizenship programme to help teach youngsters about conservation, diversity and civic awareness. "We feel that this is helping to reduce anti-social activity," says Hartman.

And parks staff have tried to make people more aware of their local heritage. Leaflets are available telling people about the history of the various parts of the park. And there are musical heritage walks at which people sing old songs connected with the area, some of which mention the glen. "It’s an unusual event," says Hartman "but we want people to think about the space around them."

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