This text was instigated at Paragon Studios in Belfast for the exhibition PALISADE.
(Part of the #Peacewalls50 Series of events)
It will develop over the course the exhibition.
/ The Security-Threat-Community /
David Coyles research informs us that at the height of ‘the Troubles’ in 1976 social-housing in Belfast was in a crisis situation as communities consolidated along ethnic boundaries, often with violent consequences, with some communities becoming drastically overcrowded and others falling into abject dereliction. He examines how these events legitimised an emergent confluence of housing and security policy which brought into being what he calls “the security-threat-community”; a socio-material construct where “every person is a potential insurgent and every dwelling a potential security-threat”. Crucially, the research problematises the complex entanglement of political, military, paramilitary, economic and ideological forces which shaped its formation.
/ Structures of Governance /
We are sitting in a circle, in a room, in a hall, adjacent to a church, next to an ‘Interface’, overlooking the Belfast Urban Motorway. The gathering has been organized by Vicky Cosstick; author of ‘Belfast – Toward a city without walls’, as a way to try to energise public awareness of the level of change happening at interfaces. People talk for hours. Little changes. But this ‘little’ is important, a change in perception perhaps, or a change in outlook as a result of an interchange might be important. Such is the glacial pace of change at the Interface.
/ Contact Interventions /
Under certain conditions contact between groups can promote positive views of the other (Pettigrew and Tropp, 2006). A discussion of the optimal conditions for contact to make a difference in attitudes has been extensively researched. Miles Hewstone notes that “members of the two groups should be brought together under conditions of equal status, in situations where stereotypes are likely to be disconfirmed, where there is intergroup cooperation, where participants can get to know each other properly, and where wider social norms support equality” (Hewstone, 2003, p.352). Furthermore, we need to be acutely aware of the “(at times subtle) imbalances and inequality in power relations” (Mac Ginty/Sanghera 2012, 4) that exist between so-called top-down and bottom-up processes. Contact interventions that leave existing forms of wide-scale division in place are at best a limited framework for promoting social change (Foster & Finchilescu, 1986 cited in Dixon, Durrheim & Tredoux, 2005).
/ Suffolk Lenadoon Interface Group /
Contacts between the two communities began in the early 1990s with women’s groups concerned about road safety and after a joint protest including disrupting commuter traffic, pedestrian lights and vehicle calming measures were introduced. The contacts and competencies they gained enabled a degree of trust to develop and for the participants to identify other planning priorities for the wider area. The gendered nature of the work is significant as the groups explored a range of actions including: the regeneration of a derelict block of houses, commercial property and land owned by the Housing Executive on the interface; the need for jobs and re-skilling for women; and initiatives to take children away from interface violence. The housing authority indicated their willingness to transfer the block and related lands to the community at ‘nil value’ on condition that they would be used and managed on a cross-community basis and that funding could be put in place to develop the asset. To encourage the process, the Housing Executive and the Department for Social Development (DSD), then responsible for urban regeneration, supported the community to develop a strategy for the area. This enabled them to draw in the American-based Atlantic Philanthropies who, along with the EU, had identified shared space as an investment priority. Seed funding from the Atlantic Philanthropies helped to recruit facilitators and the NGO Community Places to provide technical assistance to prepare the plan and agree a joint structure, the Suffolk-Lenadoon Interface Group (SLIG) representing Community Forums within each neighbourhood. A cross-community mobile phone network helped to identify and avert violence between young people at the interface, workshops focused attention on the retail block and the need to create business capacity as well as shared governance structures. The groups persistently faced down intimidation, especially from Loyalist paramilitaries disturbed by the potential for compromise: These women were all very vocal and made themselves very unpopular with some of the things that they said and some of the things they did, but they were prepared to step out and try something. (Protestant community worker in Suffolk, quoted in Hall (2007, p. 26)). It took nearly a decade of patient community work to produce a Local Peacebuilding Plan that set out how the interface would be redeveloped as a shared resource, remove sectarian symbols, flags and murals and exclude potential anti-social uses including betting shops and off-licences. A social enterprise (the Stewartstown Road Regeneration Project (SRRP)) was created to deliver and manage the complex and this was administered by four members of the Lenadoon Community Forum, four from the Suffolk Community Forum and four independent members recruited for their expertise in business and urban regeneration. Ownership of the asset enabled SRRP to lever significant grant aid to develop the site for ground-floor retail and commercial uses and the upper story for offices and a community space. More than half the finance for phase 1 £475,000, 52%) came from the International Fund for Ireland (IFI); with £260,000 (29%) from the EU PEACE II Programme; and (£168,000, 19%) from DSD. The first phased opened in 2001 and the accumulation of rental income provided reserve funding to generate further grant support for phase 2, which opened in 2007 as a 50-place child care centre and two additional retail units.
In 2014/15, SRRP (2016) made a profit of nearly £100,000, which created a community investment fund of £30,000 for each Community Forum for a range of local projects including training and education, support for children underperforming at school, welfare advice and youth diversion to reduce conflict at the peace line. Under the constitution of SRRP, one-third of any surplus made by trading is allocated to each Forum and one-third is retained by the company. The complex now supports: 90 full-time-equivalent jobs, 78 of which are from both local communities; creates £1.5 million in salaries annually; 12 new shops and services; and recycles spending within neighbourhood economy. The organisation now owns fixed assets (valued at £2 million), which generates £1.7 million in recurrent rental income, enabling a substantial reserve to be reinvested in future projects. The child-care centre provides both employment and opportunities for women returners to work and this is now one of the most profitable elements of the overall business.
- 2018, MURTAGH, Brendan - Contested Space, Peacebuilding and the Post-conflict City - Parliamentary Affairs, Volume 71, Issue 2, April 2018, Pages 438–460