Cobh man and former Ring Of Cork board member Hendrick Verway has been short-listed for his outstanding contribution to his community, at a national awards ceremony. CHRIS DUNNE talks to the father of two about his passion for his hometown
WHEN horticulturist Hendrick Verway joined the Junior chamber in Cobh; he thought it would be a good way to meet people. And he did just that.
“My wife Rachael, was the secretary,” says Hendrick. “We met at a Junior Chamber meeting!”
Hendrick not only got to meet new people at Junior Chamber, he became the first president of the organisation which had been in the doldrums but came back to life in 1995.
“I was elected it’s first President,” says Hendrick, who is Chairman of Cobh Tourism.
“During my 11 year membership of the chamber, I was President twice, having been elected again in 2006. I held every committee position at some point!”
Hendrick was obviously willing and able?
“Yes,” says Hendrick. “I always saw Cobh as a wonderful town; a fantastic destination that had loads to offer visitors and tourists.”
Hendrick didn’t only make new friends and forge valuable contacts, his positive contribution and impact on the community, culminated in Cobh achieving bronze, silver and gold medals in Tidy Towns.
“I was elected Chairman of Tidy Towns in 2007,” says Hendrick. “The National Tidy Towns competition brings immense benefits to our local community and ultimately to our country as a whole.
“Everybody got involved. Our success in Tidy Towns was a joint effort from all our wonderful local volunteers and organisations.”
Now Hendrick’s own efforts are being rewarded. The father of two has been short-listed as a finalist for the Volunteer of the Year in the 2017 Community and Council Awards presented by IPB Insurance and LAMA. The awards, now in their 11th year, commend individuals, initiatives, private companies and people for their outstanding contributions and projects of benefit to communities.
Hendrick must be proud to see his name on the prestigious list?
“It is great,” says Hendrick. “But at the same time, it isn’t just about me. It is a nomination more for Cobh than for me. Cobh is a great town.”
Hendrick often gets asked about his name.
“Yes,” he says with a smile. “My Dad, Andrie, came over from Holland in 1961 to work here. He met my mother Greta, a Cobh lady, and the rest is history!”
Hendrick attended UCD where he studied horticulture. Were his parents gardeners?
“Not really,” says Hendrick. “Although my Dad did grow prize cabbages. He likes to garden.”
After four years studying in Dublin, Hendrick came back to Cobh and started up his own business, supplying quality flowers and plants to individuals, garden centres and wholesale outlets throughout Munster.
“It really took off,” he says. “I couldn’t grow enough for the demand. I had glasshouses in Ardmore and Cobh. The business was flying.”
While Hendrick’s work life was flourishing, he had lost touch with a lot of people in his home town. Not a man to rest on his laurels, Hendrick went along to his first local Junior Chamber meeting.
“The organisation focused on leadership skills and development organisation,” says Hendrick. “Team work and building contacts was promoted at Junior Chamber. It was a great like-minded environment to start community projects.”
Hendrick went on to work on the Spike Island campaign and he always knew that Tidy Towns was a very worthwhile project.
“Having a world-class attraction like Spike Island in Cork Harbour has huge economic benefits,” says Hendrick.
He says that the joint efforts for community groups and the county council reaped huge benefits for Cobh.
“Since 2000, we worked relentlessly to strive to weave the Tidy Town philosophy into the fabric of the wider Cobh community.”
When Hendrick became Chairman of Tidy Towns he got a great response from the people of Cobh. They were up for promoting the town they loved so well.
“There’s fantastic community activity since 1995,” says Hendrick.
“We got more organised,” he says. “Cobh hadn’t made headway in the Tidy Towns for years. In 2015 we achieved the Gold medal award, the silver in 2012 and 2014. Cobh made the top 4 shortlist large town awards in 2015, and the top six in 2013 and 2014.”
What started the ball rolling?
“Well, for a start we got adverse publicity from IBAL in late 2000,” says Hendrick.
“The Irish Business Against Litter judged us amongst the dirtiest towns. They did us a favour in a way. Everyone was up in arms and it galvanised us into action.”
From small beginnings, big things grow.
“Look out the window,” says Hendrick. “See the white railings along the walkway there? They had been rusted on one side for years. It’s the first thing visitors see from the cruise ships.
