Ability and Advantage

Ability and Advantage

February 9, 2014 Blog 0 Comments

For some time, I have thought that the word ‘disadvantaged’ when applied to entire communities across Belfast doesn’t adequately capture the verve, spirit and genius of the people I encounter at the coalface of change in our working class neighbourhoods.

But it wasn’t until I visited the magnificent Cedar Foundation, a can-do charity working with those with physical disabilities, that I found out that smarter people than me had already recognised that issue — and come up with the solution.

Indeed, at Cedar, which held its annual fundraiser in the Ramada Hotel last night, their mission is to focus on the ‘ability’ in ‘disability’.

Antrim Rose of Tralee Jean and partner Stafford join me before gala dinner at Ramada Belfast
Antrim Rose of Tralee Jean and partner Stafford join me before gala dinner at Ramada Belfast

And you only have to be in the same room as Cedar ambassadors Jean Daly, the Antrim Rose of Tralee, and her tennis ace partner Stafford Lynn to understand that “it’s not about the wheelchair, stupid!”

I am in their debt for bringing me to that understanding.

Similarly, you can’t capture the genius of the people of the New Lodge in North Belfast — who survived the worst of our years of darkness — by branding them as disadvantaged. Indeed, this week, I witnessed the advantage in this ebullient community when I visited the Fab Lab, a hub of tech education, innovation and creativity linked to the original Fab Lab in the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, probably the world’s greatest centre of tech innovation.

There isn’t a leading tech company or science department in any university in Ireland which wouldn’t give it’s eye-tooth for this Fab Lab but here it is ensconced in the heart of a working class community.

And that’s not the only advantage this proud community has because the Fab Lab itself is hosted by the Ashton Centre, a groundbreaking not-for-profit organisation set up by 450 local people who bought founders share in the enterprise back in 1988.

Today the Ashton Centre, across six buildings in North Belfast, is among the greatest community enterprises in Europe.

Advantage New Lodge, methinks.

The icing on the cake for me was that the pupils of South Belfast Gaelscoil Scoil an Droichid were being shown how to use the 3-D printers when I called in to present a Commendation Certificate to the Fab Lab. Bilingual young children ‘test-driving’ revolutionary technology tells you all you need to know about this city on the rise.

About the Author

Máirtín Ó Muilleoir

Máirtín Ó Muilleoir is the outgoing Sinn Féin MLA for South Belfast and a civic activist in Belfast.