Local Faces: Cecil Johnston, stalwart of Tallaght Athletic Club.

By Hayden Moore

WHEN you talk to Cecil Johnston, whether it be in person or over the phone, the conversation tends to naturally drift towards community and social inclusion.

Cecil is perhaps most commonly known for his work in the world of athletics, in particular with Tallaght Athletic Club where he has served as chairman, public relations officer and coach at different stages since 2002.

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Served as tac chairman, public relations officer and coach at different stages since 2002: Cecil Johnston (Image:  Aidan O’Neill)

Athletics has been Cecil’s bread and butter since he was a youth, where he ran for Metropolitan St Brigid’s AC and during his school years in Ballyfermot Comprehensive School.

A Ballyfermot native, Cecil remembers running in the first ever Community Games back in 1967.

“I would have done a bit of cross-country running when I was in Ballyfermot Comprehensive School and then I ran in the first Community Games, in 1967.

“I know I was eligible for the Under 14s the following year as well so that will give you an idea of how young I was.

“I ran in the first mile. I finished fourth I think, Eamon Coughlan actually came first.

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Cecil Johnston (Image: Aidan O'Neill)

“But that’s where my interest in athletics would have come from.”

Cecil moved to Killinarden in 1983 and immediately began getting involved in different aspects of the community, sitting on the Killinarden Residents Association and community council.

After being approached by the Dublin Community Games about getting the area back involved during the 1990s, it re-ignited Cecil’s interest in athletics and he saw it as a perfect opportunity to deter young people from different temptations and distractions.

“My main focus was in athletics,” Cecil tells The Echo.

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“I saw it as an opportunity to get young people involved in sport, away from any distractions or temptations that they may have come across because areas that were termed as ‘disadvantaged’ by the state such as Killinarden or Jobstown or North Clondalkin or South West Clondalkin, had no real supports there – there was no amenities.

“Through my work as a Community Development Officer with South Dublin County Partnership now, I work in tackling poverty and social inclusion.

“I work at trying to engage people in sporting and recreational activity.

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Cecil Johnston (Image: Aidan O'Neill)

He continued: “On the regeneration end of things, years ago people were given £5,000 as an incentive to move into these houses outside of the area and communities were left behind without leadership.

“It was what they called residualisation. It’s when people move out of an area because they feel like there are no opportunities for them there.

“I believe that with a community development approach, we won’t go back to a time where residualisation occurs.

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Cecil Johnston (Image: Aidan O'Neill)

“People who reside in areas such as Killinarden, Fettercairn, Jobstown, or North Clondalkin for example, the more they’re involved in decisions that affect them the better – it’s about giving people the tools to enable themselves through working together to better their area.”

Cecil was part of a group that tried to tackle those issues locally, engaging in a European initiative called the Urban Sustainable Environmental Actions (URBACT) in the late 1990s.

Through the European Union, URBACT opened a direct line of communication between major cities around Europe to help develop pragmatic solutions and disseminate knowledge on issues relating to urban development.

During the ‘90s, Cecil co-authored a piece of researched titled OVAL (Our Views At Last), which focused on unemployment in Tallaght and how it could be resolved.

Also involved in the Tallaght Centre for the Unemployed as well the Community Addiction Response Programme (CARP), community activism is something Cecil values a lot.

“I like to see people be proud of the area they are living in and be given the opportunities to fulfil whatever it is they want in life,” explains Cecil.

“I was involved with one of the first community projects, CARP in Killinarden, and we went abroad to Liverpool during the heroin epidemic of the 1990s to do some research and see how communities react to certain issues such as drug addiction.

“We tried to implement different projects and initiatives because communities were very concerned about the people in it and I believe that the communities only responded when the government didn’t.”

Today, Cecil is still a coach with Tallaght Athletic Club, focusing primarily on middle distance runners, works with Dublin Community Games and is the Dublin Juvenile Competition Secretary with the responsibility for organising athletic competitions for Under 10 to Under 19s.

When asked about his own personal efforts in different projects and clubs, Cecil always emphasises that collaboration is key.

“My health is still quite good and I would hope to keep going as long as my body allows me to,” says Cecil about the prospect of ever slowing down.

“I’m lucky in regards to the fact that I have a passion for trying to improve other people’s situations.

“I believe in a collective approach to things and community empowerment.

“When a group of people come together and collaborate on the same thing, they can move things and make serious effective change.”

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