A JOINT initiative of the Wexford People and FAB in Clonard was among the projects commended by President Michael D Higgins in Áras an Uachtaráin last Thursday at a reception following the presentation of awards in the inaugural 'Get Involved' campaign.
The Wexford People had teamed up with FAB to develop a garden space at the organisation's Community House in Ferndale and representatives of both the newspaper and FAB were among a group of 130 from 22 award-winning projects across the country feted in Dublin.
Over 1,386 volunteers participated in the 'Get Involved' campaign which saw local newspapers throughout the country team up with community groups to improve local areas.
Their Trojan effort, amounting to over 42,400 man hours, was highly praised by President Higgins who said those who had taken part were working together to improve their towns and villages, both for visitors but also for residents.
'I want to thank and commend all those who have given generously of their time and their resources to ensuring the success of this campaign that celebrates a very important and innovative form of cooperation that is at once both intimate and local and very valuable and immensely ethical,' said the President as he and wife Sabina welcomed the 'Get Involved' participants at a heart-warming ceremony in the Áras an Uachtaráin.
Speaking about the projects President Higgins said: 'They are uplifting reminders of the enthusiasm, innovation and all we can do together and the capacity that still exists in abundance in towns, villages and suburbs across the country.
'That kind of active participation and the building of the dynamic of inclusive communities where everyone is encouraged to play their part is very, very important.
'These are all projects which demonstrate the energy to that can be generated when we have the vision to re-imagine, recreate and re-prep, ensuring the possibilities and potential do not become victims of neglect or apathy.'
Each of the 22 projects was championed by a local newspaper, and President Higgins said the regional press continue to play a hugely important role in communities around Ireland.
'I know and it's very clear that this campaign was borne out of a strong sense of community and of an awareness of the important role that local media can play in communities within their individual regionals,' he said.
He also praised the support local newspapers provided to projects in the Get Involved campaign, which is the brainchild of the National Newspapers of Ireland Local and Regional and Regional Newspapers and Printers Association of Ireland.
'In relation to the regional newspapers, there is the sense of the local is very, very important. The fact that this campaign had 22 projects representing 22 newspapers is a great indication of the energy involved. regional newspapers have played, and continue to play, a significant role in promoting a sense of belonging and identifying a particular place in the community,' said President Higgins.
He joked that people around Ireland always shorten the name of their local newspaper.
'I don't think I've ever heard a newspaper being called its name in full. People always shorten them. That indicates a kind of intimacy and authenticity, a connection between the act of newspaper coverage and the reader.
'In relation to the media locally and the many changes that have taken place, particularly within different forms of the media, regional newspapers are still an essential part, and an important tool in ensuring the events and issues, which are important to members of the local communities, are highlighted, debated and where possible acted upon. It's a very important tool for participation.'
Johnnie O'Hanlon, director at the Regional Newspapers and Printers Association of Ireland - and a former Wexford resident - welcomed President Higgins' comments.
'The purpose of this special initiative is to highlight how communities can come together in unison for the betterment of their community. For well over a century now our newspapers have acted as a 'call to arms' to seek better communities, whether during famine times, war or as recently through recession - and the effectiveness of this combination of 'local press and local people power' has been proven yet again through this year's Get Involved initiative.'
Broadcaster and environmentalist Duncan Stewart, who chaired the judging panel, said the projects highlighted a shift in behaviour among communities across Ireland.
Speaking at the awards ceremony in Dublin's Ashling Hotel, prior to the President's reception, he said: 'I believe we're on the cusp of a massive bottom-up revolution in this country. [Project members like those in Get Involved] will be the ones who pioneer this massive change.'
He added that the projects showed 'resilience in local communities, which would bring us through this difficult economic time'.
Michael Ryan, Operations Director, Independent Newspapers Regionals East, and Chairman, NNI Local and Regional, praised the good work of the participants and said that he was delighted 'we were able to be involved in giving back to the communities that we serve'.
The winner of the inaugural Get Involved campaign for 2013 wa St Brendan's National School in Kilmeena, Co Mayo. The school's project involved water conservation and sustainability and its organisers managed to get all of the children and the whole community, including residents and communities involved.