DOOR by door, brick by brick, one of County Limerick’s most notorious housing estates is rebuilding its image as an open, welcoming place to raise a family.
For years, the Sharwood estate in Newcastle West has had the niggling kind of bad reputation that grabs hold of an area and doesn’t let go.
However over the past few months, with the help of a new scheme aimed at tackling problems on the ground in Limerick’s council estates, Sharwood has begun a slow, steady climb away from notoriety.
The tenant liaison scheme, which has been implemented on the ground by council official Christy O’Donovan, is the embodiment of moving a mountain by carrying away small stones. Green areas have been cleaned up, loose horses taken away, dirty walls have been painted.
Working in tandem, the council has secured barring orders against the most troublesome residents, while a new all weather playing pitch has been built. Locals, both old and new, can see the difference.
Michael Foley, 75, has lived in Sharwood “since the beginning”. “Sharwood did have an awful name, it still has an awful name. But it has improved.
“I like living here. But you would have been ashamed if you were asked ‘what part of the town are you from’.”
Sitting in his kitchen, flicking through a dog eared old dictionary looking up a word that’s been stuck in his head, Michael reflects on the years he and his wife, Catherine, have spent in Sharwood raising their four children. A native of Kilmichael in Cork, he moved down to Newcastle West from Dublin almost three decades ago to work in the old Scanglo plant.
The estate was fine then, he insists. It was only when the council built a second phase of houses that they “seemed to get the wrong type of people in there”.
He said that he has never been intimidated, and his property was only ever broken into once, when a youth stole a strimmers from his shed. Michael confronted the child’s mother, and got the strimmers back. Well, they weren’t his strimmers, but they were strimmers nonetheless.
Moving away the horses had to be done, he insists. “Psychologically, if you go into an estate and see horses grazing on the green... it’s bad for the estate, very bad for its image.
“The council were afraid to enforce the laws and regulations. If there was a week I didn’t hand in my rent, they’d be on like lightning. I do feel strongly about that.”
James Lysaght, with his thick Manchester brogue, is a young man with a young family who is putting the finishing touches to his new house at number 39. He is part of a wave of new residents moving in to Sharwood, as the council invests in renovating its vacant housing stock and refreshing its estates.
James, his partner Sabrina and their three children Nikita, 9, Brandon, 6 and baby Alex are living in rented accommodation in Newcastle West, but are now looking forward to putting down permanent roots.
“Getting a council property allows us to build a home, rather than just living in a house. I’ve been around all over England and Manchester, and I’ve seen a lot worse estates than this. It’s the people that make a community. You know if you go away, there’ll be others looking out for you.”
This week, locals in Sharwood held another tidy up of the area. With shovels, brooms, buckets and affection, they are taking back their estate.