The Stewartstown Road Regeneration Project is an inter-community regeneration initiative located on the interface between the {Protestant/Unionist} Suffolk and {Catholic/Nationalist} Lenadoon housing estates in outer West Belfast. Like many parts of Belfast the wider area was originally `mixed`. Polarisation of the communities in the early 1970s transformed Suffolk into a small Protestant enclave inside Catholic West Belfast. Stewartstown Road - a major arterial route through West Belfast - separates Suffolk and Lenadoon estates and represents a dividing line or `interface` between the two communities.

This interface has been characterised by years of inter-community distrust, violence, and confrontation that have stigmatised the area and - until the late 1990s - have largely precluded any inter-community contact or initiatives to address both areas` levels of distress and deprivation. The impact on the Suffolk estate was such that it experienced low housing demand, out-migration, and extensive vacancy. An estate strategy of demolition and physical improvements begun by the Northern Ireland Housing Executive in 1986 was successful in stabilising the estate as a whole. However, the interface location continued to decline along the Suffolk side of the road as abandonment left derelict housing, a block of declining commercial units with empty maisonettes above, and a vacant cleared site.

The first steps in the project were taken in 1997 when the NI Housing Executive began an economic appraisal in partnership with Suffolk Community Forum - the umbrella group for community activity on the Suffolk estate - to determine future action. By this time an inter-community contact group - the `Suffolk Lenadoon Interface Group` - had been established in the area under an initiative by Belfast Interface Project. It was quickly recognised that here was an opportunity to create a genuine inter-community project in which the regeneration of the interface location could benefit the wider area.

The corresponding Lenadoon Community Forum was approached and - following sensitive consultation in both communities - progress was steadily made towards securing the support of local residents. Consequently, in 1998 a Regeneration Committee - including equal numbers of members from both forums - was formed to oversee the project. This body has since been incorporated into a limited company - Stewartstown Road Regeneration Project Limited - with a board of 12 directors comprising four directors from each community and four independent directors.

The project aimed to produce a solution to the decay and environmental degradation at the road frontage interface and at the same time to introduce a sustainable community business within a shared space creating new commercial and community facilities in an area of considerable social and economic disadvantage. The scheme adopted was a £1.5 million mixed-use redevelopment project that - following demolition of all the derelict properties in the study area - has involved the construction of a new combined commercial/community resource and the provision of crèche and playschool facilities.

Stewartstown Road Regeneration Project aims to regenerate and revitalise the Lenadoon and Suffolk areas by establishing an environment that is attractive, vibrant, and economically active; where people from both communities can feel secure, accepted, confident, and positive; and which promotes social, community, and economic development. This project - which is entirely community-led and owned equally by the two communities - has been a starting point for further joint development projects. A second phase comprising additional shops and offices and a 50 place children`s day care centre was completed in 2008. This project represents a practical approach to bringing divided communities together through joint action of mutual benefit.

The project received the 2003 BURA {British Urba




John Hoey