2.2 Community as a shared history
Community can be something that exists over generations. Residents who have lived in a neighbourhood for a long period of time may share a sense of belonging, solidarity or togetherness. They may pass on this sense of belonging to future generations. One useful way of getting to know your local community is to ask someone you know from an older generation to show you pictures or even take you on a local walking tour or to share their stories of the places or people or events that are meaningful to them. You may discover things that are very different to what you know or have been told about your local community today.
The Shankill community, as you have heard, is often defined by its history as one of a number of communities segregated by religious, political or historical differences, and deeply affected by violence in Northern Ireland. This history, visible through the murals and memorials and the ‘peacewalls’ you saw in the community film, make this one of the top tourists spots in this city. But this is not all that defines this area. There is more to the Shankill than the violence of the conflict here. The Shankill Area Social History Society (S.A.S.H.) for example, documents the stories of its residents going back 70 years or more when this area was famous for its thriving linen mill industry. Local residents also worked in the nearby Harland & Wolff shipyard where the Titanic was built, as well as Mackies – an engineering and rope works factory. They also held street parties and community celebrations, as they do today.
Below is an optional activity you can do in your own time.
Activity 5: Talk to an older relative or neighbour
Please note, to do this activity, you will need to ask your teacher, community worker, parent or guardian for permission. (But don’t worry if you are unable to do this activity, you can skip it.)
Find an older relative or neighbour who lives in your local community to talk to. Your teacher or community worker can help you with this. Make sure your parent or guardian knows this person, and that you are talking to them.
Ask this person what life was like in the area where you live when they were growing up and what the community was like then? For example, what kinds of things did they do with their friends locally and where did they go? What was the area best known for then? What were the issues that mattered to them at your age? How different is this from your own experience of your community? Write your thoughts down in the box below.
- What surprised you most about this conversation?
- How have things changed or stayed the same?
- Did you discover any points of connection with the person you spoke with?
- How has this changed how you think about your local community?
While it may seem at first that a community is something that is fixed, a community can and does change over time, and is shaped by historical events and experiences. Think about the conversation you have listened to about the Shankill and how older and younger people view their community. You might find some common experiences like knowing the same streets or shops or a shared understanding of the recent past. But their ideas of what this community means might be very different too – especially if their memories go back to life before a period of conflict or violence. This is something you will explore a little more in Section 3.