The Felden project: Overcoming suspicion and myths for a shared neighbourhood
by Rosa HASSON
14 April 2021
Northern Ireland has faced segregation for decades, arising from the Troubles and lasting into the modern day. The Felden Project is a shared neighbourhood development created by Clanmil Housing. Located in Newtownabbey, this project focused on young people from Bawnmore and Longlands, bringing them together to form a mixed community.
A video produced by Clanmil Housing focused on the opinions of young people in 2015 and later in 2021. It shows how their opinions have evolved throughout the years, from doubting the success of the project to watching it thrive. As seen in the video, a participant stated that she initially had concerns about the project being successful, due to the bias of other members of the community. However, six years on, she feels the project was a positive achievement. Images in the video from the initial filming present examples of sectarian abuse directed towards members of the community. This confirms people’s concern for the success of a shared neighbourhood initiative, as divided communities come together not everyone will agree to cooperate; Northern Ireland has progressed since The Troubles, but the existence of religious divide is still prevalent.
We spoke with Gerard Rosato of Clanmil Housing, who is co-founder of the Felden project. He gave us his thoughts on the success of the project and the obstacles they overcame. The project commenced in 2015, 17 years after the end of the Troubles. However, this shared neighbourhood project still faced opposition from members of the community, community leaders, and politicians, who did not believe the mixture of people from Bawnmore and Longlands could ever be a success.
Making the Felden project a reality was a difficult one, with this opposition. Rosato stated that the Northern Ireland Executive was “stop and start” with its support for the project. Describing Felden as a “slow burner”, Rosato claimed that many people who were opposed at the beginning are now on board with the project and have shown their support for its success. “It is part of the way of moving forward,” said Rosato. He added that myths surrounding the project contributed to the struggle to get it up and running. Such rumours were created that led people to question the success. “People suggested that Clanmil was hand-selecting people to go into Felden; this was before a tenant even moved in.”
With the Good Friday Agreement in 1998, the ending of so much violence certainly improved the feasibility of the Felden project. The political agreement allowed more people to see the potential of a shared future, while others are still opposed to the idea. Indeed, in recent days Northern Ireland has been subjected to almost Troubles-like violence, in areas such as Coleraine and Belfast; Northern Ireland is still susceptible to sectarian violence and rioting. It is important to appreciate this social and political environment when considering the challenges and relative successes of sharing efforts such as the Felden project.
Shared Neighbourhood developments are a priority within the Northern Ireland Executive’s Together: Building a United Community strategy — a good relations strategy which reflects the Executive’s commitment to improving community relations and building a united and shared society. For more information please visit http://www.ofmdfmni.gov.uk/together-building-a-united-community