Traumatic change came to the inner city communities of Belfast in the 1970s with large scale redevelopment, ring roads planned to encircle the city and whole communities being wiped away by the bulldozer. One of those communities was the Shankill Road.
Revisiting the past after over 30 years, Ron Weiner, author of The Rape & Plunder of the Shankill, a key text of 1970s Belfast, tours the Shankill with community activist, Jackie Redpath of the Greater Shankill Partnership.
Ron came to Belfast as a sociologist engaged in action research. He quickly became involved in documenting what was happening. Flats were built on the Shankill, ‘the Weetabix Flats’ as the residents called them, whole communities were on the move and the sense of community that had prevailed for two centuries was being destroyed.
“The initial plan was to have flats the whole way up the Shankill Road without any shops”, explains Ron. The people of the Shankill fought back with campaigns such as ‘Save The Shankill’ in which Jackie Redpath played a crucial part.
“The strength of community action like the Save The Shankill campaign was that it could stop things happening, it could stop the flats being built”, explains Jackie, “Ron’s ideas helped to rebuild a community destroyed by poor city planning and appalling living conditions.”
“I think when we were starting, part of the vision was nostalgic trying to retain what actually existed. From the peoples point of view there was an attempt to try and save as much of their way of life as possible”, continues Ron.
Over 30 years later, the legacy is still plain to see. The Shankill remains the most deprived ward in Northern Ireland and the population has reduced massively from 76,000 in the 1950s to 26,000 today.
“We’re left with an ageing population and the rump of a working class community, but nevertheless, a community that still has life in it and is determined to regenerate itself”, concludes Jackie.