Into the Shankill : Greater Shankill Partnership (1 of 5)


Map of the Greater Shankill Area

The Greater Shankill Partnership is comprised of the local community through the Greater Shankill Community Forum, statutory and private sector representatives and local Belfast City Councillors and chaired by an independent chairman.

The Shankill is one of the oldest industrial working class areas of Belfast. From the mid 19th century, through to the 1960's the life and health of it's community existed in a symbiotic relationship with the life and health of major industries like linen-production, shipbuilding and engineering. As a community it was built not only around shared political and cultural identity but by ties of extended kinship. These extended families and neighbourhood networks provided an informal system of community assistance and welfare. When children married, they sought housing near to the homes of their parents, and both generations existed in a state of mutual dependency and support which was as economic as it was emotional. Older parents provided day-care and counselling before those terms existed: in turn, they could expect nursing and practical aid in times of sickness. Families and neighbours helped each other because their survival depended on it a favour given was a favour that would be returned one day. The immediate or biological family was a model, in short, of the community at large.

This intricate but delicate fabric of community support was eroded in the 1960's and 70's by the collapse of Belfast's economic base and the impact of the "troubles". The process of redevelopment which brought relocation and a change in definition of relationships between neighbours also had a major effect. Left behind was an inner city area marked by an aging population, families locked in poverty and benefit dependency, who could no longer rely on traditional structures of community support. Over the past 25 years the community which survived placed a lower value on education, and parents tended to pass onto their children the recent scars of their negative experience of education.

In 1988 the Government revised it's approach to urban problems and in Belfast this policy was expressed by the establishment of the Belfast Action Team and Making Belfast Work. The latent energy which had lain dormant within the community system was rediscovered and the result was a sequential revitalisation of many community organisations and the creation of many new groups.

Much of the activity was project led, but by 1992 it was becoming obvious that the scale and depth of disadvantage could not be cured by these projects alone, however well-led and implemented they might have been. A long-term development plan in the shape of a common strategy for regeneration was required to negotiate and co-ordinate the lines of community effort. The Greater Shankill Development Agency lobbied the local Belfast Action Teams and successfully convinced them of the need for such a strategy, which in turn led to the formation of the Greater Shankill Partnership Board as the mechanism by which this would be brought about.

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