Interesting development in Sandy Row last night. A small scale festival kicked off for the second year, on a megre budget of about £4,000 raised largely from local business. It was opened by the SDLP Mayor Pat McCarthy and attended by a range of local representatives, including the local MP Alisdair McDonnell. Although the area is served by about 30 different community groups, the festival is intent on engaging the whole of the local community. It is precisely this kind of low level engagement that saw the beginnings of the Irish language movement in Belfast. The key is in continuous engagement. In 1995 Gerry Adams advocated the setting up of Gaeltacht quarter. It took ten years to establish, but eventually it came to fruition through long term engagement and in proving the idea.
The DUP’s local councillor, Christopher Stalford notes, “The findings of the Taskforce report on the area, show that there is still an enormous level of social deprivation and need within the local community and government must start to address that – one way of doing so would be to develop and expand this festival through higher levels of funding than has been the case up until now”.
That the pump priming has come from local business too is potentially a good sign too. For all the compliants that there is too much public money slushing around in the NI economy, there is also a challenge to the private sector to step up to the mark and invest smartly in Northern Ireland’s human capital. As the Coin Street development in London’s south bank shows the combination can lead to powerful win win outcomes, and create confidence in otherwise marginalised communities.