About Us - History
SLIG - A BRIEF HISTORY
The communities of Suffolk and Lenadoon are neighbouring areas on the Stewartstown Road interface in outer West Belfast. Suffolk is a small, Protestant / unionist community of approximately 900 people, that was developed throughout the 1950's and 1960's and was then a vibrant, attractive much sought after place to live. The much larger Catholic / nationalist area of Lenadoon, with a population of approximately 10,000 people, grew as a result of many Catholic families being displaced to the area from elsewhere at the beginning of the ‘troubles' in the early 1970's. Similarly many families in Suffolk originally lived in Lenadoon and were displaced from there to the current small estate during those years, which were characterised by high levels of population movement across the city as people were forced to seek safety within their ‘own' community.
Throughout the following 25 years the Suffolk / Lenadoon interface was characterised by high levels of inter-community violence, fear, mistrust and division, which included shootings, bombings and large-scale rioting. There was little, if any, contact between the two communities and little obvious hope that this would change.
Lenadoon Community Forum (LCF) was formed in 1992 following a lengthy process which highlighted the need for a coordinated approach to community development in the Lenadoon area, and currently has over 20 member groups. Suffolk Community Forum (SCF) was formed in 1994 to act as a voice for the Suffolk community, and promote and develop projects that would help to ensure a long term sustainable future for the community. It currently has 16 members on the management committee.
In 1996 tentative contact was established between the two communities when the Belfast Interface Project (BIP) was funded by the Community Relations Council (CRC) and conducted a scoping exercise within the Suffolk and Lenadoon areas. Over a period of a year the two separate groups participated in a series of interviews, sharing opinions and views from a distance with no formal contact between the two until the suggestion was made that perhaps we could meet to share our views face to face. Contact was established and representatives from both areas began meeting in a local hotel on a monthly basis to share common concerns, facilitated by Chris O'Halloran from BIP.
Given the relative normality in which we now live it is perhaps difficult to fully appreciate what an unprecedented, brave and challenging step this was. The first joint contact between these representatives was taken during some of the worst years of violence the interface had ever seen, linked to the ongoing situation in Drumcree and against the backdrop of deeply held reservations within the two communities which often lead to open hostility.
In those early days it was important that solid ground rules were established and the group made several key decisions that have continued throughout the years. It was agreed that, despite the inequality of size, it was critical that both communities were in the process as equal partners and that both very different sets of cultures, identities, values, politics etc were recognised as equally valid and important. This was not about either community compromising on things that were essential elements of its identity and we also agreed that language was important as it was often open to misinterpretation. We didn't talk about cross-community, good relations or any of the other commonly used phrases. Our work was about community development, economic regeneration, community sustainability and looking to the future.
We had little idea during those meetings of how our work would evolve. Many exciting and groundbreaking projects have developed and it is without question that 12 years later our work has completely changed the shape of the interface. We led the way in developing a Shared and Better Future long before the language was being used in any other arena and created a template that others can learn from.
Our work is widely recognised by both Government and Funders alike as a role model of reconciliation, peacebuilding and economic regeneration. You will find details of different elements of our work elsewhere on this website, but we have included here a brief synopsis of our timeline and how we achieved it:
A joint scoping exercise was carried out between the two communities by the Belfast Interface Project which led eventually to representatives from both communities meeting together for the first time in 20 years, and deciding to initiate ongoing monthly meetings. This lead to the establishment of the Suffolk Lenadoon Interface Steering Group.
The Suffolk community were working on an economic appraisal with the International Fund for Ireland to consider major refurbishment to derelict dwellings on the front of the Stewartstown Road.
The Stewartstown Road interface was the scene of some of the worst years of violence ever witnessed, linked to the disturbances in Drumcree. Despite a series of setbacks the community representatives decided to keep meeting and agreed a series of measures such as joint press statements and letters. They also went on a joint deputation to the Parades Commission, the first time this had been done in Northern Ireland.
Both communities were concerned about the closure of ACE (Action for Community Employment) - a government sponsored scheme for the long term unemployed which was the major employer in both areas.
The Suffolk community had its economic appraisal rejected and made a formal approach to Lenadoon Community Forum to investigate the possibility of working together to regenerate the interface.
A series of public meetings was held in both communities to ‘sell' the idea of a joint economic regeneration programme. Some of the community representatives in Suffolk faced open hostility and outright opposition but, supported by key individuals from BIP, Northern Ireland Housing Executive (NIHE) and International Fund for Ireland (IFI), they eventually got full support at public meetings and the project started to look like a possibility.
