I WAS reminded recently that it was around this time forty years ago that I was introduced to the then Twinbrook Tenants’ Association, which was later to grow into the Twinbrook Tenants’ and Community Association.
I arrived on their doorstep equipped with welfare rights knowledge that I had learned from my time at the Belfast Law Centre.
Back then I believed I was a radical revolutionary, a twenty-something-year-old who believed in change and, looking back, I can honestly say that the good people of Twinbrook changed my heart.
Thought for today pic.twitter.com/NawxvEjOnn— mindfulnessbelfast (@frank_liddy) February 7, 2022
I have to take my hat off to my very good friend and mentor, Damien Gibney, better known to his many friends as Dee, a tour de force. Dee and I became two peas in a pod, inseparable from a community vision that empowered people by apprising them of their rights. At that time Twinbrook wasn’t long built and consisted of a number of different areas: Thornhill, Summerhill, Broom, Almond, Gardenmore, Glasvey, Aspen, Chestnut and Cherry.
The tenants came from other parts of the city, such as Rathcoole, the Falls and the Short strand, to name a few. To be honest, back then Twinbrook tenants would have identified themselves as from those areas as a local community spirit and bond hadn’t yet been formed.
Dee and I and other members of the association – Danny Loughran RIP and the legendary Sean Hamill RIP – believed that this should be the vision of the Tenants’ Association, to inspire a community vision of belonging.
This vision was born in our humble accommodation of a changing room in the Brook activity centre and it was this changing room that brought about the change that was to come.
We opened a successful advice centre that advised the community on their benefits and housing needs and this lead to one of the largest benefits campaigns, we got to know where every household would be and were informed of their entitlements. We then looked at community education and we were able to engage with the Saint of the Whiterock and Ballymurphy, Fr Des Wilson RIP.
With the support of the community we went from strength to strength with people power as we engaged with statutory agencies and established a transformative youth service, known as the LINKS project.
There was also a women’s group and an education project that addressed basic skills.
We had a successful Irish classes at all levels. The Housing Executive gave us the 21-acre site that is now the new improved Brook Activity Centre.
The people responded to the many surveys we carried out and demonstrated our inclusivity that no-one was to be left out and that all needs must be addressed.
I am truly blessed with many precious memories of how the people of Twinbrook changed my heart. The time that I hold dear is the time when we delivered the meat parcels and butter to every door and the community was able to feast on the ongoing growth and success of the Twinbrook Tenants’ and Community Association that proved once and for all that people have the power.