Belfast Telegraph

Offenders clean up their image... and a river bank

By Linda Stewart

These are the images showing how the Belfast Telegraph helped to transform an unwanted dumping area into a tranquil urban wildlife refuge as part of our Big Clean-Up campaign.

We joined forces with the Probation Service to help a team of offenders clean up an out-of-the-way river park which is being blighted by fly-tipping and late-night drinking.

The team collected litter at Conn O’Neill’s Park at the rear of Abetta Parade, cleared leaves from the paths hugging the weir and cut back encroaching vegetation to help open up the site. Among the haul were a shopping trolley and bed, both dumped in the river channel, as well as a wealth of litter scattered through the vegetation including wire, cans, bottles, packaging material and even a kitchen knife.

Conn O’Neill’s Park lies just below the point where the Connswater, Loop and Knock Rivers join and has been a secret refuge for kids and adults for years. It’s been a popular fishing spot for optimistic children and was once adjoined by allotments. It’s even thought that Van Morrison used to come and sit on Conn O’Neill’s Bridge in the days when he used to live in one of the neighbouring streets.

What was shocking is that the team come every Friday to clear up the site, so the rubbish we documented had all gathered in just one week. The Elim Church, which owns the site, was struggling to maintain it before the Probation Service stepped in earlier this year when the site had become a notorious eyesore. Community service superviser John Burrows said many of the offenders who help to clear up the Connswater River each week have committed driving offences, thefts, assaults or drugs offences and are required to repay their debt to society by putting in a certain amount of hours.

“I think they do get a lot of satisfaction out of seeing what it was like and what they have brought it to. At the end of the day they can stand back and take a certain amount of satisfaction from what they’ve done during the day. They work hard,” Mr Burrows said.

Conn O’Neill’s Park is in line for a revamp as part of the £32m Connswater Greenway project which will see 19km of new paths developed along the Connswater, Knock and Loop rivers winding through east Belfast.

Belfast Telegraph

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