Trevor Greer, Community Confidence Officer
Recently, a Canadian from St. Mary’s University contacted to find out what our story was on this side. I took her around Roden Street and I see her looking round and she says, “Trevor, they were always giving the impression that youse were better off.” And I says, “certain people might’ve been better off !”
But if you’re talking about the likes of West Belfast, I says, I’ll bring you to a place in West Belfast it’ll be a mirror image of where I live. You’ve got nice new houses in some parts of the likes of Roden Street, but if you go further back, you’ve still got the two ups, two downs, terraced houses. Still the same. It’s not as bad as what it was. Like it was only what, ten years ago that they started doing away with all the outside toilets up in the Village. It was only ten years ago we’re talking that there was people with outside toilets! And I’m still trying to explain that to people. A lot of people think that because we were Protestants we were better off than everybody else. We were exactly the same. They’ve got nicer houses now, but they’ve got difficulty paying for those nicer houses now.
My job title is Community Confidence Officer. It basically comes down to a lot to do with community safety. That could mean me working with police, me working with Belfast City Council. Drug issues, people being threatened, and still a lot of it goes on where. In fact it’s actually got worse where with the Housing Executive, with the new pointing system within the Housing Executive, where you get a certain amount of points for a house. If you get intimidated out of an area you get more points because you were intimidated, so it puts you at the top of the list for a new house or a house. Nine times out of ten you can’t live in an area where you were put out of, so you’re put somewhere else and nine times out of ten they throw you into south Belfast. And that’s where the problem usually starts. And usually I’m the in-between, working with the Housing Executive and the police, trying to make it work as smoothly as possible.
Normally, it’s somebody is messing about and doing drug dealing, annoying the neighbours. They’ve been put out of somewhere else for the exact same. I ring the Housing Executive and I’m not looking too much information, such and such, “why were they given intimidation points the last time?” Well, they were given them for exactly what they’re doing now. I say, “right. So now we’ve got a problem. So we have to sort this problem out.” Sometimes it works. Nine times out of ten, I’ll say to the Housing Executive, “now we’ve got a problem and you will have to sort it out.” Sometimes they do it. If they don’t it is back to the old times. Someone I will go to the person’s door and says, “you have to leave.” I’d rather they didn’t do that, but sometimes it has to be done. I’m the middle man in between everything, and that’s for community safety.
I’ve also done a lot of work with the Resident’s Association during June-July, getting the King Billy wall repainted, getting flowers and all put round on the planter, getting the place power-washed, getting the Housing Executive in to clean up the wee garden around Hurst Park, just a community clean up. I’m just the in-between. I’m the one who uses the phone and rings people. And to be totally honest that’s all it is, it’s not a big thing. It’s not what I know, it’s the people I know that I can go up and go “look, I need something done here.”
I’m also working with the bonfires. This year I was the co-ordinator for the Belfast wide, I think 55 bonfires. Now I only had to deal with South Belfast, thank God! It was bad enough dealing with one, never mind 55, so it is! We work with the Housing Executive because the bonfire was on their land. Last year it was a nightmare. If anything could have went wrong, it went wrong last year. So this year I got on top of it and I made sure that everybody was doing what they should be doing, making sure that everybody that was doing what they shouldn’t be doing wasn’t doing it too long!
I was usually the one carrying the stick, you’re not getting this done, you’re messing about here. We also had the Holiday Inn who funded the painting of the new mural, the “Welcome to Sandy Row” mural. That wasn’t the Housing Executive or anything done that. It was Rajesh who came across with that. Again, it helped, if he had a problem with the bonfire, the size, the location, and the anti-social behaviour, it’s at the back of his hotel, he knew he could ring me. And then I would’ve contacted somebody. The Housing Executive were over the moon.
And one of the things about the Belfast Wide, we work with three guys, a fella called Jim Ruddy from Derry, he worked, he was one of the top guys on Derry Council, on the business side. And he sorta brought together the businesses, Republicans, and the Apprentice Boys. You remember years ago there used to be all those riots and then all of a sudden it died away? And now there’s parades down there? He was one of the main ones to do that. People got together with him, Liam Maskey, and Reverend Harold Goode. They were the ones who opened the doors for people sitting the table around for ACT which is Active Community in Transition and Charter NI. I would’ve been working along with Charter NI because of the area I was representing. Together with them three guys, they were the ones that could open doors.
