Busy Times for North Ulster ACT
The ACT Initiative in Ballymena has had a busy, yet very productive 2012.
The ACT Initiative has been working hand in hand with members of the Seven Towers Community and Cultural Educational Association, (STCCEA) in the Ballymena South area.
They have focused on the Drumtara estate in Ballee where STCCEA and ACT participants have been particularly active.
The year began with a visit by the Northern Ireland Human Rights Commission, (NIHRC) to Drumtara.
On the 20th January the Chief Commissioner of the NIHRC, Professor Michael O’Flaherty, accompanied by three of the part-time Commissioners, John Corey, Grainia Long and Alan McBride, Dr David Russell, NIHRC Deputy Director and Development Worker, Miriam Titterton paid a visit Drumtara.
The NIHRC had been invited to Drumtara by the ACT Initiative and the STCCEA.
Building on the community links already developed by the STCCEA and, as they don’t have any premises from which to work out of yet, the Chief Commissioner met with the group and the local Baptist Minister in the Lantara Baptist Church before speaking at a community meeting held in the church hall.
The community meeting was attended by the Mayor of Ballymena, Hubert Nicholl as well as representatives from, among others, Ballee Community High School, EPIC, Unemployed Resource Centre and Harryville Partnership. A number of local residents also attended as did representatives from the PSNI and local political parties.
Those present heard contributions from Representatives from Seven Towers Community and Cultural Educational Association, EPIC (Nigel Gardiner and Lantara Baptist Church (Pastor Mark Steele) before the Chief Commissioner spoke.
Michael O’Flaherty spoke to those present about the importance and value of Human Rights. He took time to highlight the relevance of Human Rights in the PUL (Protestant, Unionist, Loyalist) Community and also the positive aspects for the PUL Community in becoming more aware of their Human Rights and those of others.
This was followed by a very positive and informative question and answer session before local representatives took the Chief Commissioner and staff on a walk around the Drumtara area of Ballee.
During this walk members of the ACT Initiative discussed local issues and shared their plans for the development of the area. They explained how people in areas of Ballymena South feel as if some of their needs are ignored by statutory agencies highlighting the particular issues for people in the Drumtara area of the Ballee estate.
They explained how the Seven Towers Community and Cultural Educational Association, supported by the ACT Initiative hoped to move forward with projects such as the development of a Community Garden with allotments to enable locals to grow their own vegetables etc. They also highlighted the need for a safe environment for local children to play in and the hope that a Community House can be opened which would enable residents to get support and advice.
The Chief Commissioner and other staff from the NIHRC then returned to the Church Hall for an informal but open discussion about the work and background of the ACT Initiative.
Before leaving the Chief Commissioner stated, ‘I am very impressed by the work being done in Ballee to support a great community that stands up for the human rights of everyone. They deserve all the support we can give them’. He also agreed to continue to build on the new links between the NIHRC and the ACT Initiative which had now been initiated in Drumtara.
Since his visit to Drumtara the Chief Commissioner of the NIHRC has met with Department Co-ordinators and others involved in the ACT Initiative on a visit to Mount Vernon Community House in early May.
THE WORK CONTINUES – STRATEGICALLY
Somewhat spurred on by this visit the STCCEA supported by ACT Initiative arranged a number of meetings with various statutory organisations, such as the Housing Executive, local councillors and the PSNI in the area to push for the Community allotments, Play Area and Community House.
Despite the positive work going on in Drumtara by the STCCEA and the ambitious plans for the future community development of the estate, many of these statutory organisations seemed reluctant to get behind and fully support this work.
It was highlighted to these organisations that on the Multiple Deprivation Measure (2010), where 1 is most deprived) Drumtara, part of the Ballee ward, has an overall rank of only 38 out of 582. Compare this to other parts of Ballymena such as Dunclug which rates 83 and it was hard to understand why these statutory bodies would not only not support this work, but, it seemed, some individuals would try to block it.
However, the ACT Initiative participants in the area were not ready to give up and continued the political development work they were engaged in.
One strength of the ACT Initiative is that it can draw on support from across Northern Ireland where other Area Action Groups are also engaged in various forms of positive community development work.
The North Down ACT group have been engaged in community and political development work for a number of years now, utilising the relationships they have built up with local Political representatives an invitation was given to the new Leader of the UUP Mike Nesbitt to visit Drumtara.
The strategy here being to keep the political, (with a small ‘p’), pressure on the statutory bodies which were reluctant to support the ACT Initiative/STCCEA work in Drumtara.
Mike Nesbitt accepted the invitation and in June of this year along with local UUP MLA Robin Swann visited Drumtara to meet with ACT and STCCEA members.
At a community meeting again held in Lantara Baptist Church Hall and attended by representatives of the Church, Simon Community, Ethnic Minorities Forum, PSNI, Harryville Partnership, Housing Executive and residents from Drumtara those present heard from Chairman of the STCCEA, Edwin Murphy before representatives of the ACT Initiative and then Mike Nesbitt addressed those present.
ACT Initiative Co-ordinator William Mitchell was accompanied by ACT Initiative Justice Department Co-ordinator Raymond Lavery and spoke of the complex and challenging work being carried out by the ACT Initiative across Northern Ireland. Raymond Lavery then had the opportunity to briefly explain some of the work the ACT Justice Department has been tackling and their plans for the future.
UUP Leader Mike Nesbitt then spoke to those present of the importance of the PUL community holding their political representatives to account and explained that as a political leader he also felt it is within his role to question and hold to account the work being done in these communities or highlight the work not being done. He also stated he would be delighted to come back to Drumtara when the Community Flats will be open and benefitting the community and expressed his support for this initiative.
This year in Ballee ACT participants and members of STCCEA have completed a number of training programmes developing themselves for the community development work they are involved in.
Despite the barriers being put in front of them they have also secured places on the Ballymena Community Forum, Ballymena South Cluster and the Housing Community Network.
The on-going meetings attended by ACT and STCCEA participants have started to reap rewards.
The Housing Executive has finally granted them permission to use an area of derelict ground to develop the Community Allotments. They are now linking with other community groups to develop the site and with the support of ACT are looking at securing further funding and training.
The state of the art play area they have been striving for in Drumtara has recently been given the go ahead by the Ballymena Council.
The STCCEA and ACT participants involved in this project deserve a lot of credit as this will make a great difference and improvement to the lives of the families, young people and children living in the Drumtara area.
KEEP UP THE GOOD WORK
It can sometimes be too easy for those of us within the Loyalist community to begin to believe all of the negative press we get.
However, as the ACT Initiative goes from strength to strength we should recognise the positive community development work being done throughout Northern Ireland.
ACT participants are being active politically, challenging the inequalities in our communities and holding statutory bodies to account.
As we see in areas such as Drumtara and North Down (among others), where this work continues to develop and benefit the community we should continue to support the ACT participants who are working tirelessly for the benefit of their community.