THE UPPER Andersonstown Community Forum at Tullymore have appointed Michael George as their new Director.
Michael, who previously worked with Community Restorative Justice, took up the role in early August but didn’t begin the new post until 5 September.
Speaking to the Andersonstown News after his first week in the role, Michael spoke about the centre’s plans for the future, and the influence his predecessors in the role have had on him.
“I’ve had a week under my belt, and I’ve fully realised how actively and lively this centre is. There is so much going on here, it’s the lifeblood of the Upper Andersonstown area. It’s the heart of this community," he said.
"I am following the footsteps of some brilliant people such as Tish Holland who was a legend in these parts for what she achieved and for developing this centre. I am also hugely grateful to Jim Girvan for what he achieved before he moved on, and now it’s up to me to keep the energy of this place flowing.”
Michael praised the staff at the centre, many of whom have been working there for many years and are fully dedicated to serving the community.
“The staff are very energetic and committed," he said. "They run everything from the day care facilities to the Utopia Seniors Project for our elderly people, our neighbourhood renewal team are absolutely brilliant too, and Lisa Henry who has been here from the start really helps keep things ticking over. Our Youth Project here is also second to none, we’ve a very big team of young people who keep people active all week and weekend, from day-to-day youth work, to running specialist classes. A particular one – the DJ workshops – they run where young people can learn how to make music.”
Current programmes at the centre are ongoing, with a range of services and activities for young people, adults and elderly people, such as art workshops.
Michael spoke of what the centre is currently offering.
“We’re looking forward to continuing with 20 or so of our seniors who come in here and take part in our needlework classes and art workshops. We are also involved in many forms of training work. One of the most popular at the moment is our driving theory test, which is massively oversubscribed, and just shows the need there is in the area for this service.”
Speaking on plans for the future, Michael stressed the biggest challenge facing communities now was the cost of living crisis, and the burden it would put upon people in the community, and also on the centre itself, with ever-rising energy bills showing no sign of going down.
“My current priority, which I believe will be the priority is to try and ensure the cost of living crisis doesn’t have a serious impact on people’s lives. We’ve just come out of the Covid crisis, and straight into this. During Covid, Jim Girvan organised in making Tullymore the centre of the community for Covid relief. It was a fantastic initiative.
"We need to be putting the same effort in to beat this crisis, as we put in to get through Covid. I hope our Council and Communities Minister put in the same response so our seniors don’t have heat or eat hanging over their heads. This is when communities step up to the plate, and Belfast’s communities are always front and centre in tackling crises head on.”
The centre will also be looking into working with the Housing Executive, and housing associations to campaign for the refurbishment of homes in the area. Speaking on the initiative, Michael stated: “We are also looking into the regeneration of the Andersonstown Road, with Casement Park being redeveloped. We are also looking to push for the refurbishment of homes in this area. A lot of homes we have here were built in the 1960s and 1970s, and need urgent refurb work, and we will be talking with the housing associations and Housing Executive to help people with insulating their houses.”
Proud to carry on the work of his predecessors, Michael spoke abut the work he will be carrying out with staff to ensure the centre remains open throughout the cost of living crisis.
“Every generation is catered for here. Parents drop their children in in the morning, we work with young people, there’s training for adults and recreation for seniors. For the community we will have to make sure the centre stays open, and that will be a big job, because of the energy bills we’re expecting to receive.
"On the positive side, we’re currently recruiting staff, and we’re up for the challenge of continuing our work and making it a welcoming place for everyone over this new crisis period.
First week under my belt @UpperAndersons & was more than delighted to get to present the Tish Holland memorial bursary on behalf of our centre. The words on the card show the positive difference #AislingBursaries make to our community & 👏👏👏 to @WestBelfastPB Outstanding work pic.twitter.com/QlAQLSV0Jo— Michael George (@mickgeo3) September 10, 2022
“All the staff here have made me extremely welcome, and I want to live up the standards set down by Tish and Jim, and I will ensure this centre is still the heart of this community.”