People don’t want to talk to me unless there’s a problem. That’s the thing. They were going to high-ranking civil servants, council officials, the door was always open. They went and talked to them ones and told them what we wanted. We wanted every one of the political parties in Belfast City Council to not make a big deal out of the bonfires this year. Don’t say anything. And that includes Sinn Féin, the Alliance, and the SDLP. They agreed not to say a thing. I was very, very surprised. And that’s why if you look back at this year’s bonfire season, usually starting about the fourth of July, wee bits and pieces in the newspapers, you look at all the newspapers from here this year, there was nothing. That was them ones doing that there, sitting around the table, them ones asking us what we wanted and what they could give us. We walked along with the fire service in every area in South Belfast, worked along with the police, any Housing Executive or private areas we worked with them ones, if there were any issues we’d be straight in to try and sort it out.
It's been quieter. Now, I’m not saying that everything this time worked. We had two bonfires in East Belfast that didn’t go according to plan. It wasn’t for the want of trying from the ones working over in East Belfast, but it was just too much of an ask, I think we were asking people to move on too quickly. It just wouldn’t work. I think next year you will find it will be slightly different. They’re already talking of having it in a different place, that Walkway one. There’s things going on behind the scenes we don’t even talk about, we just get on and get them done. And sometimes it’s better that way, nobody knows because if newspapers get to know, they put their own slant on things, they can knock things off kilter.
I would do a lot of cross-community work, a lot of the ones I would work along with would be Republicans. Most of them, but not all, would be ex-IRA. It works for us. It works for me, so it does! I know what I need from them, and sometimes they need me. At this moment I need them, because they’ve got the highest number of seats in Belfast City Council. So to be honest, they pull all the strings. Now, I would rather have them ones on side with me where I can ring someone up if I’ve a problem and nine times out of ten, if I ever rang them up with a problem, they’ve always been there. They’ve always done what they had to do.
There was a thing a few years back in this building, there was a group of kids, that went out to to two trips and one was to Milltown Cemetery. As kids do, they hadn’t a clue, fifteen sixteen year olds whatever they were at the time. They were up at Milltown Cemetery at Bobby Sands’s grave. And some idiot thought it was all right to put a coke and a burger on the grave and put it on social media. Oh my god. Thousands and thousands upon thousands of shares around the internet. There was death threats! There was writing put up on a wall. They found out who the girl who done the things and found out information about her. Started writing stuff up on walls, as I said, there was death threats.
This all happened during the day. I was up the road at the time working, and the guy that was working here calls me up and he says “Trevor have you any contacts in Poleglass.” I says “yes, Poleglass, Twinbrook.” He says, “look, I’m going to explain this to you” and he explained to me. \I ring a guy up, Sinn Féinner, and I say “I’ve a problem," he says “what is it?” I says “there’s fucking idiots, got nothing to do with me, were up at Milltown Cemetery, took a photo at Bobby Sands grave, put it out on social media, there’s now death threats and writing up in your neck of the woods.” I think it was an hour later he just rang me up and says “Trevor, that’s sorted.” See inside that hour? Social media stopped and the writing come off the walls. See now that was just one phone call, it was just one guy! I says look, can you do me a favour, and it was a favour, and I says to the guy that was down here now you owe me cause I owe him. And that’s just the way it is.
I would like Sandy Row back the way it was in some of them photos. Now, the only way we’re going to get that, if they’re going to make a Transport Hub down there. A lot of people don’t like it if the Boyne Bridge isn’t there. As I said to you, if you walk out of any train station in any city, and there’s lights over there and it’s very welcoming, and you look round there and there’s a big hump bridge and you can’t see over that hump bridge, and you don’t know what’s over that hump bridge, you ain’t gonna go over that hump bridge. In my opinion it has to go. There is no historical, in my opinion, no historical relevance to that bridge. It was built in 1936 or something like that. I think the bridge up the Donegall Road might be bloody older.
