One of the issues in Belfast is the crumbling leisure infrastructure. The (relatively speaking) cvast number of centres were built in thick of the troubles in the late seventies and early eighties as a large scale capital investment programme.
They were located in specific areas in order to take account of the physical separation of working class urban communities. At the time it was not reasonable to expect individuals from the lower Shankill to visit the Falls.
Some are already closed, others teetering on the edge of viability as individuals become more socially mobile than they were back in the seventies when Belfast closed down at 6pm and the question of how to deploy budgets become more problematic for departments and the city council.
In this interview with Peter Dornan of the social enterprise charity Artemis he talks about their work in upgrading schools facilities in order to make them more open to the wider community.
In essence they offer schools the opportunity to invest in quality facilities for their students by offering them out for the use of the wider community. Much of the work they do is focused on sports facilities since this is the greatest demand. But there is also investment, particularly in new build schools, in modern educational facilities.
So far just five schools are operating Artemis scheme, all them newly built by a consortium led by Amey (the company that established Artemis as a social enterprise) under a PFI: Ashfield Girls’ School, Grosvenor Grammar, Belfast Boys’ Model School, Belfast Model School for Girls, and Orangefield Primary School.
But Dornan hopes to prove the non profit model will prove effective enough to be taken up across the educational sector. I asked him whether tying facilities into the education system would not simply replicate some of the social fracturing that took place during the troubles, and he cited the use of the Model Girls by a local Camogie club.
None of this is new. This practice of upgrading school facilities in order to make them available to the wider public has been in widespread use in England for years, though perhaps the social enterprise model (in this case as a non profit) is more recent. They also have plans to take their work beyond Northern Ireland and into the Republic.