A community organisation which had its beginnings in a once notorious loyalist estate in Lisburn is to be given a Queen’s Award for helping the area ‘emerge from conflict’.
Resurgam Community Development Trust was formed in 2011, however its director Adrian Bird said that its roots were laid down in the Old Warren estate at the time of the Belfast Agreement in 1998.
He said: “If you take the Old Warren estate, 20 years ago nobody wanted to live in it. There was a lot of dereliction. Like a lot of communities it was emerging out of conflict. But if you look at it now, it’s one of the most sought-after social housing communities in Northern Ireland. I understand there’s more than 300 people on a waiting list.”
During the Troubles, the Old Warren estate gained a reputation as a notorious loyalist stronghold. According to Lost Lives – an encyclopedia of Troubles deaths – Catholic civilian Kevin McPolin was shot dead in the estate on November 8, 1985. UDA man Michael Stone was convicted of his murder.
Mr Bird spoke of the importance of moving away from paramilitarism and explained how in 1998 he first became involved in integrating those who had been involved in NI’s conflict back into communities.
“If you go into any republican or loyalist estate obviously there will be people who have been to prison, people who were involved in conflict. What we needed to do was create an environment in which those people could integrate back into communities. In the early days that’s what it was about.
“I think we’ve done it very successfully in Lisburn. The starting point in the Old Warren was the same as Sandy Row or Taughmonagh. But how these communities in Lisburn have been able to move on, to thrive and grow, is what makes it different.”
He continued: “A lot of what we did in the early days was accessing European Peace moneys. We knew the work had to be sustainable, the grants would run out, we knew we had to be forward thinking. That was the concept behind creating businesses and creating employment. The thinking was if you give someone a job they’re less likely to be involved in paramilitary activity or criminality.”
More than 10 years ago the group was praised for its implementation of a Welcome project to help integrate eastern Europeans into loyalist estates. Mr Bird said: “I think the key to its success is around leadership, forward thinking and collaboration.”
On the work that has been done since 2011 as Resurgam, Mr Bird said: “We’ve never got a grant just for the sake of it. We borrowed money from the bank and invested that money into the development of what we’ve done in the community.
“Our social enterprises have created employment for over 100 people. We’ve an annual turnover of £1.4 million and a combined salary contribution of over £2million.”
He added: “There are youth projects which are bigger than ours, there are social enterprises that are more profitable than ours, but I can’t find any other organisations out there who have this holistic approach to community development and regeneration that we have – everything from pre-school, childcare, youth provision, creation of employment, community safety, health programmes, all under one banner of Resurgam.”