USERS of a community garden developed by people with learning disabilities have vowed to bounce back after their facility was damaged in an arson attack.
A blaze was started at the Base community garden in the People’s Park in Ballymena on Monday night causing damage to a polytunnel and a fence.
Surveying the damage on Tuesday, one of the users Emma Rea told ‘Ballymena Daily’: “I’m disappointed at what they have done. I have been working on the garden myself and I am sad that our good work has gone down the drain but we will bounce back. We will not let it stop us.”
Catherine Dempsey, Base co-ordinator, said: “The plastic has been burnt and the flooring of the poly-tunnel has been burnt in two corners and there has been damage done to the fence.
“The frame itself is grand but the plastic
“We had planned what we were going to do with the poly tunnel in the year ahead. We had organised to put raised beds in it but obviously that has now all been put on hold.”
She had this message for those who started the fire.
“Do they understand who is going to affected in the aftermath? I suppose it is close to my heart because I do work with adults with learning disabilities. This is a safe space for them to come out into to garden and it is good for social skills.
“And obviously we are connected to the community as well and we have worked alongside the Council to build this up to what it is and it is just sad that somebody has just come and done this within a few hours to what we have been building for two years now.
“The guys are annoyed, I think they are shocked that somebody could come in and do this. The garden is their pride and joy and it is annoying for them.
“I am gutted for them. They are very good, they will see that this has happened and say ‘how do we fix it?’, ‘what are we going to do to get beyond this?’, it will not deter them at all.”
A Fire Service spokesman said: “Firefighters were called an incident at People’s Park in Ballymena where a plastic polytunnel was on fire. Firefighters used one hose reel jet to extinguish the fire and the incident was dealt with by 7:29pm. The cause of the fire was deliberate ignition.”
The People’s Park is owned by Mid & East Antrim Borough Council and the Mayor, Councillor Maureen Morrow, has appealed for witnesses.
She said Council staff were working to assess the impact of the fire in conjunction with the PSNI and the Northern Ireland Fire and Rescue Service.
Cllr Morrow said: “I would encourage anyone who was in the area of the People’s Park last night to contact police, who are investigating whether this fire was started deliberately.
“If that is the case, it is hugely disappointing because the only people who are being affected by this is the local community and in particular the charity who uses the allotment.
“The People’s Park in Ballymena is one of Council’s most popular and attractive places to visit and is used and enjoyed by people of all ages.
“The People’s Park is celebrating its 150th Anniversary this year, with half a million pounds set aside to develop it as a ‘Destination Park’, so it is especially sad that anyone would want to cause damage of any kind and lessen the enjoyment of those who use the park.
“I urge anyone with information about the incident last night to contact the PSNI in Ballymena on 101.”
The PSNI Ballymena Facebook page said: “We need your help in relation to People’s Park. Last evening around 7 to 7.30pm someone has set fire to the plastic covering of the greenhouse.
“Were you in the area at the time and saw anything or know what happened? If so please contact us on 101 or via Crimestoppers and quote serial 1704 of 06/01/20.”