The Shankill is one of the oldest industrial working class areas of Belfast. The entire community support network was swept away in the sixties and seventies by the collapse of Belfast's economic base, the impact of "the troubles", and the process of redevelopment and societal changes.
The need for a long-term strategy for regeneration, which would work across all of the area, in an integrated and comprehensive way was recognized. However, the issue facing any successful community regeneration programme is how and where to break into the cycle of deprivation and create a process of engagement in the community, which will capacitate and empower its people.
The weight of academic research on the ground reveals that, while any attempt at social regeneration must attack the problems of deprivation and under achievement at every level, the vital time is in a child's first three years.
Thus the Greater Shankill Partnership's Early Years Project is pivotal to its regeneration strategy. The Early Years Project is funded under the Urban Community Initiative, financed from both European Structural Funds and European Regional Development Funds, with co-financing from the Making Belfast Work scheme.
The project has employed more than fifty local parents whose role is to offer personal support to families in the area on a voluntary self-referral basis. They are not only contributing to equipping the child for the work of life, but raising parents self confidence and esteem.
This in turn opens up pathways of opportunity for the parent, in training, education, leisure and community involvement. This leads to increased employability and employment, so building the communities' problem-solving capacity. This twin-targeted parent / child programme can make the gains permanent.