We don’t have to agree on the way things are, or why they are the way they are, or to agree on how we want them to be. When we are truly present to any given happening, we are speechless.

Watching an infant encounter a plastic dish, we see the infinity of everything. We see them encounter the colour, shape, texture, size. As adults we have all that and so much more we encounter: the history, the context, the chemistry, the cultural significance.

This was my experience last Wednesday when I brought an American student, Ireland Twiggs, who is studying at Queen’s, over to meet the legend, aka the Reverend Dr Bill Shaw, OBE, who is the director of the Duncairn Arts Centre. (Ireland has just one sibling, a sister called America!)

I remember as a young boy walking past Duncairn and it always looked sad and out of place. It was a Protestant church way back then and had fallen into neglect and disrepair. At one time it was a furniture store.

Then some 25 years ago Bill, a Protestant minister, moved into the church to provide a shared space for the local community.

As I sat in wonder and listened to Bill tell his story of Duncairn, what it was like and what it is like now, I was filled, like that infant, with a sense of wonder. He told Ireland that at the beginning he had no idea of what could become of the space – and at the time he told his board that too. They were baffled by Bill’s take on the centre, but allowed Bill the blank canvas to create his vision.

He talked of the early days back then when Duncairn church was sitting right beside the Girdwood barracks.

I asked him how he was viewed by the locals and he said some looked upon him as a spy. Being the man of vision that he is, Bill knew that a shared space takes time — and it takes baby steps. He recalled how he was approached by a local bunscoil for the use of space and that space was filled with the baby steps of little Gaeilgeoirí, one of whom is now a teacher there.

He was also approached by the AA, who are now well established within the centre – and the list goes on.

He applied for funding and again was met with opposition to his vision, but Bill being Bill, he continued his work and secured funding from both here and from our friends in America.

The centre has to be seen to be believed. A bit like Bill himself, as he is a man of the people who has to be seen so that you can believe with him that together we can create shared spaces.

Today the centre hosts a variety of groups and offers classes that are of benefit to all. There’s a cafe that caters to every palate, there’s art, music and an atmosphere that would welcome any stranger.

I know that both Ireland and I left Bill renewed, refreshed and recharged, knowing that there’s work to be done and that we all have the power within us to do it.