SLIG representatives continued to meet on a monthly basis in the Balmoral Hotel, and a steering group was formed to look at establishing a regeneration company. Discussions were held with the Community Bridges Programme, IFI to investigate the possibility of funding.
The Stewartstown Road Company idea was widely discussed. This company was the first of its kind in Northern Ireland. We held a series of ‘away days' to look at setting ground rules and establishing values, principles and procedures. This was the first time that such a venture had happened so we were breaking new ground, literally.
SLIG held its first joint residential. This lead to a formal application being made to the Community Bridges Programme to fund a 3 year programme of single identity work to help build solid foundations in each community upon which joint work could eventually be built.
ACE schemes in both communities closed which left a huge gap and serious discouragement.
SLIG received funding from the Community Bridges Programme for 3 years which gave the first solid recognition of the joint work we were doing.
Stewartstown Road Regeneration Company (SRRP) Ltd officially registered as a company and demolition work began on the Stewartstown Road.
Suffolk Community Forum came close to closure when its Community Development Worker, who lived in the area, was subjected to a campaign of intimidation which included posters, phone calls, painting of graffiti etc from loyalist paramilitaries inside the area. Other members were also subjected to intimidation from the same sources. They were determined that this would not hinder their work and carried on, gaining widespread support from the local community and increased membership of the Forum in so doing.
Building work began on Phase 1 of the Stewartstown Road Regeneration programme and SRRP employed a manager.
Different opinions between representatives from both areas lead to the two groups going into mediation for 6 months.
SLIG was formally constituted and recognised as an independent group in its own right.
Phase 1 of the regeneration programme opens for business and is fully occupied from the beginning.
SLIG continues to develop joint work in both communities.
The first round of Community Bridges funding came to an end and plans were discussed for a second application.
SRRP put forward ideas for the second phase of the regeneration programme. The Stewartstown Road Company was nominated by the NIHE for the British Urban Regeneration Association award and was delighted to win an award for ‘Outstanding Achievements for Community Regeneration'. Two representatives from each community along with the Company manager attended a presentation ceremony in the House of Lords in December. At the same time as their success was being heralded, Suffolk Community Forum yet again faced closure due to Government funders having withheld funding for almost 9 months.
Work continues on the ground while ideas for moving forward are discussed.
Applications are submitted for a further 3 years funding which will develop wider joint participation on the ground.
SRRP continues to put funding package together for second phase of building work.
IFI and CRC agree a further 3-year package of funding for SLIG, but unforeseen problems cause delays in starting the project. For the first time SLIG will be able to employ capacity workers to deliver work on the ground.
SLIG staff are in place and making a real impact in both communities.
A formal approach is made by Atlantic Philanthropies (AP) to investigate the possibility of expanding joint work. SLIG is funded by AP to carry out extensive consultation within both communities which ultimately results in the production of the Suffolk Lenadoon Peacebuilding Plan - a pilot model of a Shared Future in action.
Work is due to begin on Phase 2 of the building programme but faces serious delays due to issues with funding, planning etc.
Just before Christmas AP confirm a significant package of funding for the SLIG Peacebuilding plan which will completely change the shape of our work and expand it into all areas of community life.
Work begins on the ground with Phase 2 of the SRRP Programme which includes work on Sparkles Daycare Ltd, a new social economy childcare centre which will bring 15 jobs into the area.
SLIG begins the arduous task of recruiting 11 new workers, setting up new offices and systems, developing whole new areas of work and realise that we had completely underestimated the amount of work involved. This causes serious tensions and frictions between management and staff on the ground and results in a major overhaul of the programme and delays in getting projects started.
Phase 2 of the regeneration programme is completed in February 2008. Apart from Sparkles Daycare this also provides two new shop units and additional office space.
SLIG undergoes a major transformation which includes the recruitment of an Operations Manager to take over day to day responsibility for managing the programme and working with management and staff to help us meet our targets.
We carried out a major attitudinal survey in both communities which demonstrated clear endorsement to continue with and develop our peace-building work.
And Now! Now the work really begins. This synopsis provides a brief overview of the key issues along the way but cannot begin to detail all of the steps or issues we have faced. We have proved our courage, resilience, vision and determination, and are currently engaged in a wide range of projects that will bring long term benefit to both the Suffolk and Lenadoon communities. We have already come a long way but don't plan to stop here. We have a multitude of ideas for the future which include major projects.
The past 12 years have been like a roller coaster and have taken us on a journey that we never could have foreseen. We haven't solved all of our problems and still face serious issues, but we're proud of what we have achieved to date and are looking forward to the future.