Bridging the Falls and the Shankill

When trouble flares up on the Springfield interfaces during the summer months it’s difficult to imagine any cross-community work taking place between the two communities.

But hope springs eternal at Inter-Action Belfast, a cross-community development project based along the Springfield/Falls/Shankill interface. In 1988, when relationships between the two sides were deteriorating on a daily basis, it became apparent that a radical new approach was required to defuse these tensions. It was decided that cross-community work was the only answer to address the totality of the problems facing these communities.

Previously known as the Springfield Inter-Community Development Project, Inter-Action is aimed at improving the quality of life along the interface in West Belfast and resolving tensions between the two communities.

Over the years staff and community volunteers from both sides have been working side by side towards securing their rights in several social aspects including employment, housing, education, healthcare and safety – areas in which they feel the interface communities have been deprived in the past.

Roisin McGlone, CEO of Inter-Action Belfast, says that the organisation promotes community needs, safety, development and diversity.

“Everyone involved is dedicated to their communities and keeping peace at the interface. This area from Springfield right down to Townsend Street is a flag-free zone, this is just one example of how we defuse tension.”

Roisin described how a mobile phone network has been established to maintain the peace on both sides of the wall.

“Twenty-eight representatives from each community along the interface are provided with a mobile. If there is any trouble, no matter how slight, the appropriate representatives are contacted and are deployed to defuse the situation.

“Every fortnight the representatives meet to discuss and log incidents. We find this is a very effective approach to avoiding potential riots and the fact that it has been running for ten years is testament to its success.”

Inter-Action works in consultation with community groups to establish what their key priorities are. From meeting with these groups it emerged that community safety and training were top of the list. With this in mind Inter-Action, with help from the Falls Community Council, set out to address these needs.

Community Safety is a one year pilot project launched by Inter-Action in conjunction with the Clonard Residents’ Association, the Upper Springfield Resource Centre, Highfield Prisoners in Partnership and Belfast City Council.

The project is aimed at finding new ways to improve the local environment, reduce the fear of crime and improve safety and the quality of life in the areas.

Brian Garvey, Development Worker at Inter-Action, told the Andersonstown News how they plan to highlight the safety issues.

“Community Safety offers local people the opportunity to play a central role in finding the solution to local problems and a Community Safety Week will run from February 21-25 to raise the profile of statutory bodies and local community groups who offer community safety resources. These will be showcased through a roadshow in Clonard, Highfield and Upper Springfield.

“There will also be information on how to secure your home and make the community a safer and cleaner place to live in and representatives from the fire and ambulance services will be present.”

Providing training for women and the youth of the Clonard area was the next big issue. This was helped by a successful application for £35,200 from the Community Fund of Northern Ireland to finance a 12-week training programme covering topics such as first aid, driving theory, personal development, English, DJ courses, mini soccer, drug awareness and a murals projects for the youth in the Clonard district.

Alice McLarnon, Office Manager at Inter-Action, spoke about the success of the Clonard project.

"Every one of these courses was filled on the opening night and every penny of the grant has already been allocated. This proves that the project is exactly what the people of Clonard are looking for. We would love to be able to provide some continuity but unfortunately we were only funded for 12 weeks.

“We don't want to turn anyone away and we know we could fill the classes on a year-round basis because we've spoken to the residents and one thing they are not is apathetic,” she said.

Roisin echoed those sentiments.

"We essentially live hand to mouth here. We are only awarded small temporary grants which makes it difficult to plan anything and we have to rely on people's goodwill when we need help.

“We've proved over and over again that our schemes are successful and that people avail of the services but still we are drip-fed as far as grants go.

“However, we will continue with our work of identifying the needs and opportunities required by these communities and encouraging debate and discussion in issues relevant to conflict.

“We know this is the secret to our success,” she concluded.
Inter-Action Belfast are located in the Farset Enterprise Park on the Springfield Road and can be contacted on 9023 6839.

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