Custodians of the Cornfield Project have been outraged after discovering the outdoor classroom was used by under-age drinkers and drug users last week.
The Cornfield Project, the National Flagship Site for Grow Wild a Kew Gardens Initiative which lies between Ballysally and Millburn, is a recreational space for adults and children incorporating the Mens-Shed.
With the on-set of summer the site is starting to come into bloom, providing outdoor space of natural beauty between Ballysally and Millburn.
The area which has been the target of vandalism in recent times has seen the large polytunnel damaged, and wooden raised beds set on fire.
Billy Ellis, Community Outreach Worker from Millburn Community Association said;
“Last week I was alerted by a number of residents that there was a crowd of youths drinking at the Cornfield. When I arrived there, I saw a group of approximately 13 young people drinking alcohol at the outdoor classroom area within the woods.
“They were accompanied by two adults in their forties who should have known better than to be drinking with young people.
“Obviously, there was no social distancing rules being observed, but it was disturbing to find two adults drinking and smoking within the group. I informed the group that the PSNI had been called and they quickly moved on.
Mr. Ellis continued “It is disheartening that there is a very small element of people who think they can use the site in this manner, drinking and taking drugs etc then leaving all the mess behind endangering the children that frequently run about the site enjoying it as it should.
“We have many user groups from our Eco Warriors, Veterans Group, Mens’ Shed, and many families who enjoy activities daily at The Cornfield and for this sinister element to go up in the evening to get intoxicated on whatever drink and substances they can get their hands on, hopefully this will now stop once and for all.”
During the clear-up operation, the Cornfield was visited by local MLA Maurice Bradley who said: “Once again, something built by the community, for the community has been abused. This project was planted out with wildflowers, trees and shrubs by children from Millburn and Ballysally Nursery groups, and adults involved with BASE Coleraine, a group of active adults with learning difficulties who helped with then planting and weeding to get the area ship-shape with wildflower meadows which have brought colour to the Cornfield and Coleraine.
Since becoming the flagship site for Northern Ireland’s Grow Wild Initiative, the Cornfield has gone from strength to strength and with the addition of a Men’s Shed this is a valuable contribution to everyone from the area, after tremendous work in partnership from Focus On Family and Millburn Community Association.
The mindless vandalism is bad enough, but young people, many under-age, using it as drinking den and perhaps worse, particularly saddens me, he concluded.
After the early morning clean-up, Coleraine Councillor George Duddy, who works closely with all three groups also visited the site and organised for the now waste-wood to be taken away.
Councillor Duddy said: “It is disgusting and very disappointing to see a vital community asset which, is used to educate young children from the community and local schools on the importance of protecting the environment for future generations being used by adult men in the company of youths as a drinking den. It is more concerning during this period of lockdown, parents do not know where their children are, especially when they should not be mixing with other children from different households.
This asset because of the selfishness of a very small number has now been removed in an attempt to dissuade anyone congregating during the Covid-19 period. I welcome this decision by the group and, given the circumstances the responsible thing to do at this time.”
The organisation said that CCTV evidence has been handed over to police.