Belfast Telegraph

Thursday 17 April 2014

Eric Cumberland: Tributes to the man who restored pride to a neglected area

Eric Cumberland
Eric Cumberland

He turned around his neighbourhood singlehandedly.

And residents turned out in their scores to pay their last respects to Eric Cumberland.

The 72-year-old grandfather passed away last week following a brief illness.

In April the father-of-three was awarded the Belfast Telegraph's Making The Difference Best Neighbour award, following years of tireless community work in his native Dungannon.

A month later, the former policeman's work as chairman of Cunningham's Lane Cross Community Residents' Association (CLCCRA) earned him another award from Dungannon council.

It was a shift in the demographics of the Co Tyrone town which pulled Eric into community work nine years ago.

In 2004, more than 600 houses in an area of Dungannon changed from being owner-occupied to rental properties. That brought with it problems of neglect, late-night parties and pest infestations.

Eric 'Budgie' Cumberland acted immediately, contacting landlords directly and posting leaflets through the doors of residents. The leaflets detailed bin rotations and other local services in four languages – for migrant workers and people who had moved into rented properties.

A committee was formed, bringing together local councillors, police officers, youth leaders, the Housing Executive and residents.

Dorothy McKenzie, secretary of CLCCRA, described Eric as the pivot of the group.

"Local factories, the main employers, had meetings with interpreters to explain the use of bins and disposal of rubbish because of Eric's work. Council emptied all the bins and eradicated the rats," she said.

"There is now a monthly newsletter in five languages, trips for all age groups, a car-boot vintage rally, ongoing grant applications... he made Cunningham's Lane the best area to live in."

Eric battled lung disease for years, juggling his community work with family commitments.

"He used to say: 'I think this is the last year I will chair the residents' group'. But then he would come home from the AGM and say: 'I have it for another year'," Eric's wife Emily said.

"But it was worth it. There was never any trouble around here. No matter what religion you were, he would help you.

"The Lithuanians and Eastern European residents who live here would call him 'the Boss' – he was very proud of that."

Eric would have been 73 in October. Up until his death on Monday, July 8, he was busy organising the annual July 27 vintage rally in Dungannon Park.

"It's going to go ahead anyway," Emily said yesterday. "He would not like to see it called off.

"He was his own man. It's going to be very hard for the residents' association now."

Eric was laid to rest following a service at Dungannon Presbyterian Church.

He is survived by Emily, son John and daughters Pamela, Valerie and Elizabeth.

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