Working with people and for them: Interview with Katie Hanlon (BCDA)
by Sophie AUMAILLEY for Northern Ireland Foundation
5 September 2016
On the 5th September, I met Katie Hanlon, Chief Executive Officer of the Ballynafeigh Community Development Association, to share thoughts about shared spaces and current policies.
Ballynafeigh is considered to be a shared neighbourhood. Its strong diversity culture has allowed to it to stay shared even during the Troubles.
The definition of a shared space is controversial, but we can note that Ballynafeigh is a district where people from different backgrounds live with respect and trust for each other.
For decades, Ballynafeigh has distinguished itself by having a solid culture of peace. According to Katie, it comes from the history of the neighbourhood as it was formed by the migration from rural areas to the city.
People from different backgrounds settled in Ballynafeigh and formed a mixed, shared district.
On the top of this, different churches emerged and cooperated to develop the area.
In 1974, residents of Ballynafeigh founded the Ballynafeigh Community Development Association, to promote good community relations and community development. Since then, it has fought to keep Ballynafeigh as an enclave of peace.
As Katie said, “The idea is to make people feel welcome. There are no outsiders.” Sense of belonging is therefore at the heart of the association’s work.
The cornerstone of is people. Katie works with the people of Ballynafeigh and for its inhabitants. And she feels this is missing to current policies.
Indeed, according to her, the current policy framework has little impact on the segregation of Belfast; policies are not adapted to current realities and mainly ignore the need to involve local residents.
Moreover, she considers that politics could learn from successful examples of shared space like Ballynafeigh. However, the Ballynafeigh Community Development Association receives little attention from politicians.
Yet knowledge could be gained from the experience of the Ballynafeigh community. According to the Northern Ireland Housing Executive, 91% of all Belfast NIHE estates were exclusively populated by more than 80% of either Protestants or Catholics; Ballynafeigh, in contrast, is an ethnically and nationally mixed area.
Ballynafeigh could share its experience of longevity, as a shared space and as a long-term work for community relations. It could also inspire others by its well-established tradition of peace and dialogue.
There seems to be a need for recognition of the existing shared spaces in Northern Ireland, in order to help others to develop and survive.
As Katie explained to me, “Sharing implies a choice. It is the choice of people. And it imposes a giving thing that some are not ready to do”.
Segregation and mixing are the choice of people. It is a long-term work project to build trust among people from different backgrounds. “It is not a ‘sexy’ work”, said Katie Hanlon, “it is an everyday work but small things make the difference”.
The Ballynafeigh Community Development Association is definitely making a difference by sustaining a shared space for decades and showing to Northern Ireland an example of a shared future.
Image (c) Susan HUGHES used with permission: http://cargocollective.com/shudesigns/Quiet-Peacemakers