People like change. They just don’t like change of people, if you know what I mean? it’s just wee silly things. During an election you can sort of work out how the votes went, who voted for whom. And most people automatically assume that everybody down here is voting Unionist. And most of them did vote Unionist, but there was also quite a lot of Alliance voters, and that’s because apartments are popping up all around the place, and it’s that difference that scares people. It scares people, so it does.
People are looking at the likes of Ballynafeigh where it used to be mostly Protestant. They were allowed flags and now they’re not allowed to have this or not allowed to have that. I can even say it myself, how long is it gonna be until it’s up the Donegall road that somebody turns around and goes, “well I’m gonna complain about that because I’m a Roman Catholic and I don’t wanna live in that.” If I wanna live in Beechmount being a Protestant and somebody has a Tricolour out I’m not gonna complain about it. Because I want to live there, but other people don’t think like that.
I would say it’s probably must be thirty percent foreign nationals? There’s a lot of change going on. And people do get worried. Hagan Homes bought the plot of land in the middle of the Village. And put new homes up. They kept it pretty quiet about the prices and then came out with prices of a hundred and forty thousand, a hundred and fifty thousand, which absolutely puts everybody local out of the game. Now, if they’re gonna do that up there, they’re gonna do the exact same here. It’s not gonna be affordable for anybody. Somebody’s gonna have to sit down with Hagan Homes and say, what are you gonna give us? Because you can’t constantly let big firms like Hagan Homes just do what they want within your area. I know they are interested in a couple a plots of land off Roden Street. But I live there. But I know what they’re up to. They’re in the middle of buying that site in Millner street, the big site, where they are very close to sealing the deal, so they are. But when they sit down and start moving in, I’ll be asking, whether it’s through social housing or whether it’s a play park.
It’s got to a stage now where a lot of people don’t want a bonfire outside their front door. It was all right years ago when everybody was together. It is not like that now. People are saying to me, years ago, there was planning permission for apartments down there and people said, “no, we’re not letting in apartments. There’s no way we’re giving apartments!” And now the same people are coming to me and saying, “do you know something? See after five years of having to look at that bonfire, I want apartments.” People are changing, so they are.
I think it’s totally impossible to resist gentrification in the area. I don’t care what anyone says. I will try and pick a battle that I can even get a draw out of. But the fact of the matter is: if a developer owns a piece of land, he wants to put something on it. And I’ve said it to people before, and people would turn around and say, :he’s not putting that in that land! That’s not going there!” And I said “I walk into your living room and I say to you, see that there wallpaper? Strip it off! I don’t like it.” What are you going to say to me? They say, “I’d tell ya to fuck off”. I say, “so you’re gonna tell a developer who owns that land, right, what to do? On his land? But you won’t change that wallpaper for me will ye?: They sit and think about it for a while and go, “he’s got a point there, aye.”
You’re not gonna win with. And as I say, the longer land sits and becomes decayed and overgrown, then people start changing. It becomes a dump. Then the people who were actually complaining about apartments and things will start turning around and saying, “no I actually want something there.” Because one of the bits of land where the bonfire is, it’s constantly being used for a couple of years as a dump. People were coming down and dumping and the neighbours were going mad about it. That and the bonfire, is two things which started changing peoples’ views about apartments down there. And then they started coming back and saying, “I’ll tell you something, give me an apartment any time over that!” So pick your battles. That’s what I do: pick my battles!
People want change, but they want it to stay the same. You know what I mean? You have to give and take. If you want Sandy Row to be what Sandy Row used to be, shop wise, then there’s things that we’re gonna have to do. If you’ve been here at night, you’d know what it’s like. It’s dingy, dead. But if you had living accommodation above, you’d have a bit of light. You’d also have everybody running back and forward and standing around, but you’d have more movement about the place. A lot of work has to happen, thank God it’s not my job. The peace and quiet, yes, that’s my job! And if you just look around you can see, there’s apartments all around.
100% of every donation goes directly to programming. We deeply appreciate your support!