Felicity Lerouge, a regular GRASS volunteer, tells us about helping to build a stronger community.
When I moved to Margate in 2018 I was charmed by the air of opportunity and the friendliness of the town. Lots of people, like me, had recently moved to Margate for a better standard of living and were keen to create a new life, raise their children in a more family orientated environment or launch the business project they’d always dreamed of.
While I accepted Margate’s shabby-not-so-chic character as part of the package, I soon became aware that it was indicative of a degree of poverty within the town that I had not initially been conscious of. While there were wonderful opportunities available to people with money, a large percentage of the population were impoverished, and the gentrification of the area was creating a growing division within the community: the poor were effectively becoming poorer. This reality bit me and left its teeth marks. Was there anything I could do?
When I came across GRASS, I recognised that this was a way in which I could help make a difference. This long-established group was running events that were affordable for everyone in the community. Their flagship event, Cliftonville Games has been running for over a decade, providing a fun day out for children and their families. More recently the Children’s Christmas Party and Cliftonville Outdoor Cinema has been added to their roster of community events, all of which have been a great success. This summer saw the reintroduction of free live music on Sunday afternoons, which has proved very popular with the community.
In July the ownership of the The Oval Bandstand & Lawns was transferred to GRASS, who immediately began to lovingly restore the site, which had been neglected for years. It has been noticeable that people are responding to the rejuvenation with a sense of pride in their neighbourhood. Families revel in a game of football or a picnic on the neatly cut lawns and carefully pick up their rubbish on leaving, so that others can enjoy the same experience.
I’ve been a volunteer for the group for the past three years and it’s been great to see people from all different backgrounds enjoying open-air activities and having the opportunity to connect, outside their normal social and economic groups. It’s been heart-warming to see the children’s faces light up, receiving their medals for the Cliftonville Games races, or when they have been given a small present by Santa at the GRASS Christmas party.
I’m usually behind the bar at events and really enjoy seeing a greater sense of community being created. People have realised it’s a friendly, safe, fun environment for any age group, that they can come along to on their own, or with their families. It’s lovely to see our regulars forming new friendships and relationships – we even had a marriage proposal at the last live music event of the year (she said yes, phew!).
The best is yet to come. The GRASS team have a compelling vision of what they want to create for the community, and it feels good to be part of a group that’s making a positive difference for everyone. While it may not be able to alleviate the high level of unemployment and poverty in Margate, it does bring entertainment, fun and a sense of belonging, which we need more than ever in these challenging times.
I hope to meet you at one of our events. If you’re passing the bar at the Cliftonville Christmas Festival, come and say “Hi” and we’ll raise a glass of mulled wine to our community.