“We got a small grant to paint a section of the railings from the heritage council. The second year volunteers came out and put three coats of paint on all the railings.”
The recognition Cobh was beginning to garner as a destination to visit and enjoy resonated with the townspeople.
“When we achieved the bronze medal in 2011, it changed people’s perception in the town. It was like a flick of a switch,” says Hendrick.
“Business’ in the town became more aware of their frontages. The parents association got involved. Suddenly we had volunteers flocking to lend a hand to pick litter, to paint, to become ambassadors to welcome visitors from the cruise ships. It was great to see,” says Hendrick.
“Picking up a Coke can off the street is just as important as putting two hours in picking litter on a Saturday morning,” says Hendrick.
Where did he find the time to oversee all this wonderful hive of activity?
“Well, my own business had become smaller,” says Hendrick. “It is more contained. I trade solely now from my home in Cobh. I joke that I have the smallest commute to work; my premises is beside the cemetery. And I have the quietest neighbours!”
Hendrick sees himself as project manager.
“Our aim is to market and promote Cobh as a premier tourist destination on the South coast of Ireland,” says Hendrick.
Many projects stand out for him in the community’s quest to make this happen.
“The Lusitania centenary celebrations were especially memorable,” says Hendrick.
“Australia Day is an important occasion on the Cobh calendar. We’re delighted that the Day is now listed on Princess Cruises 2017 as a high-light. The Titanic Experience, Cobh Historic Walk, the Cobh Museum, are all wonderful amenities and activities. The Great Island Road Race is a brilliant event, attended by people all over Ireland.”
But the people of Cobh stand out.
“They do,” agrees Hendrick. “When we were unveiling the statue of Sonia O’Sullivan sculpted by James McLoughlin, an obliging local man arrived with his lorry to put the statue in place. It took a bit of manoeuvring and it took longer than anticipated. The man and the lorry stayed until Sonia was firmly in place. He should have been on his way to a wedding in Tralee. That’s the type of dedication we have in Cobh.”
Hendrick never tires of promoting Cobh. No wonder then he’s promoting Escape to Cobh.
Hendrick laughs: “Ah yes, that is my own project which is proving to be a great tourist attraction.
“The Escape to Cobh experience is a fun afternoon or day out for family and friends to take part in a ‘Late Night Bank Robbery’ or help ‘Sherlock Holmes’ to solve his final case before retirement. The scenario is set up to be solved. It is great fun.”
And another reason for people to visit Cobh?
“Absolutely,” says Hendrick. “As chairman of Cobh Tourism, I’ve seen a great period of continual progress. The committed volunteering ethos in the town is fantastic.
“We want to get the word about there that Cobh is the place to come to. It is all about community spirit.
“If you visit any town in Ireland, you’ll notice that the sports’ clubs, the local ICA, for instance, are all run by volunteers. It’s what we do.”
And Hendrick does what he does best, working tirelessly on behalf of his home town.
“I’m lucky that I’m not tied to a desk from nine to five, says Hendrick.
“I do always answer the phone though!”
The winners of the 2017 Community & Council Awards, presented by IPB Insurance and LAMA (Local Authorities Members Association), will be announced on Saturday, February 4 at the Crowne Plaza Hotel, Dublin.
The 2017 Cork LAMA finalists
INDIVIDUALS, projects and enterprises from all over the country have been shortlisted for the LAMA Community and Council Awards for 2017, which take place this weekend. Here are the Cork finalists:
Cork City Council — Ard Bhaile Social Housing complex – Best Energy Smart Initiative.
Cork City Council — Best Heritage Project.
Lifetime Lab @ Old Cork Waterworks — Best Education Building.
Cork County Council- Courtmacsherry Community Shop — Best Community Based Initiative.
Celtic Ross Hotel — Best Irish Business working in the Community.
LeisureWorld Cork — The Functional Zone – Best Health & Well – Being Initiative.
Northside Community Enterprises — Cork City Better Energy Communities 2016 — Best Irish Business working in the Community.
Hendrick Verwey — JCI Cobh/Cobh Tidy Towns/See You in Cobh/Cobh Tourism — Community Volunteer of the Year.
RPS & on behalf of Cork City Council — Tramore Valley Park — Best Public Park.
A full list of finalists is available at: www.lamaawards.org