To begin this post, here is the view outside the third floor office at EBM which I am based out of.
So much of what I would describe as Belfast's identity is captured in this photograph: Belfast is a post-industrial, struggling, but also growing society. All vast topics, but here we go.
The two cranes here, Samson and Goliath, are owned by Harland & Wolff and are a significant feature of Belfast's skyline. Read more on the cranes here: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Samson_and_Goliath_(cranes)
Besides once boasting a variety of industries (soap making, ropeworks, mills, etc.), East Belfast boasted - and continues to boast - the headquarters of Harland & Wolff (makers of the Titanic, Olympic, and Britannic). Before cuts began during the 1980s & 1990s, H&W employed 35,000+ people. Today, fewer than 500 people are employed through the company, and H&W specializes in basic ship repairs and various industrial endeavors rather than ship building.
No major service industry has moved in to replace H&W as a major employer.
For the people of East Belfast, where once had been a guaranteer of work, there remains a vast dry dock and two giant cranes not in regular use. These changes have come about over the time of a few generations, and thanks to the welfare state, there is a safety net. However, most people are employed in service economy areas (particularly education, social work, and other gov't funded jobs).
The homes located between EBM and the cranes... To Americans, they may seem to be cute, urban, British flats. In actuality, many of the housing developments in Belfast (called estates) have been funded by the government over the past half century. In American terms, they would be the "projects," but again, safety net of the welfare state comes into play - estates are not like the projects. While efforts have been made to privatize the housing (you can tell a privately owned house by the various flourishes added to the exterior), estates are still primarily government owned. Over the past couple decades, many estates have been raised and rebuilt - much to the grumblings of the residents as they are displaced, but very much an improvement for some of the estates. (Newer estates tend to have small patio spaces in the front where there was once none and do include indoor plumbing - even up until a couple decades ago, some of the older estates lacked an indoor toilet.)
I'll save further comments on estate housing and the welfare state for a later date.
Construction cranes are a common site in Belfast. Before the global economic period of doom in 2007/2008, construction projects were flourishing around Belfast. (With the peace accords of 1998 coming to fruition throughout the 2000s, investments in Belfast rapidly increased.) There are still signs of the economic crash - construction sites sitting unfinished, but there are also signs of recovery - on my way to work, I pass several construction sites in progress.
A few updates from this past week:
- I am in charge of the "Healthy Food for All" program for this next month - for residents of the homeless shelter run by EBM and ex-residents living independently, they get a healthy meal twice a week from EBM's cafe. I will be in charge of the paperwork, confirming numbers, and helping to deliver on Monday afternoons while the usual coordinator is on holiday through the next month. Woohoo!
- We had 67 kids (ages 4 to 13) at our Friday night youth club. Wowzers. It was mad but also awesome.
- The kids that I work with during the work are warming up to me. How do I know? They have begun to let me know that I talk funny - whether because of my pronunciations or word choice. (Bun = cupcake, skipping = jump rope, and pitcher = jug.)
- As a last minute substitute, I have been asked to play piano with the praise group for worship tomorrow. Yay!
There are a million other little reasons as to why this past week went really well. Most of them involve getting to know the people of all ages at EBM better.
I went to an EBM evening discussion of the history of Ballymacarrett (the section of town where EBM is situated). They had a panel to lead discussions - a MP for this area (she grew up here as well), two historians - one catholic, one protestant, and two other random guests. After hearing a bit from them, they then opened the floor for questions and further discussions.
Apparently it was one of the less controversial sessions as they have had discussions in the past on politics. It was enlightening: this community is struggling with how to remember its history - particularly its history pre-1969. And also struggling to come to terms with the future - budget cuts will hit Norn Iron hard. (In one of the sections of East Belfast, the school, library, and hospital on one street have already been closed.)
Altogether a really interesting week. Hopefully your appetite has been whetted for more knowledge of Belfast's economy, history, and culture; stay tuned for more in later posts. :)
In peace and in grace.