Shankill Women’s Centre and Cultúrlann have been partnering on a number of cross community projects over the past year. A steering group has been established to help drive and promote these initiatives which are aimed at building relationships across the interface between the Shankill and Falls. It was decided to mark and celebrate International Peace Day we would organise a community festival in Townsend Street that would provide opportunities for local people from both sides of the interface to interact and meet each other in a safe and relaxed atmosphere.
The theme for the festival was “Old Belfast” which we believed would attract people from both sides of the interface and our aim was to show people what they have in common.
One of the main reasons for choosing Townsend Street for the venue was because of a connection between Cultúrlann and Robert Shipboy McAdam whom Cultúrlan is named after and who owned the Soho Foundry in Townsend Street in the 19th century and is a well-known Presbyterian Businessman and Gaelic scholar who was at the forefront of preserving the Irish language at that time. We also thought it was a suitable venue as it is the site of the first security gate on the interface and there are no residents living in the street anymore.
As part of this a cross community women’s choir was developed with users from Shankill Women’s Centre and Falls Women’s Centre and we alternated week about between Falls Women’s Centre and Small Wonders II for practice. We started with 12 women and by the end the numbers had grown to 18. The choir performed at the festival on the steps of the Church and we got great feedback from the audience. There is a desire from the women involved to keep the choir going as new friendships have been forged and they would also like to perform in some of the residential care homes in West Belfast and the Shankill.
“Dressing the Street”
An artist, Emma Berkery was commissioned to work with local primary schools to make artwork that could be used to transform the street on the day. She ran a series of workshops with St Mary’s, Divis St, St Clare’s, Cupar St and Malvern Primary. She also ran workshops in Small Wonders II afterschools and Careers N Kids, Falls Road participated in these workshops. The children made huge imitation flowers with the centre piece of the flower displaying something personal from the children such as a photo of themselves or a handprint. These flowers were used to create a flax flower meadow on the grassy area beside the security gates with a path running through and old street names displayed. The artist also decorated the security gates covering them with brightly coloured material which transformed the ugly grey gates. 3 local mural artists painted a street scene on the wall beside the gates which included Mick Marley and his roundabout and children playing street games.
Washing lines were put up along the length of the car park adjacent to Townsend St Church and brightly coloured materials were pegged up to give the look of ‘washing lines’.
A meeting was held with Peter Lavery prior to the event and he kindly loaned us one of his Titanic buses and a driver for the afternoon and this provided an opportunity for local people to cross over the interface in a safe manner with 2 local historians providing information about the Shankill and the Falls. Local people do not usually get the opportunity to go on a tour bus and we wanted to encourage people to cross over the interface, again, in a safe and appropriate manner. The bus held 70 people and was full to capacity.