Greater Whitewell Community Surgery

Geraldine O’Kane who works with the Greater Whitewell Community Surgery to the north of Belfast believes that this is an area which has much to commend it. It is the gateway to some of the most important facilities in the Newtownabbey area - the Abbey Centre shopping mall, a backdrop of the glorious Cavehill Park, the Valley Leisure Centre and the popular shoreline of Belfast Lough.

Community Relations

Community Relations It is also an area pockmarked by interfaces and Peace Walls and community relations are often at the mercy of inter-communal rioting, parades and political tension.

Geraldine says: “Trying to change minds never mind remove barriers is quite a slow process. We have to try to convince everyone that it is in their best interests to improve the area and make it a place where people want to buy homes and a place where there are employment prospects.

“Children often ask why there are walls in certain areas. These physical structures reference the mental structures that exist there.”

She admits that if the plan to alter six sites within the area is successfully completed, it could have the greatest impact socially, environmentally and, eventually, unite the area.

It is not what she calls “a tick box” exercise, merely crossing off an agreed set of criteria. Instead it involves working closely with the two communities in the area and the plethora of statutory bodies, both at government department level and also within the two local authorities which straddle the area.
The project is working to reimage a steel fence, with a pedestrian access gate, that closes off Navarra Place from Serpentine Road in North Belfast
The project is working to reimage a steel fence, with a pedestrian access gate, that closes off Navarra Place from Serpentine Road in North Belfast
The interface that divides communities in the Greater Whitewell area.
The interface that divides communities in the Greater Whitewell area.
The pedestrian gate that residents can use daily to access Navarra place and Serpentine Road in North Belfast
The pedestrian gate that residents can use daily to access Navarra place and Serpentine Road in North Belfast

Biggest Challenge

Biggest Challenge Of the six sites, three have now been given priority status, partly because they provide the biggest challenge for the future. These are:
  • Serpentine Road/Navarra Place: Progress has been made on this site that includes preliminary re-imaging of the fence, extended gate opening times and a planned community shared park development in Navarra Place supported by Belfast City Council.  Agreement on a shared basis remains challenging and work will continue to establish essential good relations that enable positive change in an emerging united community.
  • Hazelwood Integrated Primary School/Old Throne:  Following sustained resistance for any change to the existing structure; Residents have now engaged in talks to consider a normalisation programme for their area, to include a possible reduction and declassification of the fence.
  • Longlands Road/Arthur Bridge: Historically this area has been the scene of intensive and sustained sectarian clashes; currently incidents are more sporadic.  Community agreement has been reached for proposed re-imaging of this site that includes transfer of land to extend the gardens; however, DRD (Department for Regional Development) have now introduced conditions that impact hugely on planned changes.  Community consultation must be reintroduced and hopefully residents remain willing to engage.  
Geraldine says: “We encourage the young people to get conversations going about the walls and any other issues that affect them.  We don’t want our children or grandchildren to go through what we went through in past.”

And she points up one initiative which has already sown seeds among adults in the area. Twelve men - six Unionist and six Nationalist each of whom had never worked with a person from the opposite tradition before - have completed security training and have agreed to steward events taking place in the area. “These are people who would have been at the interfaces during times of tension and who have a certain influence in their areas. That shows progress can be made in some of the most surprising places.”

Contacts for this project:

International Fund for Ireland

Seatem House
28-32 Alfred Street
Belfast
BT2 8EN

Tel: +44 (0)28 9031 2884    

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For further information about our funding programmes, or for information on how to apply for funding, please contact the person(s) or organisation(s) identifed at the end of the relevant programme summary in the areas of activity section.

Belfast Office

International Fund for Ireland
Seatem House
28-32 Alfred St.
Belfast
BT2 8EN

+44 (0)28 9031 2884

Dublin Office

PO Box 2000
Dublin 2

+353 1 408 2130


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