Making a difference at the bottom of the economic ladder
I have been a longstanding admirer of East Belfast Mission.
With a 19th century name (and heritage), you might think they are behind the times when it comes to helping our underserved communities.
In fact, they remain among the most modern, progressive and agile of all the groups tasked with combating poverty and unemployment.
Of course, their calling card is the magnificent Skainos (Greek for ‘tent’) Centre on the Newtownards Road in East Belfast which is ambitious in its design and scale (where is the biggest vertical garden in Ireland? You got it!) and will surely pick up a hatful of awards for its architectural brilliance. But its pioneering approach goes far beyond its majestic appearance.
For the East Belfast Mission has always prided itself on making a difference to the lives of those who, for a variety of reasons, find themselves at the bottom of the economic ladder.
Just one of their many projects is Restore which takes old household items, refurbs them with skill and not a little love and recycles them to the public through the Mission’s Restore outlets. Belfast City Council, working flat-out to reduce landfill waste, is a big fan of Restore and helps funnel items to the Mission’s restoration workshops.
Since June alone, the Mission has provided 40 jobs to tradesmen and tradeswomen backing its Restore expansion — many of those jobs going to the long-term unemployed.
The creation of jobs in working class areas is a priority for Belfast for there is no better way to evidence the peace dividend than through the dignity of work. In my book, therefore, that makes the East Belfast Mission real champions of the future Belfast.
All of which is just my way of saying how privileged I was to be asked to cut the ribbon on the latest Restore outlet on Royal Avenue this week. Given its friendly staff, bargain prices, and stunning items, it’s the perfect place to pitch your tent when you next plan to furnish your home.