In this episode of What Northern Ireland Means to Me, we meet William Redpath, who is a business owner and community worker.
My association with Northern Ireland is very much here — someone who’s born here, someone that believes in this place, someone that believes in the possibility and the opportunity that exists here. And I think that also someone that feels like we all have a role to play and in terms of peace, in terms of our own communities and that manifests itself in lots of different ways. But I really believe that we all have that kind of civic responsibility, I think, to get involved in our communities, and that’s really something that I try to do and try to live each day.
Part of the work that I do is trying to create things and opportunities for people to stay here, get involved here, and do more things. When you speak to people about why they leave Northern Ireland, often they talk about opportunity or social views, this type of thing. But actually, it’s more about a vibe that people have about living here and what that means, and sometimes that’s to do with coming from a small place. So, a lot of the work that I am involved in through organisations like Young Influencers, Global Shapers, Junior Chamber International, is all about trying to create spaces for like-minded people to come together — people who are positive, upbeat, and want to make a difference in their community. And that might look like organising a community project, getting involved in homelessness relief campaign, getting involved in charity work, or even creating businesses and start-ups. You’re almost trying to create a place and a state of mind which tries to encourage people to stay in Northern Ireland.
Reading some of John Hewitt’s poetry has had a profound impact on me, in terms of thinking about my identity, thinking about regionalism as a concept — how we can be, at one time, from Ulster, be a Planter, be from the island of Ireland, and be a European citizen. I’d never before read or heard it articulated in that way. It helped me understand what my role was in this society that I could articulate with confidence. So, whenever I started reading some of his poems, like “Once Alien Here”, “The Colonists”, it really affected me in that way. And I think words do have that power, that can be so influential with people. I’m getting involved within the work of the John Hewitt Society as well. It’s been great.
I think that in all the time I’ve lived here — for nearly 32 years — I’ve never felt such a strong sense of energy, hope, and optimism around. Of course, we can be worn down and we can listen to the noise and the hype. But actually when we get into the real nitty gritty of what’s going on in local communities, whether it’s someone working in parts of Belfast, they’re doing great work across the divide in the traditional sense, or young people getting up, starting businesses, starting projects, and doing positive things in their community, organising a music festival — all these things just add into the whole fabric and the tapestry of our society and just give us so much hope and optimism for the future. And all that stuff is happening now. So, I think there’s lots of reasons to be cheerful.
What Northern Ireland Means to Me is presented by Julia Paul and produced by Shared Future News, to mark the centenary of Northern Ireland, with funding from the Heritage Fund on behalf of the Northern Ireland Office.
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Images © Allan LEONARD