Lower Oldpark Community Association/ Cliftonville Community Regeneration Forum

The Lower Oldpark Community Association and Cliftonville Community Regeneration Forum has been operating its Peace Walls Project under the radar for several years, but now feels it successes deserve a wider audience.

Interface Barriers

Interface Barriers Sarah Lorimer, project coordinator, says: “In this part of North Belfast the two communities are divided by a Peace Wall which is back-to-back houses and cuts one street which used to be open to traffic, in half. The Lower Oldpark estate is surrounded by a Peace Wall.”

The interface barriers have contributed to dereliction but thanks to local pressure 27 homes have been regenerated.

One of the greatest catalysts for change was the development of plans for the former Girdwood army base which was a blot on the landscape after the soldiers moved out. Huge defensive walls and a 12- foot high sangar (a temporary fortified position) were unsightly until they were removed. The main Peace Wall in the area was also painted sky blue to help it blend in with the landscape.

Sarah adds: “The erection of see-through fencing at the Girdwood site has made a tremendous impact. Previously people living in the area were unable to see the city centre from their homes because of the height of the sheet metal and concrete walls. Now the improvement in the vista has led to greater support from them for our work.”

Part of the Girdwood site has been redeveloped to produce a leisure facility and a youth club that operates every night of the week. There is also a 3G pitch for football clubs and schools and Belfast Metropolitan College has set up a campus. Housing- not mixed as first hoped- has also been provided at two sites. 

Other developments being considered are establishing local businesses and a sports centre of excellence, perhaps a boxing academy.
Lower Oldpark Community Association/ Cliftonville Community Regeneration Forum
Lower Oldpark Community Association/ Cliftonville Community Regeneration Forum

A Rocky Start

A Rocky Start Sarah recalls that the Peace Walls project got off to a rocky start. It was set up at the same time as the Northern Ireland Executive announced a target of removing all Peace Walls 2023.

“People thought we were an arm of government coming in to tear down the walls. Some people were keen to foster that idea and used scare tactics to frighten the local community. We had to be very open from the beginning in all our community consultations and spent quite a lot of time gaining the trust of the community and dispelling myths. 

“The work on the Girdwood centre helped us. When people saw lorries driving up every day they wanted to know what was happening and when we were able to deliver that information it helped to establish our credibility with the local community. We also made sure that the community was central to any decisions on the future use of the centre. 

“We were also the first people to talk to the community about how they felt about the Peace Walls. We used some innovative techniques to engage some residents. For example we encouraged a group of women to make plasticine figures of themselves which were then used in an animated film and they ended up showing themselves tearing the walls down.”

An oral history programme explored how the conflict had impacted on people's lives in the area.

Malachy Mulgrew is also a Peace Walls project officer with Cliftonville Community Regeneration Forum. He says: “This showed them that their lives had not been normal. Peace Wall removal is not just about demolishing a structure but is a legacy issue. In some cases there is a real emotional attachment to the walls. They were perceived as keeping people safe.”

While people on either side of the wall were happy enough to meet at work neighbours living back-to-back had rarely met. Sarah says: “We provided opportunities for them to meet. We established a cross-community women's group who helped us conduct surveys and organise fun days.  That was one way of letting people know this was their project and we were merely there to facilitate it.”

In October 1,000 people from both communities took part in a fun day and the project has also organised cross-community residentials and contacts with other divided communities. 

Malachy says: “As we progress it is obvious that people, particularly those in the Lower Oldpark area, are more informed and confident about the future. They really rallied around this project.”

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

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Dublin 2

+353 1 408 2130


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